Buyer's Guide: The best muscle building products

Muscle Builders          


Not building muscle fast enough? Look first at your protein intake. Shoot for around 1g of protein per pound of ideal body weight. If you weigh 180 pounds, then eat about 180g of protein a day, but no less than about 100g.

Don’t go more than about 4 hours without eating some type of protein. Focus on complete proteins like fish, poultry, meat, eggs and milk since they contain all the essential amino acids and are rich in branched-chain amino acids.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take whey protein twice a day; 10-15g before workouts to kick-start protein synthesis and another 25-30g immediately after a workout to enhance recovery.

Get another 25-40g of protein from an MRP (meal replacement) or a protein blend (milk protein/casein and whey) either at breakfast, between meals or as a meal. The varying rates of digestion of protein blends create a timed-release effect to continuously feed your muscles for hours. Get the other approximate 75-100g of protein you need from food.



When you drink a typical whey protein shake that contains 25g of protein, you’re getting about 5-6g of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These aminos are important for protein synthesis, muscle building and preserving lean body mass during a leaning down phase. You can get some of the same benefits of a whey protein shake by instead taking 5g of a straight BCAA powder. Since they are free-form amino acids, they digest rapidly.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take 5g of BCAAs before and 5g after workouts. You can also add to a drink that you sip during workouts. BCAAs taste bitter, so mix BCAAs in a flavored drink to improve the taste.



Recently, researchers have started to hone in on a particular BCAA, L-leucine. It acts as a switch that turns on mTOR, which in turn activates the muscle-building process. Based on studies of resistance-trained young men, the minimum threshold to activate mTOR is around 1,700 to 2,400 mg of leucine. For reference, in 5g of BCAAs (in a 2:1:1 ratio), you get 2,500 mg of leucine. Even though leucine is the switch, you still need all of the other essential amino acids (building blocks) for muscle protein synthesis to occur. The lower the leucine level in a protein (such as plant proteins), the lower the impact that protein has on muscle protein synthesis.*

HOW TO TAKE:  Add 1.7 to 2.4g of leucine to a post-workout drink or low-protein meal. It is also great to add to protein powders with a lower leucine content, like most plant proteins (pea, rice, soy).



Creatine is the king of all bodybuilding supplements to help you get stronger. Hundreds of studies have proven its effectiveness. Creatine helps to regenerate ADP (spent energy) back into ATP for increased energy output involving short, intense bursts of energy. That means you can lift 1-2 reps more than normal, stressing your muscles more to grow bigger, faster.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take 15-25g of creatine for 5 days (loading phase), then take 3-5g daily to maintain muscle creatine saturation. Timing your intake is not critical as all you need to do is keep your tank topped off. In fact, creatine continues to work for several weeks after you stop taking it.  



Studies have shown the amino acid L-glutamine helps athletes stay healthy, especially after strenuous exercise like running a marathon. Also, during calorie restriction, your body might not synthesize glutamine as quickly as you need it. While most of the body's cells use glucose for fuel, the immune system also requires significant amounts of L-glutamine. It may allow you to train more frequently without as many of those frustrating down periods.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take 2-5g of L-glutamine in the morning and/or take 5g after workouts for recovery.



HMB or Beta-Hydroxy Beta-Methylbutyrate is a metabolite of leucine. HMB can help reduce muscle damage caused by exercise and boost muscle growth, strength, aerobic performance, resistance to fatigue and recovery. HMB appears to work best for untrained individuals starting a workout plan or for trained individuals exposed to periods of high physical stress. In other words, if you aren't pushing yourself, it's not going to help.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take 3g spaced throughout the day. It may be especially helpful when you are restricting calories in a cutting/trimming phase while doing strenuous workouts to help you retain your muscle.* Leucine may be a better choice than HMB if you are in a bulking phase.


Pre-Workout Ingredients                                                          


Caffeine is an extremely popular ingredient for pre-workout formulas. It stimulates the central nervous system, helping you feel alert and focused. It also mobilizes body fat for use as energy, and has been shown to boost strength and intensity during workouts.*

HOW TO TAKE: An effective dose of caffeine is 100-200 mg, the equivalent found in 1-2 cups of coffee.



This amino acid is known for its “pump” effect due to its role in the synthesis of nitric oxide. It is the main substrate (precursor) in the reaction to produce nitric oxide. When the body produces nitric oxide, the diameter of the blood vessels increases, which increases blood flow. This results in an enhanced muscle pump and provides the potential for increased exercise capacity, endurance and recovery.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take about 3g of L-arginine 30-60 minutes before workouts.



L-citrulline is closely related to L-arginine in structure. It is an amino acid that is also involved in nitric oxide synthesis. When ingested, L-citrulline is not broken down by the liver before entering the bloodstream like L-arginine is, so more is available for the body to use. Instead, it is metabolized by the kidneys into L-arginine. It has been shown to increase blood plasma levels of L-arginine better than taking L-arginine itself.*

But according to some researchers, even more effective than taking L-citrulline alone is taking a combination of L-arginine and L-citrulline. L-citrulline has also been shown to inhibit arginase, the enzyme that breaks down L-arginine. As a result, scientists speculate that taking L-citrulline with L-arginine may help more of the ingested L-arginine pass through the liver intact to the bloodstream.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take about 3g of L-citrulline 30-60 minutes before workouts, or with L-arginine for a total of 3-5g of L-arginine and L-citrulline combined.


Citrulline Malate

Some people prefer to take citrulline malate instead of pure citrulline (L-citrulline). The difference between citrulline and citrulline malate is the addition of malic acid (which turns into malate when combined with L-citrulline). Citrulline malate is usually found in a 2:1 ratio (2 parts L-citrulline to 1 part malic acid). This means you have to take more citrulline malate than straight citrulline to get the same amount of L-citrulline. The upside is that you get additional benefits from malate. The malate portion helps to buffer lactic acid that builds up during high-intensity anaerobic activity. It is one of the substrates in the Krebs cycle (or Citric Acid cycle), which is a series of reactions that our bodies perform to generate energy.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take 3-8g daily before workouts.


Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that can delay muscle fatigue by keeping muscles from getting too acidic. It increases the level of L-carnosine in the muscles. Carnosine helps muscles soak up excess hydrogen ions released during intense exercise. Beta-alanine may help prevent muscle failure (“hitting the wall”).*

HOW TO TAKE: An effective dose of beta-alanine is about 2g taken 3 times daily.



This amino acid derivative has been shown to promote increases in many areas of athletic performance including power, strength, endurance and time to fatigue. In a placebo-controlled study, weight-trained men had impressive results after 6 weeks. The betaine group increased their training volume to a greater extent and showed decreased fat mass (-6.4 pounds) and increased lean body mass (+5.3 pounds), whereas the placebo group showed essentially no change.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take 1.25g of betaine twice per day, or 2.5g once per day for at least 4 weeks.


Pre-Workout Formulas

Instead of taking caffeine, creatine, L-arginine, L-citrulline and other pre-workout ingredients individually, you can take a pre-blended formula like Fitness Labs Pre-Workout Intensifier, BSN N.O.-Xplode, Cellucor C4, or GAT Sport Nitraflex. Some people will also add 5 grams of BCAAs to their pre-workout formula to help activate the muscle-building process.  

HOW TO TAKE: Take 20-30 minutes before workouts — usually about 10-20g of powder mixed into water. 


Testosterone Support

Tribulus Terrestris Extract

Tribulus terrestris is an herb containing certain phytonutrients like saponins and protodioscin that may support the body's ability to maximize performance and endurance.*

HOW TO TAKE: 1,000 mg of Tribulus that’s standardized for high levels of saponins.


Fenugreek Extract

Fenugreek extracts have gained popularity in recent years as more research has been conducted on them. Like tribulus, fenugreek contains saponins, but it also contains other active ingredients like protodioscin and galactomannan that have beneficial effects on strength and lean mass gains.*

HOW TO TAKE: Look for extracts that are clinically studied, because different extracts of fenugreek may work differently. Take the clinically-studied amount, typically around 500 mg, about an hour before physical activity.



ZMA is a testosterone-supporting combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6. Zinc and magnesium play a role in over 500 metabolic reactions in the body. ZMA has been shown to increase free testosterone and strength in training athletes, as well as improve sleep.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take ZMA before bed on an empty stomach.


D-Aspartic Acid

 D-Aspartic acid (DAA) is an amino acid commonly used to support testosterone levels. It works by supporting levels of luteinizing hormone in the body, which has a corresponding effect of supporting testosterone levels. It also can boost dopamine and GABA levels, and possesses the ability to enhance nitric oxide production.*

HOW TO TAKE: Take 3g once daily, preferably first thing in the morning.


Final Tips                                                                                   

We get asked all the time to rank the order of importance of the multitude of muscle-building ingredients.

Tip #1
We always tell people to start with a good multi-vitamin. If you lack vitamin D or zinc for example, you might not produce enough testosterone to maximize your muscle building.

Tip #2
Don't eat a low-fat diet as that also reduces your body's ability to produce testosterone. Consume at least 30% of your daily calroies from fat. 

Tip #3
Buy a protein powder and give your muscles the building blocks they need to grow.

Tip #4
After protein, creatine is our next, most favorite muscle builder. It's inexpensive and hundreds of studies have shown its effectiveness.

Tip #5
Taking L-glutamine post-workout is probably the next most popular supplement, which helps with recovery.

Tip #6
Next, would be to take a pre-workout formula if you're looking to maximize your workouts.

Tip #7
BCAAs are great to take pre-workout or drink during workouts. Taking whey protein 30-45 minutes before a workout works just as well and is slightly more cost-effective.

Copyright 2020, Nutrition Express. All rights reserved. 

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