When it comes to finding the best muscle building supplements, there's a big difference between the proven supplements that can make a significant impact and those that only deliver marketing hype.
Science shows that the average amount of muscle you can legally pack onto your body (read: no steroids) is about ½ a pound of muscle per week. Can you build more than that? Of course. But, it takes the right blend of consistent workouts, good diet, and targeted supplementation to push beyond average.
What are the best muscle building supplements? You might be surprised to discover that the list of ingredients that undeniable work is shorter than you might think. But, if your goal is high performance, here's where supplementation can make a real difference.
Which is the best protein supplement for gaining muscle?
Protein powder is the foundation of your muscle-building pyramid. While it's easy to overlook a "food" as making such a big impact, the results are undeniable. Weight training causes muscle damage, and protein is needed to help your body recover and repair (a process known as muscle protein synthesis or MPS). When you repair broken down muscle fibers, that’s when they grow.
That’s why high-quality protein powder is so beneficial. It’s not about being bulky; it’s about providing your body with the nutrients you need to support the growth of lean muscle.
All proteins are made up of amino acids, and some of them — like leucine (one of the three BCAAs) — are more important for muscle growth.
But, unless you have all of the essential amino acids (there are 9 of them), then your body can’t put the “growth” amino acids to work. For example, collagen which is a 3-amino acid protein, would not be the best choice for gaining muscle. It's not so much a question of "is collagen healthy or not", because it can be, but on its own, it's incomplete and therefore unable to put that protein to use.
In general, you want to eat about .8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of your goal body weight (so if you want to weigh 180 pounds, you should eat about 150-180 grams of protein per day). This is why protein powders are the foundation of your muscle-building plan; they offer a concentrated dose of protein that's convenient to take. If you tried to eat 150 grams of protein, that'd be the equivalent of shoveling down 6 chicken breasts per day.
Your best options are whey, casein, milk, or pea protein. Whey is the fastest digesting and casein is slower. Because both come from milk, you can use milk protein isolates and get the best of both worlds — fast and slow digesting protein (which is what’s found in Ladder Whey).
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, or if you have a sensitivity to dairy, then pea protein is your best bet. It has the closest amino acid profile to whey and is allergen-free. Most other plants — like rice or hemp — are incomplete proteins and can be rough on your stomach. So any time you have the choice between rice or pea protein, always go for the pea protein option.
Protein is completely safe for your body unless you have a pre-existing kidney problem. Otherwise, you should feel confident that you can supplement safely and not experience any issues.
How to take it: Aim for about 20 to 40 grams of protein per meal from any source. Protein powders are most convenient about 2 hours before or after your workout. You can also take a slow-digesting protein — like casein or milk protein isolate — before you sleep to help promote muscle growth.
What other muscle building supplements actually work?
The best way to build a supplement plan is to understand your goal. Some supplements are specifically designed to fuel your body for strength, endurance, focus, or recovery. Here are the top ingredients in each of those categories.
For Strength and Muscle: Creatine
Creatine is a combination of amino acids that help boost strength, endurance, power, and supports muscle growth and fat loss. Maybe most importantly, it's the most respected supplement you can buy.
Esteemed exercise physiologist Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D, has stated:
Creatine is hands-down the most effective supplement for muscle-building, with hundreds of studies supporting its efficacy.
Creatine is in many foods, including beef, chicken, milk, and cheese, but the dose is so small you'd have to eat 2-3 pounds of meat per day to experience the same impact of as about one teaspoon of the powder form.
Creatine is one of the safest muscle building supplements. It has been studied extensively for 35 years (and counting), and there’s research on infants, adults, and the elderly to support claims about safety and effectiveness.
Creatine acts like extra energy when you need it most by providing more ATP, which is your primary energy source. By supplementing with creatine, the additional ATP makes a world of difference for your strength. In a review of 22 studies, people who use creatine show nearly a 10 percent increase in strength compared to those that don't.
It can help you grow bigger muscles by increasing water content in your muscle cells, which triggers genes involved in adding size. The energy boost that you see with strength training also appears with short-burst running activities like sprints.
If you’re doing quick burst activities (anything categorized as a “sprint”), then you can expect to see improvements to your speed, and you'll recover faster. This means you can perform multiple sprints at a higher intensity without seeing a decrease in performance. And it can speed the process by which you gain back lost muscle.
How to use it: If you’re going to use creatine, your best option is creatine monohydrate; nothing even comes close to monohydrate in terms of proven research. In general, aim for 5 grams per day, as that’s what’s been tested for effectiveness (if you have more muscle mass, you might see benefits from 10 grams per day).
There is no need to “load” creatine (taking 10-20 grams per day for a week), but, you will likely see more benefits if you take it before or after a workout or with some food (preferably protein and carbs).
You can mix creatine in hot or cold liquids, but the hotter the temperature, the quicker the creatine will degrade. Also, do not buy liquid creatine products. Creatine is only stable in liquid for a short period of time (24 hours), and, therefore, pre-mixed creatine products are a waste.
For Endurance: Beta-Alanine
If you want to build more muscle, there are 3 primary ways to get it done: muscle tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. All three are triggered by working out harder and longer. That’s where beta-alanine is your best friend. It helps produce carnosine in your body, which helps reduce muscle fatigue and improves endurance during, short-burst intense exercise like weight training.
When to take it: To see the effects of beta-alanine, you need at least 3 grams per day. The amount will build up in your system, so it’s important to use it daily or consistently. You can safely take up to 6 grams per day.
For some people, beta-alanine can trigger a completely safe “tingle” effect that some people find annoying. The more you take, the more likely you are to tingle. To help overcome that effect, you can take a time-released beta-alanine, split your dose, or take with food and more water. (For instance, when taking Ladder Energy, if you don't like the tingling sensation, mix with 20 ounces of water and food.)
For Beating Fatigue: Caffeine + Theanine
Want to know the most popular (and legal) supplement used by Olympians? It’s caffeine. During a recent study of elite athletes, it was found that nearly 75 percent of them take caffeine prior to competition. And the boost clearly isn’t psychological.
Studies on runners and cyclists have repeatedly found that coffee before a training session improves endurance and fights off fatigue. And, a recent study in England also determined that it pre-workout coffee cocktail can help just as much in the gym. When study participants had a caffeinated drink before a workout—compared to a sugar-filled beverage—they were able to perform more reps, experience less fatigue, and they felt ready to return to the gym sooner.
Caffeine increases focus and power (by boosting dopamine and epinephrine), boosts endurance, helps strength, and gives you feelings of euphoria.
The downside: anyone who has played with pre-workouts or coffee knows that you become tolerant of caffeine quickly. That means you need to take more caffeine to get the same effects, and the larger doses mean harder energy crashes, headaches, jitters, and an upset stomach.
Enter theanine. Put simply, if you’re taking caffeine without theanine, you’re missing one of the bigger breakthroughs in supplementation.
Theanine is a natural amino acid that works with caffeine to enhance it’s effects on focus and energy, while also curbing its negative effects of making you jittery. On its own, theanine won’t do much to help you build muscle. When combined with caffeine, it turns the super stimulant into a more balanced supplement that still has all the benefits but with fewer downsides.
When to take it: Combine about 100-200 mg of caffeine with, at least, 200 mg of theanine approximately 30 minutes before your workout. (Ladder Energy uses the perfect 100:200 mg ratio.) By staying with lower amounts of caffeine, you can help limit tolerance and continue to boost your workouts and help increase muscle building.
The more caffeine you take, the more likely you are to see fewer benefits from the supplement -- or need such a large dose that the side effects and addiction outweigh the positives. Instead, you can push farther with smaller doses of caffeine mixed with theanine.
Everything Your Muscles Need
If you're looking for an all-in-one supplement to build muscle, try Ladder Energy. It's a pre-workout supplement that's unlike anything you've ever tried and was formulated to include all of the best ingredients that are proven to increase muscle building, including creatine, beta-alanine, and caffeine + theanine. Ladder Energy is used by the world's greatest athletes and designed for your body.