It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the all muscle-building supplements on the market. To complicate matters, supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means that companies can make claims that haven’t been backed by scientific research. No supplement is able to build muscle all by itself, but a few can augment the results of regular strength training.
In one study published in 2008 in Nutrition Journal, athletes who added protein powder to their diets gained lean muscle mass and experienced improved power and strength over an eight-week trial period. Those results held true whether the athletes used protein powder sourced from rice or from whey, suggesting that plant-based powders are just as effective as dairy-based supplements.
Before adding protein powder to your diet, however, think about whether you need the extra calories. According to certified strength-conditioning specialist Mike Boggs, most Americans already get more than enough protein, and extra will result in gained body fat rather than muscle.
Creatine monohydrate is a chemical that is naturally present in the body and is also produced as a supplement for muscle mass gain. According to the results of a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, supplementing with creatine can increase both muscle mass and strength, regardless of whether athletes take it before exercise or after.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids, otherwise known as BCAAs, are a combination of the amino acids valine, leucine and isoleucine, all of which are responsible for building and repairing muscle tissue. In a study published in 2009 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, active subjects who supplemented with BCAAs gained more lean muscle mass, strength and power than the subjects who followed the same training plan but supplemented with a placebo instead.
Words of Caution
Before you begin taking any dietary supplement, consult your doctor, especially if you currently take medications. Your doctor can advise you on proper dosing for your size, activity level and goals. If you ever experience any type of negative health effect from a supplement, quit taking it and speak with your doctor.
Muscle building is primarily a result of exercise and diet and, even though the International Society of Sports Nutrition acknowledges that supplements can help, their recommendation is to get all the nutrients you need to build muscle through whole foods.