Anyone looking to build muscle can quickly become overwhelmed by the breadth of products on the market that claim they’ll hasten the process. However, there are certain key supplements that have been proven to help build muscle: protein, creatine, glutamine, and multivitamins.

Protein Supplements

Protein supplements come in many forms. It’s made up of amino acids, which are the components of muscle; that’s why protein is integral to muscle-building. Suggested protein intake is between 1 and 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. But if people are getting protein from supplements, there are several types of protein from which to choose: whey, casein, egg, or soy protein. There are many opinions about which type of protein is best; it often depends on how and when one is using the supplement.

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Whey Protein Supplements

Whey protein is ideal for post-workout supplementation, when the body needs protein the most. Whey offers the highest concentration of branched-chain amino acids to help build and retain muscle tissue. It gets digested very quickly, usually in about 30 minutes. Whey protein isolate is the purest form.

Casein Protein Supplements

Casein protein is naturally found in milk. Through a process of ultrafiltration micellar casein is produced, which both promotes muscle growth and supports the immune system. Casein gets digested rather slowly, generally between 2 and 7 hours, so it’s best to use when one needs a long-lasting release of amino acids, like before bed.

Egg Protein Supplements

Bodybuilders used to drink raw egg whites or eat dozens of eggs at a time to get sufficient protein. These days, one can get egg protein in powder form to add to shakes. It takes between an hour and a half and three hours to digest egg protein, so it’s a good anytime protein, providing a sustained release of amino acids to the body.

Soy Protein Supplements

Soy protein supplements are derived fully from plant sources, so they’re good for vegetarians and those who are lactose intolerant. That said, soy protein is absorbed less quickly and efficiently than whey and egg protein supplements.

Creatine Supplements

Creatine has been called the most effective supplement available to increase muscle mass during training. It increases the amount of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) available to one’s muscles. ATP is the primary source of energy for muscles during explosive movements. Increasing its availability lets people perform more reps, lift more weight, and thus build more muscle. Creatine taken in conjunction with whey protein has also been shown to lead to greater muscle mass gains than whey protein alone.

Many body-builders recommend taking creatine in cycles: four weeks taking it followed by one to two weeks not taking it. There are also different types of creatine, including liquid creatine, pure creatine monohydrate, and micronized creatine, among others. Evidence shows that creatine taken in drink form leads to higher peak concentrations than when it’s taken in solid form. The best creatine supplements include built-in dextrose and should be taken after a workout.

Glutamine Supplements

L-Glutamine is an amino acid found in muscle tissue. It’s actually the most abundant amino acid in one’s muscles where it helps to improve muscle recovery. People supplement with extra glutamine in order to increase their recovery rate and build up their muscles faster. It’s especially helpful for those who are both building muscle mass and restricting carbohydrates. It can be taken all year long, but it shouldn’t be taken with creatine. The two access the same receptors during absorption, so if taken together they compete, getting absorbed less efficiently. Glutamine can be taken before a workout and creatine after to optimize absorption.

Multivitamin Supplements

It may seem basic, but taking a daily multivitamin will help people build muscle faster. Anyone eating a Western diet rarely gets all the vitamins and minerals they need. Deficiencies in even a few key vitamins or minerals can hamper the ability to build muscle. It’s advisable to take at least one dose of a multivitamin every day. If taken with food, digestion will slow the absorption, allowing for some time release; there are also dedicated time-release multivitamins on the market. Since those trying to build muscle need more vitamins and minerals than the average person, they should choose a multivitamin that’s meant for athletes and bodybuilders.

There are a myriad other supplements that can be helpful for those trying to build muscle: human growth hormone, nitric oxide, anti-estrogens, other amino acids, and natural testosterone boosters, among many others. Still, protein, creatine, glutamine, and multivitamins should form everyone’s foundation when it comes to muscle-building supplements.

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