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Top 5 muscle-building supplements

Rob Hobson
Article written by Rob Hobson

Date published 20 December 2023

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Building muscle is not just about lifting weights; it's an art that blends training, rest, and nutrition. A sculpted physique reflects dedication, effort, and the power of the right supplements. Sports nutritionist Rob Hobson brings you your guide to the top supplements to supercharge your muscle-building journey.

🕒 6 min read

WHY IS MUSCLE SO IMPORTANT?

Muscle isn't just about looking good. Maintaining muscle mass helps to drive body power and ensures mobility, strength, and injury prevention. Although resistance exercise is pivotal, muscle hypertrophy (growth) is also largely influenced by what you eat. Overlook nutrition, and you might just be sabotaging your own progress.

FOODS TO BUILD MUSCLE

While engaging in resistance exercise, tiny tears occur in your muscle fibres, making them ready for growth, and nutrition acts as the building material. Just as building a house needs bricks, building muscle requires protein. To build muscle and get the gains you want, you need to focus on a few essential elements of eating well.

Protein: The cornerstone of muscle growth. This macronutrient fuels the repair and growth of muscle fibres post-exercise. Although whole foods are essential, protein powder supplements are a convenient way to meet your daily protein needs.

Caloric intake: Think of this as fuel. You need excess calories to support muscle growth. Otherwise, your body might just start eating away at its own muscles for energy.

Timing: Proper nutrient timing, especially post-workout, is like adding a catalyst to your muscle growth process.

Find out more: the top 5 muscle-building foods

Sports nutritionist Rob Hobson brings you the science behind the top 5 foods to help you build muscle.

Find out more

SUPPLEMENTS FOR BUILDING MUSCLE

Resistance training creates the stimulus for muscle growth, but nutrition provides the raw materials and environment for this growth to occur. Neglecting nutrition can lead to sub-par results, slowed recovery, and increased risk of injuries. In the quest for muscle growth, you need to treat nutrition with the same importance as the workout itself.

Supplements can play a supportive role in the muscle-building process, complementing training and nutrition. They can be especially helpful in filling nutritional gaps, optimising recovery, and enhancing performance. Here's how specific supplements can help you build muscle.

PROTEIN POWDERS AND BARS

Dose: 20-25g protein per serving.

Support muscle repair and growth: Protein is essential for the repair and growth of muscle fibres damaged during workouts. If dietary protein intake is insufficient, protein powders and bars can help meet your needs. Protein supplements are particularly beneficial for people with a high protein requirement (athletes weighing 100kg or more engaged in power-based sports.)

Research suggests: Studies have shown that, alongside resistance training, protein shakes result in greater muscle mass and strength gains versus a placebo. One study showed that consuming 20g of protein before and after resistance training increased muscle mass and strength over a 10-week period.

However, in athletes already consuming enough protein to meet their needs, there appears to be little difference in muscle synthesis or strength.

Convenience: It can be challenging to consume enough protein from whole foods alone, especially for those with high requirements. Protein shakes offer a quick and convenient solution.

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WEIGHT/MASS GAINERS

Dose: 20-25g protein per serving.

Energy density: Weight, or mass, gainers are designed to help people increase their daily calorie intake to gain weight and build muscle. They are particularly beneficial for those who find it hard to gain weight (hard gainers) or those with very high metabolic rates.

Support muscle growth and repair: Weight gainers contain enough protein to support recovery from exercise and muscle growth. It's also high-quality protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids in the right quantities for muscle growth.

Balance of macronutrients: These protein shakes also contain carbohydrate to help support weight gain and to fuel workouts by replenishing glycogen during recovery. The carbohydrates in these shakes can also help to stop protein from being used during intense workouts.

There is also evidence to suggest that combining protein with carbohydrates post-workout can enhance muscle protein synthesis, compared to consuming protein alone. These shakes normally contain a ratio of 3:1 carbohydrate to protein to achieve this.

CREATINE

Dose: 20g daily (4x 5g) for 5 days, then 5g daily for maintenance.

Enhances ATP production: Research suggests that creatine monohydrate supplementation can help increase muscle performance and strength in those who perform short-duration, high-intensity resistance exercises.

This is because creatine helps regenerate ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the primary energy source for short, intense bursts of energy such as weightlifting or sprinting.

Increases cell hydration: Creatine pulls water into muscle cells, which can increase protein synthesis and potentially muscle size.

Improves workout performance: By replenishing energy rapidly, creatine can improve workout intensity and volume, promoting greater muscle growth over time.

Research suggests: The International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) says that creatine is "the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise and lean body mass during training."

According to research, creatine supplementation results in mass gains of typically 1-3% lean body weight after a 5-day loading dose.

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HMB (BETA-HYDROXY BETA-METHYLBUTYRATE)

Dose: 3g daily

Muscle protein breakdown: HMB is believed to help reduce muscle protein breakdown. This reduction can, in turn, enhance net muscle protein balance when combined with resistance training, thereby promoting muscle growth.

Muscle damage: HMB supplementation has been shown to decrease markers of muscle damage following prolonged exercise. By reducing muscle damage, recovery can be accelerated, and this can potentially facilitate greater muscle growth over time when paired with appropriate training.

It's not known exactly how HMB works, but it has been suggested that this may be due to cellular repair; HMB is a precursor to a component of cell membranes that helps with the growth and repair of muscle tissue.

Enhanced recovery: Faster recovery can mean more frequent and intensive training sessions, which can contribute to muscle mass gains.

Research suggests: Previously a review of supplements by the ISSN concluded that HMB promoted recovery, reduced exercise-induced muscle damage, and increased muscle mass, but many of the studies used in this review had flawed methodology. Research around the effect of this supplement on body composition can be viewed as moderate and emerging.

THREE STEPS TO MUSCLE MASTERY

Building muscle is a marathon not a sprint, and there are some key points to consider when trying to achieve muscle mass gains.

  1. Be consistent. If you want to gain muscle, you must take consistent actions to support that muscle growth.
  2. Space out your meals. Meal timing is also important. Consume protein evenly throughout the day, as well as before and after exercise, as this will help to drip-feed protein into the body.
  3. Be patient. Gaining muscle takes time; you may not see results right away. Stick with your plan and be patient. Listen to your body. Pushing yourself can be beneficial for growth, but rest is just as vital.

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Rob Hobson

About Rob Hobson

Rob Hobson MSc RNutr is an award-winning registered nutritionist (AFN) and sports nutritionist (SENR) with over 15 years of experience. He founded London-based consultancy RH Nutrition, and has degrees in nutrition, public health nutrition and sports nutrition.

robhobson.co.uk