5 Supplements to Help Maximize Muscle Gains

If you exercise regularly, you likely want to be sure you’re getting the most out of it.

One important benefit of exercise is gaining muscle and strength. Having a healthy amount of muscle allows to you to perform your best during exercise and daily life.

Three main criteria must be met for maximal muscle gain: eating more calories than you burn, consuming more protein than you break down and an exercise program that is challenging to your muscles. (1, 2, 3)

While it’s possible to meet all these criteria without taking dietary supplements, certain supplements may help you meet your goals quicker and more efficiently.

Here are 5 supplements that when combined with your exercise regimen may help you gain more muscle.

1. Creatine

Creatine is a molecule that’s produced naturally in your body. It provides energy for your muscles and other tissues.

However, taking it as a dietary supplement can increase muscle creatine content by up to 40% beyond its normal levels. (4, 5, 6)

This affects your muscle cells and exercise performance, promoting muscle gain. In fact, a large amount of research shows creatine improves muscle strength. (7, 8, 9)

This is good news if you’re trying to gain muscle. Greater strength allows you to perform better during exercise, leading to larger increases in muscle mass over time. (10)

Creatine can also increase water content in your muscle cells. This may cause your muscle cells to swell slightly and produce signals for muscle growth. (11)

Furthermore, this supplement may increase levels of the hormones involved in muscle growth, such as IGF-1. (12)

Moreover, some research shows that creatine could decrease the breakdown of proteins in your muscles. (13)

Overall, many researchers have studied creatine supplements and exercise, and one thing is clear — creatine can help increase muscle mass. (14, 15)

Creatine has also been studied extensively and has an outstanding safety profile. (14)

If you are looking for a supplement to help you gain muscle put creatine at the top of your list.

2. Protein Supplements

Getting enough protein is critical for gaining muscle. Specifically, to gain muscle, you need to consume more protein than your body breaks down through natural processes. (16)

While it’s possible to get all the protein you need from protein-rich foods, some people struggle to do so.

If this sounds like you, you may want to consider taking a protein supplement.

There are many different protein supplements available, but some of the most popular are whey, casein and soy protein. Other protein supplements contain protein isolated from eggs, beef, chicken or other sources. (17)

Research shows that adding extra protein via supplements causes slightly more muscle gain in people who exercise than adding extra carbs. (18, 19, 20)

However, the effects are probably largest for people who aren’t getting enough protein in their normal diet.

In fact, some research shows that consuming very high amounts of protein supplements doesn’t help increase muscle if you are already following a high-protein diet. (21, 22, 23, 24)

Many people wonder how much protein they need to take in on a daily basis. If you are an active individual trying to gain muscle between 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight seem to be a good sweet-spot. (25, 26, 27)

3. Weight Gainers

Weight gainers are supplements designed to conveniently help you get more calories and protein.

Some people just find it hard to gain muscle, even when consuming large amounts of calories and lifting weights on a regular basis. (28)

This is when a weight gainer will come in handy. And although the calorie contents of weight gainer supplements vary, it’s not uncommon for them to contain over 1,000 calories per serving.

Many people think these calories come from protein since it’s so important for muscle building.

However, most of the calories actually come from carbs.

There are often 75 to 300 grams of carbs and 20 to 60 grams of protein per serving of these high-calorie supplements.

While these products can help you consume more calories, it’s important to realize that there is nothing magical about weight gainer supplements.

Some research in physically inactive adults has shown that drastically increasing calories can increase lean mass like muscle, as long as you eat enough protein. (29)

However, research in adults who weight trained indicated that consuming a weight gainer supplement may not be effective for increasing lean mass. (28)

Overall, weight gainers are only recommended if you are struggling to eat enough food and you find it easier to drink a weight gainer shake than eat more real food.

4. Beta-Alanine

Beta-Alanine is an amino acid that reduces fatigue and may increase exercise performance (30, 31)

Additionally, beta-alanine may help increase muscle mass if you are following an exercise program.

One study showed that taking 4 grams of beta-alanine per day for eight weeks increased lean body mass more than a placebo in college wrestlers and football players. (32)

Another study reported that adding a beta-alanine supplement to a six-week, high-intensity interval training program increased lean body mass by about 1 pound more than a placebo. (33)

While more research on beta-alanine and muscle gain is needed, this supplement may help support muscle gain when combined with an exercise program.

5. Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) consist of three individual amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine.

They are found in most protein sources, particularly those of animal origin like meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish.

BCAAs are critically important for muscle growth and make up about 14% of the amino acids in your muscles. (34, 35)

Just about everyone consumes BCAAs from food every day, but it’s also very popular to take BCAAs as a supplement.

A small amount of research has shown that BCAAs may improve muscle gain or reduce muscle loss, compared to a placebo. (36, 37)

However, other research shows that BCAAs may not produce greater muscle gain in those following an exercise program. (38)

It’s likely that BCAA supplements may only benefit you if you are not eating enough high-quality protein in your diet.

Although they may be beneficial if your diet is inadequate, more information is needed before BCAAs are recommended as a go-to supplement for muscle gain.

Bottom Line:

Supplements won’t provide you with maximal muscle gains if your nutrition and exercise programs are not dialed in correctly.

To gain muscle, you need to eat enough calories and protein, as well as exercise with weights.

Once your nutrition and exercise regimens are in check, you may want to consider dietary supplements.

Creatine and protein supplements are likely the most effective choices for muscle gain, but other supplements may be beneficial as well.