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BUILDING MUSCLE is tough because there are so many factors at work beyond just strength training. Genetics, sleep, and your diet all play a role too. You can't control your genes and you can only kind of control your sleep. So, that leaves your diet. This is where muscle-building supplements come in. Yes, supplements are a viable and safe way to help you put on muscle—as long as you know the right products to purchase.
Protein, more than any other nutrient, fuels muscle growth. If you want to build muscle, you should aim to eat 0.8-1.1 grams of protein for every pound of your target body weight daily, according to the body of research. So, if you want to weigh 185, you should consume ~185 grams of protein daily.
Now, if you figure that you want to try to eat about 30 grams of protein at each meal to best fuel your muscles, and you're eating three meals a day, that only gets you a total of 90 grams of protein. Even if you add two smart snacks, each pulling in about 15 grams of protein, you're still short about 65 grams. You can, of course, achieve your protein goals without supplements, but protein powder does make it easier, explains Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, C.S.C.S., CISSN, Pn1, Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition.
Aside from protein powder, creatine—the most studied and effective performance enhancing supplement in existence—is the next-best choice to help you increase strength, power, and size, according to St. Pierre. "Those are your two big ones. After that there might be some small benefits from fish oil (which is a smart general health supplement anyway) and beta-alanine."
Across our team of MH fitness editors and experts, we've tested dozens of the best supplements for muscle growth to figure out which products work, and which are a waste of your precious coin. While each user's preferences and experiences with a muscle growth supplement are unique to a myriad of physiological factors, some products clearly outperformed others in terms of ingredients, price, and serving size. But one thing remained true: the best supplements for muscle growth hold a third-party certification—Informed Choice, NSF Certified, USP Certified—to verify they are free from contaminants and banned substances.
Below, our list of the best 10 supplements for muscle growth to shop in 2023.
What to Look For in a Muscle Growth Supplement
Shopping for supplements is tricky. And with endless claims of performance-enhancing benefits and hulk-like gains, shopping for sport supplements is can be even harder. When it comes to finding the right muscle growth supplement, it's like navigating a jungle of flashy labels and exaggerated claims. But fear not, here's the lowdown on what you need to know before making a purchase:
Ingredients: First things first, flip that bottle around and take a good look at the ingredients list. You want a supplement that contains high-quality, scientifically-backed ingredients. Look for key muscle-building compounds like whey or plant-based protein, creatine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), beta-alanine, (or fish oil). Less is more—avoid supplements loaded with fillers and questionable additives.
Quality and Purity: You wouldn't settle for subpar gains, so don't settle for subpar quality either. Opt for reputable brands that prioritize quality control and use third-party testing to ensure purity and potency. Look for certifications like NSF or Informed Choice for added peace of mind.
Dosage and Serving Size: Consider your lifestyle and convenience when deciding which one fits your routine.
Dosage: Pay attention to the recommended dosage and serving size. Some supplements require multiple servings per day, while others only need to be taken once. We asked St. Pierre about recommended dosage for the different types of muscle-growth supplements we featured in this story—here's what he had to say:
"For protein powder, no more than 50 gram of protein per day from powder. The majority of protein intake should come from whole food."
For creatine, he recommended between 3-7 grams per day. Most creatine supplements offer a common serving of 5 grams, but small individuals might be able to get the same benefits with just 3 grams, he says. "Larger individuals (over 200-pounds) might need closer to 10 grams per day to see benefit."
While the recommended beta-alanine dosage ranges from 3-6 grams per day, fish oil dosage is based on it’s omega-3 content (namely DHA and EPA), he explains. "Total omega-3 content should be between 1-3 grams per day."
Research-backed: Don't fall for the hype without the science to back it up. Look for supplements that have solid research and studies supporting their claims. Check if the product has undergone clinical trials or if there are peer-reviewed studies demonstrating its effectiveness.
Price: The green stuff matters, but so does value. Compare the cost per serving among different brands and consider the overall value you're getting. Sometimes paying a little extra for a higher-quality product is worth it in the long run.
Customer reviews: Don't underestimate the power of the people. Check out customer reviews and ratings to get a sense of others' experiences with the supplement. Look for feedback on effectiveness, taste, mixability, and any potential side effects.
What Are the Best Muscle Growth Supplements?
Straight from registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre, here's the scoop on the best muscle growth supplements that actually work. Brace yourselves because the list isn't as long as we'd hope, but these supplements are researched-backed, safe, and accessible.
- Protein Powder: This bad boy takes the top spot, no questions asked. Getting enough protein is crucial for maximum muscle growth, and protein powder makes hitting those targets a breeze. Shoot for about 0.8-1.1 grams per pound of body weight. Sure, you can get protein from whole foods, but protein powder just makes life easier.
- Creatine: Coming in hot at number two, creatine can be a game-changer. It's been extensively studied and proven to be one of the most effective performance-enhancing supplements out there. It amps up your strength, power, and size, so you can go beast mode in the gym. Don't be afraid of a little pre-workout caffeine fix too, because, contrary to popular belief, they actually work together.
- Beta-Alanine: This one may not be as well-known, but it deserves a spot on the list. Beta-alanine can give you that extra edge during intense workouts by delaying fatigue. It's no replacement for protein or creatine for serious gains, but it can be a valuable addition to your arsenal to push through those grueling sets.
- Fish Oil: Now, here's a supplement that's not only good for your gains but also your overall health. Fish oil brings some small yet noteworthy benefits to the table. It's like a smart, multitasking supplement. Keep your heart happy, joints lubricated, and inflammation in check. Plus, it adds a nice touch to your supplement lineup.
Remember, these supplements aren't magic potions. They're enhancers design to work alongside your dedicated training and nutrition efforts. So, prioritize nutrition from first first, then protein powder and creatine, then maybe sprinkle in some beta-alanine and fish oil, if you're feeling adventurous. With the right combination, you'll be on the fast track to packing on those lean lbs.
How Do Muscle Growth Supplements Work?
Other than protein powder, no supplements are necessary in the first year of serious training, explains St. Pierre. During this time of new stimulus, most people get really good results ('newbie gains'), with or without supplements. "As a lifter becomes more experienced and progress slows, these supplements can help improve progress, but it takes months or really years of training to see truly significant changes."
Protein powder works by increasing the process that builds muscle (protein synthesis) and decreasing the process that breaks down muscle (protein breakdown).
Creatine, on the other hand, enhances your ability to bang out a few more reps on an exercise, helping you to get stronger over time. "It also increases water content of your cells and might reduce protein breakdown, which combined, could increase lean mass."
Beta-alanine increases exercise capacity and decreases muscle fatigue, explains St. Pierre. "It’s thought this allows you to train harder and therefore gain more muscle over time."
Fish oil boasts anti-inflammatory effects that, according to St. Pierre, might actually increase your muscle’s sensitivity to protein. "It also seems to support protein synthesis."
Are Muscle Growth Supplements Safe to Use?
We want to make sure you're putting your gains first without compromising your health. In fact, all the supplements we mentioned earlier are safe when taken at the recommended dosages. But, hey, it never hurts to be extra cautious, right?
To amp up your safety game, go for products that have been put through the wringer by independent third-party labs. Look out for reputable certifications like NSF, Informed Sport/Informed Choice, or USP. These seals of approval mean the supplements have passed rigorous testing and meet the highest quality standards.
Now, let's talk specifically about creatine. Stick to the tried-and-true monohydrate form because it's been extensively studied. Sure, it may cause some stomach upset or diarrhea, but that's usually only if you go crazy with a loading protocol of around 20 grams per day for 5-7 days before dialing it back to a daily dose of 5 grams, explains St. Pierre. This loading method may give you faster results, but could also lead to more side effects.
Moderation is key here. Taking any of these supplements in excessive amounts can lead to unwanted side effects. Stick to the recommended dosages, follow the instructions on the packaging, and listen to your body. And remember, when starting a new supplement, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional.
Why You Can Trust Us
At Men's Health, we take great pride in providing our readers with reliable and trustworthy product recommendations. We believe that our readers deserve the best, which is why we always make sure to conduct thorough research and testing before making any recommendations. Our writers and editors thoughtfully select experts for collaboration on product recommendations, and are also experts in their own right, using their informed opinions to select products and ensuring that our content is of the highest quality.
Our product recommendations are purely editorial, and while we may receive free products to test and review, we only recommend the products we are most impressed by. We never let retailers or public relations contacts dictate our content or product coverage. Which is why you can trust us to provide you with reliable and unbiased product recommendations.
How We Selected the Best Muscle Growth Supplements
For this story, we thoroughly researched and tested dozens of the best muscle growth supplements on the market. We carefully evaluated every major feature, including ingredients, third-party testing and certification, effectiveness, and price. We also called on registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, C.S.C.S., CISSN, Pn1, Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition, to compare notes and gain perspectives on what sets the best muscle-building supplements apart from the rest. The list above represents our honest picks for the best muscle growth supplements worthy of our recommendation in 2023.
Paul is the Food & Nutrition Editor of Men’s Health. He’s also the author of two cookbooks: Guy Gourmet and A Man, A Pan, A Plan.
Talene Appleton is the Fitness and Commerce Editor at Men’s Health, where she covers fitness, nutrition, health, and wellness. She was previously the Associate Editor of General Surgery News, and a nutrition writer for The Food Institute. Talene is a retired professional dancer, and loves to spend her free time cooking elaborate meals for her friends and family.
Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS, CISSN, Pn1, is the Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition. He leads of team of nearly 20 expert coaches, helping individuals of all backgrounds reach their personal and professional goals. In addition, he works with a host of fitness professionals and professional sports teams including the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Browns, US Open Champion Sloane Stephens, and more.
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