Lifting heavy, eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking the occasional rest day are all important steps when it comes to building muscle. But even the most perfect diet and training program can leave you stuck on the dreaded muscle-building plateau.
Fortunately for you, we’ve put together a list of the top supplements that’ll help you push a little harder in the gym to get you past the plateau and back to making gains.
1. Whey Protein
A quality protein powder should be a staple supplement for any regular gym goer. Besides its role in enzyme and hormone production, protein is essential to jump-starting the process of making your muscles bigger and stronger. Whey protein is especially popular because of its high leucine content. Leucine is a key amino acid that triggers protein synthesis and helps with the repair and recovery of your muscles.
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that whey protein supplementation resulted in significantly greater gains in lean body mass and strength compared to a placebo. If you’re looking to add muscle mass and get the most out of your training, aim for a daily protein intake of 0.7-1.0 grams per pound of body weight. Drinking a protein shake after your workout can help you reach that target.
2. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine monohydrate is the Michael Jordan of all supplements: It simply is the greatest, outclassing the competition in its ability to increase muscle strength and size. But unlike Jordan, it only costs a few pennies a day!
During intense exercise, your body relies primarily on stores of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and PCr (phospohocreatine) to provide energy. But your body uses up these stores quickly, which is why you can’t work out at maximal intensity for very long. This is where creatine monohydrate comes into play.
Supplementation with as little as 3-5 grams per day has been shown to increase stores of creatine in the muscle. More creatine means longer access to ATP and PCr. That translates into more reps per set, shorter rest periods, and increased training tolerance over time.
In the short term, taking creatine monohydrate may help you achieve greater strength and power output. Over the long term, it stimulates greater muscle growth.
If creatine is the Michael Jordan, consider betaine (AKA trimethylglycine) the Devin Booker of supps. Like the rising Phoenix Suns star, betaine has been around for several years, but is only now starting to get more attention as it shows its value as part of pre-workout formulas.
Betaine seems to work by increasing the release of growth hormone and IGF-1 while blunting the exercise-induced release of catabolic hormones like cortisol. The overall effect is to increase muscle growth and decrease muscle breakdown following exercise. Since betaine works much like creatine monohydrate, researchers suspect that it, too, might stimulate muscle growth over the long term.
Participants in a 2009 study took 1.25 grams of betaine per day for 14 days. Compared to participants who took a placebo, the members of the betaine group were able to do more reps, suggesting that betaine delays fatigue during high-intensity exercise. An increase in lifting volume at higher intensities will lead to increases in muscle mass over time.
4. Citrulline Malate
Overshadowed by the more popular L-citrulline and arginine, citrulline malate is a powerful nitric-oxide booster that deserves more attention. CM can increase nitric-oxide levels (and consequently blood flow) better than L-citrulline or arginine on their own. It can also boost energy and reduce soreness by helping remove metabolic byproducts that accumulate during intense exercise.
And you don’t even need to load up with citrulline malate to see the effects. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a single dose of citrulline malate (8 grams) was enough to significantly increase the number of reps participants could complete in the bench press. Even better, participants were less sore afterward.
So How Do I Get Jacked?
Before you look into buying any supplement, you should always be sure to follow a well-rounded diet. Then, if your dietary needs are met and you’re looking to pack on some more mass, these supplements may very well help to increase your gains.
When shopping for whey, look for supplements that have at least 20-25 grams of protein per serving, ideally with 3-5 grams of leucine. With creatine, it’s best stick with the original creatine monohydrate and consume 5 grams per day. You don’t need much betaine to see the effects, so whatever’s in your pre-workout will likely do the trick. As for citrulline malate, look for a supplement that contains 6-8 grams per serving.
- Cermak, N. M., de Groot, L. C., Saris, W. H., & van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein supplementation augments the adaptive response of skeletal muscle to resistance-type exercise training: a meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(6), 1454-1464.
- Apicella, J. M., Lee, E. C., Bailey, B. L., Saenz, C., Anderson, J. M., Craig, S. A., … & Maresh, C. M. (2013). Betaine supplementation enhances anabolic endocrine and Akt signaling in response to acute bouts of exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(3), 793-802.
- Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Kang, J., Rashti, S. L., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2009). Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 6(1), 7.
- Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1215-1222.