Without a doubt, you can add muscle simply by eating right and lifting weights. But to truly maximize your growthpotential, supplements are a requirement. Hence, we’ve compiled a rundown of the 11 best mass-gainsupplements on which to spend your hard-earned cash. They’re listed in order of priority, from the absolute most critical, can’t-do-without supplements to the less crucial yet still highly effective ingredients for packing on size. The point is to help those on a tight budget decide which supplements to buy. If money is no object, then by all means knock yourself out and use them all as directed. Because after all, as far as we’re concerned, you can never have too much muscle.
Why it made the list: Whey tops the list of mass-gain supplements because it’s the most crucial for pushing protein synthesis. Whey is a milk protein that has a high level of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs, No. 4 on our list). Bottom line: Whey takes the crown because it digests fast and gets to your muscles rapidly to start building muscle. Whey also contains peptides (small proteins) that increase blood flow to the muscles. This is why we always recommend consuming whey protein immediately after training.
How to maximize its effects: Take 20 grams of whey protein powder in the 30 minutes before working out, and take 40 grams within 60 minutes after training. Also consider taking 20-40 grams of whey immediately upon waking every morning to kick-start muscle growth. Your best bet is to choose a whey powder that contains whey protein hydrolysates (whey protein broken down into smaller fragments for faster digestion) or whey protein isolate.
PRIORITY #2: CASEIN PROTEIN POWDER
How to maximize its effects: Choose a casein protein that contains micellar casein (the slowest-digesting casein you can buy) and take 20-40 grams right before going to bed. After workouts, add 10-20 grams of casein to your whey protein. Also, use 20-40 grams of casein in your protein shakes between meals.
PRIORITY #3: CREATINE
Why it made the list: Creatine is made from three amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine. Anecdotal reports and scientific studies alike find that guys who take creatine gain a good 10 pounds or more of bodyweight and increase strength dramatically. Creatine works in a number of ways. For one, it increases the amount of fast energy in your muscles needed to perform reps in the gym. The more of this fast energy that’s available, the more reps you can do with a given weight, allowing you to get bigger and stronger in the long run. Creatine also draws more water into your muscle cells, placing a stretch on the cell that increases long-term growth. Most recently, creatine has been found to increase levels of insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in muscles, which is critical for stimulating growth.
How to maximize their effects: Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs with breakfast, as well as in your pre- and post-workout shakes. Look for BCAA products that provide leucine at a ratio of 2:1 per dose of isoleucine and valine. For example, if you take a 5-gram dose of BCAAs, about 2.5 grams should be from leucine, 1.25 grams from isoleucine and 1.25 grams from valine.
PRIORITY #5: BETA-ALANINE/CARNOSINE
Why they made the list: In the body, the amino acid beta-alanine is combined with another amino, histidine, to form carnosine. Research shows that when muscles have higher levels of carnosine, they have more strength and endurance. Carnosine appears to increase the muscle fibers’ ability to contract with more force, and to do so longer without fatiguing. Several studies reported increases in muscle strength and power in athletes who took beta-alanine. One recent study found that subjects who took beta-alanine along with creatine gained more muscle mass and lost more bodyfat than subjects who took only creatine.
Why it made the list: This amino acid has been a favorite of bodybuilders for decades because it’s central to muscle function and is one of the most plentiful aminos found in the human body. Glutamine provides numerous bodybuilding benefits, such as aiding muscle growth by increasing levels of leucine in muscle fibers, helping decrease muscle breakdown and bolstering the immune system, which helps prevent you from getting sick and missing workouts. Glutamine taken before workouts can help decrease muscle fatigue and boost growth hormone levels. In addition, recent research shows that glutamine might also play a role in fat loss by increasing the amount of calories and fat burned at rest and during exercise.
Why it made the list: Besides being a popular fat-loss supplement, carnitine is now known to enhance muscle growth through a number of mechanisms, all of which are supported by clinical research. For one, carnitine can increase blood flow to muscles, which means it provides similar benefits to NO boosters. It also increases testosterone levels postworkout and the amount of T receptors inside muscle cells, which allows more testosterone to stimulate more growth. In addition, carnitine supplements have been found to increase levels of IGF-1. Add all these benefits together and you have the potential to gain enormous amounts of muscle.
How to maximize its effects: To get the most out of beta-ecdysterone, make sure you get a high enough dose and take it frequently throughout the day. Look for products that supply about 100 mg of beta-ecdysterone and take it with meals in the morning, before and after workouts, as well as with lunch and dinner, for a total of 400-500 mg per day.
Why they made the list: Molecular weight is a term that refers to the mass of one molecule of a substance. Therefore, high molecular-weight carbs (HMCs) are essentially made up of very large, heavy molecules. HMCs such as the patented Vitargo brand are typically made from waxy maize (corn) starch. What makes these carbs so special is their ability to rapidly pass through the stomach to the intestines where they can be absorbed and enter the blood. Research shows that HMCs pass through the stomach at a rate almost 100% faster than sports drinks. This is important after exercise because consuming carbs at this time blunts cortisol levels, prevents muscle breakdown and raises insulin levels to help promote muscle growth and replenish muscle glycogen levels.