The 12 Best Supplements for Building Muscle, Backed by Science

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    During workout recovery, your muscles have time to heal, repair, and grow. There are some supplements that can help you maximize your muscle gains.

    How can supplements help with muscle growth and repair?

    After a high intensity workout, your muscles need to recover. Workout recovery is, in some ways, just as important as the workout itself. When you engage in an intense workout – strength training, resistance training, or otherwise – you might experience tiny tears in your muscle tissue. That’s a good thing, because it’s in the repairing of this tissue that you see muscle gains.

    That’s also where a smart supplement routine can become a big asset. There are many muscle building supplements available to you that can help both help your exercise performance and support your workout recovery. Let’s take a look at six of the best supplements for muscle growth and repair.

    The 12 best supplements for muscle growth and repair

    Certain supplements can enhance muscle growth and repair, when paired with resistance training and healthy diet and lifestyle practices. Let’s dig into the science behind the 12 best supplements for building and repairing muscle.

    1. Protein Powder

    Protein powders are popular workout supplements – and for good reason. Protein is an important building block of any sound diet. It’s also a major structural component of every cell in the body, and it’s what our organs, muscles, hair, and skin are made of. Getting enough protein is indispensable to healthy muscle growth and recovery.

    Protein powders are concentrated forms of protein, derived from animal or plant foods containing protein. The three most common forms of protein powder are:

    • Protein concentrates. These are made by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid. They are typically 60-80% protein, with the remaining 20-40% comprising fat and carbs.
    • Protein isolates. These go through an extra process of filtering, removing more fat and carbs and resulting in a composition of about 90-95% protein.
    • Protein hydrolysates. These are made through additional heating with acid or enzymes, thus breaking the bond between amino acids. Of the three most popular protein powder options, protein hydrolysates are absorbed most quickly by your muscles.

    You have options: you can even choose between whey protein and plant protein. Care/of offers both: Our whey protein is a grass-fed protein isolate, and our plant protein comes from the proteins of organic peas, pumpkin seeds, and hemp. Some powders are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals – calcium, most notably.

    Protein powders are especially beneficial for athletes and other people who engage in high intensity workouts. One study found that protein supplementation had benefits for the muscle mass, strength, and aerobic power of healthy adults.

    2. Creatine

    If you’re into exercising, you may have heard of creatine. Creatine is a blend of 3 amino acids (arginine, glycine, and methionine) produced naturally by your liver, pancreas, and kidneys. Once produced, it’s delivered to your brain and muscles. About 95% of the creatine in your body is stored in your skeletal muscle.

    While you can boost your creatine intake by consuming seafood and red meat, it’s also available as a hugely popular workout supplement. Creatine has been shown to support athletic performance, grow muscle mass, increase strength, and more. The most popular creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate.

    One study examined the effects of creatine supplementation on the people engaged in four weeks of resistance training. The researchers found promising results, noting that the group that took the creatine experienced increased muscle strength compared to the placebo group. Another study likewise found that taking creatine supplements can lead to enhanced benefits from speed and resistance training, as well as improved aerobic endurance performance. The very same study noted that creatine can lead to benefits regarding strength, power, muscle mass, and neurological function.

    That’s not all. Yet another study – this one involving young female volunteers engaged in ten weeks of resistance training – demonstrated the effectiveness of creatine. Compared with the placebo group members, the women who took creatine saw big increases in strength, muscle mass, and exercise capacity.

    The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) performed an extensive review of existing creatine studies to determine creatine’s effectiveness in exercise, sport, and medicine. The review found that creatine monohydrate, in particular, boasts myriad therapeutic benefits for people of all ages. It also found that creatine is one of the most effective supplements available for athletes trying to boost their body mass and their high intensity exercise capacity. Studies also suggest that creatine helps support:

    • strength
    • sprint ability
    • muscle endurance
    • ballistic power
    • fatigue resistance
    • muscle mass
    • recovery
    • brain performance

    If you’re looking for a supplement with a proven track record of supporting muscle growth and repair, creatine may very well be the way to go.

    3. Omega-3

    Omega-3 fatty acids have a range of benefits for your health, including improved immune function, enhanced brain health, blood lipid regulation, and optimized neuromuscular function. There are several different types of omega-3s, the two essential ones being eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Studies have shown that enrichment of EPA and DHA in the body is linked to enhanced rates of muscle protein synthesis, as well as a reduction of factors that regulate muscle protein breakdown. The available evidence is quite clear: omega-3 supplementation has the potential to support muscle recovery. A popular form of omega-3 supplementation is fish oil, such as the fish oil supplement offered by Care/of.

    4. Vitamin D

    Vitamin D is produced in the body via the UV radiation from the sun and it’s an essential part of how our bodies store and use energy. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that is not commonly found in our diets. It can mostly be found in fatty fish, some other meats, and fortified foods like grain and dairy products. Vitamin D also helps support bone and immune health. Because of its importance for storing and using energy, vitamin D is also important for exercise capacity, as well as muscle and growth repair. Indeed, studies of animals and humans have shown that vitamin D plays a critical role in the regeneration of muscle, as well as in mitochondrial health. Vitamin D deficiencies, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of weakness and muscle loss. Moreover, vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium, which is well known not only for support of bone health but also muscle contraction.

    Still, despite its importance, over 70% of people in the world are at least slightly deficient in vitamin D. A number of factors contribute to this reality. For instance, the amount of time you spend outside is important, since vitamin D is synthesized by the body when the skin is touched by UV rays from the sun. Other factors include sun intensity, pollution, sunscreen use, and skin color. The best way to increase vitamin D intake is to have more time in the sun; for adequate absorption, uncovered skin must be exposed to sunlight for approximately ten minutes per day during peak UV times.

    The RDA for vitamin D is 15 micrograms (mcg) or 600 international units (IU). For supplements, taking them with food is recommended; your body will absorb the most vitamin D if your supplements are taken alongside a meal with healthy fats in it.

    Care/of offers a vitamin D supplement that is formulated to be easy to digest. Taking one capsule can provide you the recommended daily allowance. Care/of also offers a vegan vitamin D option.

    5. Beta-Alanine

    Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that your body naturally produces from other amino acids. In recent years, it’s also become an increasingly popular workout supplement.

    Here’s how to think about beta-alanine’s effect on your muscles. Your muscles contain a protein building block called carnosine. Higher levels of carnosine may help the muscles during workouts, allowing them to perform for longer periods before fatigue sets in. Beta-alanine is a main ingredient of carnosine, and it is believed that beta-alanine supplementation may indeed boost your body’s production of carnosine. Studies have shown that daily supplementation of 4 to 6 grams of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks does improve exercise performance. Studies have also shown that beta-alanine supplementation may reduce exercise-related fatigue.

    6. BCAAs

    Your body has 20 different amino acids. Together they make up the thousands of different proteins in your body. In other words, they’re very important.

    Of the 20, nine are what’s known as your essential amino acids. This simply means that your body doesn’t produce them on its own, and they therefore must be obtained through dietary means. Of those nine, three are what we call the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and they are: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

    The BCAAs get their name from their chemical structure. You can get BCAAs in some protein-rich foods, including meat and eggs, and they’re also a popular supplement, mainly available as a powder.

    BCAA supplements have been shown to support muscle growth by stimulating protein synthesis after exercise. One study found that people who consumed a drink containing BCAAs after an intense resistance workout saw a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who consumed the placebo. Still, it’s important to note that BCAAs don’t stimulate muscle growth on their own. One study even found that taking BCAAs can lead to decreased muscle protein synthesis if taken alone, since they need the other essential amino acids to achieve their full potential.

    7. HMB

    HMB (or beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate) is a natural metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine. It is produced in the body as a result of the breakdown of leucine in muscle tissue, a process that is essential for muscle protein synthesis. HMB has gained in popularity for its role in promoting muscle growth by reducing muscle protein breakdown, promoting protein synthesis, and enhancing recovery.

    Unlike anabolic hormones or supplements that stimulate muscle hypertrophy by increasing muscle protein synthesis, HMB may instead promote strength and lean body mass gains by inhibiting catabolism, or muscle breakdown, and damage that can occur with intense exercise. One study of combat sports athletes found that HMB supplementation, when compared to supplementation with a placebo, resulted in greater lean body mass gains and body fat reduction, aerobic capacity, and power.

    According to the position statement of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), HMB is best consumed around the time of a workout and for at least 2 weeks prior to an intense bout of exercise, and it is safe for long-term use in both young and older populations.

    8. Glutamine

    Glutamine plays a hefty role in the muscles, as evidenced by its abundance– it is the most abundant free amino acid in skeletal muscle and accounts for over fifty percent of amino acid concentration within muscle tissue. One study showed that glutamine may help with recovery and exercise-induced muscle soreness. A scientific review of glutamine further found that glutamine can help improve some markers of fatigue, such as promoting increased synthesis of glycogen (an important form of energy storage in muscles) and reducing accumulation of ammonia due to exercise. However, the review pointed out that glutamine did not result in increased physical performance during exercise. Overall, glutamine appears to work better as a post-workout recovery supplement. Stretching, hydration, and adequate rest are also important workout recovery factors.

    9. Testosterone boosters

    Testosterone boosters claim to do as their name implies – boost levels of testosterone in the body. However, testosterone booster supplements can vary widely, from ingredients used, to doses, pricing, and third party testing for quality. Common ingredients used in testosterone booster supplements include D-aspartic acid, fenugreek, adaptogens like ashwagandha and maca, and nutrients such as zinc and vitamin D (when levels are deficient), among others. Several research studies have now demonstrated improvements in testosterone with the supplementation of Malaysian ginseng, which is thought to be effective through its adaptogenic properties, which can help manage stress and restore hormone balance. In addition to finding ways to manage stress, maintaining optimal nutrition is also important to maintain healthy hormone levels. You can check out our complete list of foods that boost testosterone for more info on optimizing nutrition.

    Take caution by choosing supplements from companies with rigorous quality standards, like third-party testing, to make sure the ingredients are high quality and match what is listed on the supplement packaging. However, even testosterone booster products obtained from trusted sources and taken as directed may present health risks. Seek the advice of a healthcare professional before starting testosterone boosters and talk to your doctor about hormonal concerns.

    10. Essential Amino Acids

    The essential amino acids are those that that body cannot make and therefore needs to obtain from food. The nine essential amino acids are phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, leucine, and lysine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and support muscle growth and recovery from exercise and resistance training.

    Complete protein sources are foods that include all nine essential amino acids in proportions that are necessary by the body. Foods that provide complete sources of protein are animal sources, with the exception of collagen and gelatin based foods, like bone broth and collagen powders, which are a bit lower in the amino acid tryptophan. Plant sources of protein generally lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Those who stick to a diet primarily of plant-based proteins should eat diverse sources of plant proteins to ensure adequate essential amino acid intake. For example, grains lack the amino acid lysine, while legumes lack methionine.

    Those who consume mostly plant-based proteins should also keep in mind digestibility of certain foods. The Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Scores (PDCAAS) is used to determine protein quality, or the measure of a protein’s ability to provide adequate levels of essential amino acids for human needs. Plant proteins are considered inferior in their delivery of amino acids to the body compared to animal proteins. However, culinary practices such as soaking, cooking, and sprouting plant based proteins may help to increase the bioavailability of amino acids as well as other micronutrients in the plants by reducing antinutrients and increasing digestibility.

    The RDA of protein is around 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight for the average adult. However, the RDA represents the minimum intake necessary for bodily function. More optimal levels of protein intake are anywhere between 1.2 g per kilogram to 1 gram per pound of body weight. That means for a person weighing 175 lb (or about 80 kg), a more optimal daily protein intake might be 96 g to 175 g.

    11. Carnosine

    Carnosine is a compound of beta-alanine and histidine combined. It is found in high concentrations in the brain, gut, heart, and skeletal muscle. Carnosine has known physiological roles in the muscle, including overcoming muscle fatigue by reducing muscle acidosis, enhancing exercise capacity, antioxidant functions, and regulating calcium levels for contraction. However, much of the current research on carnosine is from in vitro studies. More research is needed in human studies to determine if carnosine supplementation has an effect on muscle.

    12. Conjugated Linoleic Acid

    Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is a naturally occuring fat found in small amounts in dairy and meats and has been shown to have health benefits. It is technically a trans fat but is far different from the industrially produced trans fats that have known negative effects on health. Some studies have been done to test the impact of CLA on muscle mass, but the results have not always matched. CLA used in combination with resistance training had a small positive effect on muscle mass. There is more consistent research on the favorable impacts of CLA on maintenance of healthy weight and glycemic control. More research is needed, however, to confirm the potential impact that CLA may have on muscle mass gains. The good news is that CLA from foods, especially grass fed versions of meat and dairy, can provide some health benefits.

    The impact of of supplements on workout performance

    Different supplements can potentially support workout performance through one or more mechanisms. Some can promote energy levels and increased stamina during exercise, such as “pre-workout” supplements. Others can help replenish what is lost during exercise, such as electrolytes and glucose. Additionally, some supplements can support recovery after exercise, such as supporting protein synthesis, minimizing muscle damage, and reducing soreness. Supplements can range from herbs, to nutrients, to amino acids, and protein powders.

    Safety and Precautions with Muscle Growth Supplements

    When considering muscle growth supplements, safety and precautions are crucial. Research the supplements thoroughly, ensuring they are from reputable brands that use 3rd party testing which can confirm that high quality standards are met. Make sure the ingredients used are well-studied and backed by science, like the ones listed in this article. Be cautious of exaggerated claims and avoid supplements with undisclosed proprietary blends. Stick to recommended dosages; excessive use can lead to adverse effects as with most things. Prioritize a balanced diet and appropriate exercise, as supplements should complement, not replace, healthy practices. Monitor your body's response and discontinue use if you experience negative side effects. Stay hydrated and avoid combining multiple supplements without professional guidance. You should also first consult a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions or are on medication.

    And remember: Nothing is a quick fix. Supplements and protein can only enhance muscle building when used alongside resistance training.

    Other ways to build muscle naturally

    In addition to supplements, here are some other ways to build muscle naturally.

    • Incorporate resistance training with increasing challenging weight over time, a process called progressive overload.
    • Ensure adequate protein intake each day spread throughout meals and snacks to support a positive net protein balance%20and%20breakdown%20(MPB).), which means more skeletal muscle protein synthesis than breakdown.
    • Consume a nutrient-dense diet. Minimize highly processed foods and focus on nutrient-dense, whole foods with a variety of protein, healthy fats, whole food carbs, and fiber.
    • Support gut health to promote the gut muscle axis.
    • Get adequate sleep. Sleep is perhaps the most underrated yet important factor when it comes to muscle building, since sleep enables muscle tissue repair, enhances metabolism, and helps rebalances the nervous system.
    • Use additional muscle recovery techniques, like stretching and foam rolling.

    Diet for muscle growth and repair

    You can also support muscle growth and repair through tweaks to your diet.

    Consider adding some more high-protein foods to your routine. Some examples include meat, eggs, some nuts, and dairy products. Incorporate foods rich in magnesium, including nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Also include antioxidant-rich foods to help balance the oxidative stress that can happen with exercise.

    Furthermore, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of staying hydrated, especially when you’re engaging in intense physical exertion. Proper hydration includes both adequate water consumption as well as electrolyte intake.

    Consistent exercise for muscle growth

    Consistent exercise is crucial for muscle growth, as it maintains a steady stimulus that triggers muscle adaptation. Regular workouts and adequate rest help to healthily stress muscles, thereby promoting them to repair and grow stronger.

    This consistent stress enhances protein synthesis, increases muscle fiber size, and boosts overall strength. Progressive overload, which includes gradually increasing resistance and/or repetitions, is also a helpful practice. Deviating from consistent exercise can disrupt this process, leading to stagnation in gains.

    Additionally, consistent training helps maintain metabolic health, joint stability, and overall fitness. To optimize muscle growth, adhere to a well-structured workout routine, allowing muscles time to recover while consistently challenging them to promote sustained development.

    The Bottom Line

    Recovery is important after a high intensity workout. That’s when your muscles have time to heal, repair, and grow stronger. Fortunately, there are supplements that can support your muscle growth, both by supporting your workouts and by supporting the recovery of your muscles. You can also support muscle growth and repair through some adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Victoria Peck-Gray, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Victoria is a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist who helps people with resistant weight loss and PCOS transform their metabolic health and lose weight through a functional nutrition and lifestyle approach that addresses root causes. She is owner of her private practice, Wonderfully Made Nutrition and also leads her group metabolic coaching program for women called The 4 Method.