You know the scene: Muscular, sculpted men clustering around the gym's weight machines, busting out multiple sets of pullups and spotting one another on impossibly heavy bench presses. How, exactly, do those guys get those bodies? Supplements may be involved, but if you're a skinny guy, a lot of hard work and proper nutrition are far more likely to help you gain muscle mass and develop a sculpted physique.
What Supplements Can Do
Muscle-building supplements do a booming business, so gym goers are definitely using them. Buff guys may owe some of their build to supplements. Several scientific studies, including one published in 2013 in Nutrition Journal, have shown that protein supplements can increase muscle mass and exercise performance. In subjects who work out regularly, those supplements may also boost power in both aerobic and anaerobic exercises.
Supplements for Muscle
If you're a skinny guy, it's healthiest to gain lean muscle rather than body fat. To that end, you may want to supplement your workouts with a whey- or casein-based protein powder. Both contain all essential amino acids for muscle growth and repair. If you're a vegan or are lactose-intolerant, go for soy powder, which also has all essential amino acids.
Creatine is another smart choice. In 2013, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published research stating that creatine can increase both muscle mass and muscle fiber size, regardless of whether exercisers take it before or after workouts. Branched-chain amino acids, also known as BCAAs, may also encourage greater muscle protein synthesis.
Exercise is much more important in the process of building muscle than supplements or even dietary protein, according to preventive medicine specialist Donald Hensrud, M.D. Getting enough protein is essential for developing a more muscular physique, but most Americans already get more than they need and won't derive any additional benefit from taking supplements. High-quality protein from whole foods provides better nutrition for muscle growth than protein from supplements. Rice University recommends that athletes building muscle mass eat about 0.6 to 0.9 gram of protein per pound of their body weight.
The Bottom Line
To become muscular, it's necessary to work out regularly with a variety of strength-training exercises. It's not necessary to take supplements, but some people do and may experience minor enhancements because of them. There's no way to tell just by looking at a strong guy whether he takes supplements. To build muscle, first develop a consistent training plan and a healthy, balanced, protein-rich diet -- then, if you're still interested in supplements, clear your choices with your doctor or a registered dietitian before you begin using them.
- Nutrition Journal: The Effects of 8 Weeks of Whey or Rice Protein Supplementation on Body Composition and Exercise Performance
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: The Effects of Pre- Versus Post-Workout Supplementation of Creatine Monohydrate on Body Composition and Strength
- Men's Fitness: 8 Best Protein Powders for Vegetarians and Vegans
- Sports Medicine: The Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Mass, Strength, and Aerobic and Anaerobic Power in Healthy Adults
- Muscle and Fitness: 11 Best Supplements for Mass
- ABC News: Can Eating More Protein or Protein Supplements Help to Build More Muscle?
- Providence Health & Services: Ask an Expert -- Can Supplements Help Increase Muscle Mass?
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand -- Protein and Exercise
- Rice University: Protein Requirements for Athletes