The 6 Best Supplements to Gain Muscle

If you exercise
regularly
, you likely want to be sure you’re getting the
most out of it.

One important benefit of exercise is gaining muscle and
strength. Having a healthy amount of muscle allows to you to
perform your best during exercise and daily life.

Three main criteria must be met for maximal muscle gain: eating
more calories than you burn, consuming more protein than you
break down and an exercise program that is challenging to your
muscles (1, 2, 3).

While it’s possible to meet all these criteria without taking
dietary supplements, certain supplements may help you meet your
goals.

The 6 supplements listed below may help you gain more muscle
with your exercise program.

Protein Supplements and Dumbbells

1. Creatine

Creatine is a molecule that’s produced naturally in your body.
It provides energy for your muscles and other tissues.

However, taking it as a dietary supplement can increase muscle
creatine content by up to 40% beyond its normal levels
(4, 5, 6).

This affects your muscle cells and exercise performance,
promoting muscle gain. In fact, a large amount of research
shows creatine improves muscle strength (7, 8, 9).

This is good news if you’re trying to gain muscle. Greater
strength allows you to perform better during exercise, leading
to larger increases in muscle mass over time (10).

Creatine can also increase water content in your muscle cells.
This may cause your muscle cells to swell slightly and produce
signals for muscle growth (11).

Furthermore, this supplement may increase levels of the
hormones involved in muscle growth, such as IGF-1 (12).

Moreover, some research shows that creatine could decrease the
breakdown of proteins in your muscles (13).

Overall, many researchers have studied creatine supplements and
exercise, and one thing is clear — creatine can help increase
muscle mass (14, 15).

Creatine has also been studied extensively and has an
outstanding safety profile (14).

If you are looking for a supplement to help you gain muscle,
consider
creatine first
.

Summary: Creatine is probably the single
best supplement for muscle gain. Many studies have confirmed
that it can help increase muscle mass.

2. Protein Supplements

Chocolate Protein Powder in a Black Plastic Container

Getting enough protein is critical for gaining muscle.

Specifically, to gain muscle, you need to consume more protein
than your body breaks down through natural processes (16).

While it’s possible to get all the protein you need from
protein-rich foods, some people struggle to do so.

If this sounds like you, you may want to consider taking a
protein
supplement
.

There are many different protein supplements available, but
some of the most popular are whey, casein and soy protein.
Other protein supplements contain protein isolated from eggs,
beef, chicken or other sources (17).

Research shows that adding extra protein via supplements causes
slightly more muscle gain in people who exercise than adding
extra carbs (18, 19, 20).

However, the effects are probably largest for people who aren’t
getting enough protein in their normal diet.

In fact, some research shows that consuming very high amounts
of protein supplements doesn’t help increase muscle if you are
already following a high-protein diet (21, 22, 23, 24).

Many people wonder how
much protein to eat daily
. If you are an active individual
trying to gain muscle, 0.5–0.9 grams of protein per pound
(1.2–2.0 grams per kg) of body weight may be best (25, 26, 27).

Summary: Consuming enough protein is
absolutely essential for optimal muscle gain. However, if you
are getting enough protein in your diet, taking a protein
supplement is unnecessary.

3. Weight Gainers

Weight gainers are supplements designed to conveniently help
you get more calories and protein. They’re typically used by
individuals who struggle to gain muscle.

Some people find it hard to gain muscle, even when consuming
large amounts of calories and lifting weights (28).

Although the calorie contents of weight gainer supplements
vary, it’s not uncommon for them to contain over 1,000 calories
per serving.

Many people think these calories come from protein since it’s
so important for muscle building. However, most of the calories
actually come from carbs.

There are often 75–300 grams of carbs and 20–60 grams of
protein per serving of these high-calorie supplements.

While these products can help you consume more calories, it’s
important to realize that there is nothing magical about weight
gainer supplements.

Some research in physically inactive adults has shown that
drastically increasing calories can increase lean mass like
muscle, as long as you eat enough protein (29).

However, research in adults who weight trained indicated that
consuming a weight gainer supplement may not be effective for
increasing lean mass (28).

Overall, weight gainers are only recommended if you are
struggling to eat enough food and you find it easier to drink a
weight gainer shake than eat more real food.

Summary: Weight gainers are high-calorie
products designed to help you consume more calories and
protein. However, they are only recommended if you struggle
to get enough calories from food.

4. Beta-Alanine

White Powder in a Black Measuring Spoon

Beta-alanine
is an amino acid that reduces fatigue and may increase exercise
performance (30, 31).

Additionally, beta-alanine may help increase muscle mass if you
are following an exercise program.

One study showed that taking 4 grams of beta-alanine per day
for eight weeks increased lean body mass more than a placebo in
college wrestlers and football players (32).

Another study reported that adding a beta-alanine supplement to
a six-week, high-intensity interval training program increased
lean body mass by about 1 pound (0.45 kg) more than a placebo
(33).

While more research on beta-alanine and muscle gain is needed,
this supplement may help support muscle gain when combined with
an exercise program.

Summary: Beta-alanine is an amino acid that
can improve exercise performance. Some evidence shows that it
may also help increase muscle mass in response to exercise,
but more information is needed.

5. Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-chain
amino acids
(BCAAs) consist of three individual amino
acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine.

They are found in most protein sources, particularly those of
animal origin like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish.

BCAAs are critically important for muscle growth and make up
about 14% of the amino acids in your muscles (34, 35).

Just about everyone consumes BCAAs from food every day, but
it’s also very popular to take BCAAs as a supplement.

A small amount of research has shown that BCAAs may improve
muscle gain or reduce muscle loss, compared to a placebo
(36, 37).

However, other research shows that BCAAs may not produce
greater muscle gain in those following an exercise program
(38).

It’s likely that BCAA supplements may only benefit you if you
are not eating enough high-quality protein in your diet.

Although they may be beneficial if your diet is inadequate,
more information is needed before BCAAs are recommended as a
go-to supplement for muscle gain.

Summary: Branched-chain amino acids are
important for muscle growth. They are found in many foods,
and it is unclear if taking them as a supplement is helpful
when you already consume enough protein.

6. HMB

White Capsules in the Lid of a Pill Bottle

Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) is a molecule that’s
produced when your body processes the amino acid leucine.

HMB is responsible for some of the beneficial effects of
protein and leucine in the diet (39).

It may be especially important for reducing the breakdown of
muscle proteins (40).

While HMB is produced naturally by your body, taking it as a
supplement allows for higher levels and may benefit your
muscles (40, 41).

Several studies in previously untrained adults have shown
taking 3–6 grams of HMB per day can improve the gains in lean
body mass from weight training (42, 43, 44).

However, other research shows that similar doses of HMB are
probably not effective at increasing muscle mass in adults with
weight training experience (45, 46, 47).

This may mean that HMB is most effective for those who are
getting started with exercise or increasing the intensity of
their workouts.

Summary: HMB may help increase muscle mass
in those who are beginning a weight training program, but it
appears to be less effective for those with training
experience.

Other Supplements

Several other supplements claim to increase muscle mass. These
include conjugated linoleic acid, testosterone boosters,
glutamine and carnitine.

However, the evidence is mixed.

  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): CLA
    refers to a group of omega-6 fatty acids that exert several
    effects on the body. Studies on CLA for muscle gain have
    produced mixed results, and it isn’t clear if it’s beneficial
    (48, 49, 50, 51).
  • Testosterone boosters:
    Testosterone-boosting supplements
    include D-aspartic
    acid, tribulus terrestris, fenugreek, DHEA and ashwagandha.
    It’s likely these compounds only benefit those with low
    testosterone (52, 53, 54, 55, 56).
  • Glutamine and carnitine: These are probably
    not effective at increasing muscle mass in young or
    middle-aged active individuals. However, studies have shown
    carnitine can have some
    benefits
    for muscle mass in the elderly (57, 58, 59, 60).

Summary: Many types of supplements claim to
increase muscle mass, but there is little evidence that they
are effective for healthy, active individuals.

The Bottom Line

Supplements can’t provide you with maximal muscle gains if your
nutrition and exercise programs are lacking.

To gain muscle, you need to eat enough calories and protein, as
well as exercise, ideally with weights. Once your nutrition and
exercise regimens are in check, you may want to consider
dietary supplements.

Creatine and protein supplements are likely the most effective
choices for muscle gain, but other supplements may be
beneficial for certain people.

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