Muscle building supplement guide

Rapid advances in the science behind building bigger muscles have led to a myriad of supplements in today’s market. However, unless you are a biochemist, it is nearly impossible to keep pace with what works, what doesn’t, and to know how or when to take each. Some products help build strength while others produce an awesome muscle pump. Some are anabolic, meaning they actually help build muscle, while others are anti-catabolic (prevent muscle breakdown). These products function in diverse ways, and those that work ultimately help create a healthy, lean and muscular physique.

The guide below will help explain the theory behind most of these products so you can make an informed decision on the right ones for you.

Strengthen it with weight training


One of the safest and most effective muscle builders is creatine. When lifting heavy weights, creatine allows you to stress your muscles more than you normally would, creating more stimulation for muscle growth. Creatine combines with phosphate to re-supply muscles with ATP, an energy compound required during short bursts of exercise, such as weight lifting. Creatine research is plentiful and consistently shows a 10-20% improvement in strength and power exercises. A daily dosage of 3-5g of creatine monohydrate is adequate for results.

Pump it up with nitric oxide

Your body produces nitric oxide (NO), a natural vasodilator. NO increases blood flow to muscles and other parts of the body. Increasing NO is actually how Viagra works. Bodybuilders have tried to tap this same process in order to create larger muscles and more strength. While studies have not shown it makes you stronger, it does seem to give many a greater muscular pump while training with weights. The pump means greater blood flow to working muscles which may help deliver more nutrients, including amino acids, to help muscles recover faster. The pump can sometimes last several hours after a workout—just enough time to make it from the gym to the beach. Here are a few muscle pumping ingredients that work in concert through various pathways to boost NO levels.


An immediate precursor to NO in the NO Synthesis (NOS) pathway, several studies show the ability of L-arginine to stimulate NO production, resulting in vasodilatation. Take 3-5 grams per day to see results.


A non-essential amino acid used in NO formulas to enhance the production of NO in the NOS pathway. A typical dosage is 300-500 mg per day.


An analog of L-valine, L-norvaline has been shown to inhibit the action of arginase, an NO destroying enzyme, raising NO levels by as much as 60%. About 100-200 mg of L-norvaline is an effective daily dose.

Build it with anabolics

The primary anabolic (muscle building) agent is testosterone. Supporting natural testosterone levels is high priority for most serious bodybuilders. A number of things can suppress testosterone production including stress, poor nutrition, and lack of sleep or just plain getting old. Here are several popular ingredients that have been researched for supporting testosterone.


Studies indicate tribulus terrestris increases luteinizing hormone up to 70%, in turn stimulating Leydig cells in the testes to boost testosterone production by as much as 40%. Tribulus has also been shown to increase endurance by 75% and sexual performance by 80% in a study of 20 men and women. An effective daily dose of tribulus is 200 mg of its active ingredient, protodioscin.


A combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6, ZMA is supported by two studies. Research shows total and free testosterone increases of up to 30% in athletes taking ZMA. One study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed nightly supplementation of 30 mg of zinc, 450 mg of magnesium aspartate and 10.5 mg of vitamin B6 also produced increases in strength and power measurements in athletes. This is the exact combination found in ZMA.


The compound 4-etioallocholen-3,6,17-trione, (aka 6-OXO), has been researched for its ability to increase free and total testosterone levels in the body. This compound competes for the aromatase enzyme, thus reducing testosterone to estrogen conversion. Like tribulus, this compound also helps trigger the release of luteinizing hormone. Recent data has shown that after 3 weeks of 600 mg per day, subjects averaged a 226% increase in free testosterone!

Esoteric Anabolics

There are numerous anabolic compounds on the market with little research behind them. They typically have long, chemical-sounding names. Many athletes get tremendous results from these compounds. However, they should never be taken by women or those under 18. These compounds include Epihydroxy-etioallocholan-17-one ethyl ester, 3-Beta-Hydroxyetioallocholan-5-Ene-17-one, 19-Norandrosta-4,9-diene-3,17-dione, among many others. They are extremely potent and should be used strictly according to the directions. Never take them for longer than 8 weeks continuously with a minimum break of 4 weeks between cycles. Dosages vary greatly, so read the instructions on each product carefully.

Keep it with anti-catabolics

Your body has a natural process whereby it catabolizes or tears down muscle tissue to get at the amino acids in the muscle protein. Anti-catabolic supplements prevent or minimize the breakdown of hard-earned muscle. The idea here is to use these supplements to keep more of what you already have.

Protein and BCAAs

Protein is the foundation of any muscle building nutrition plan. Whey protein is the best form of protein for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Whey has a very high content of branched-chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three BCAAs are fuel for the muscles during exercise and are critical to muscle protein repair. Research shows you need about 6 grams of BCAAs to help preserve muscle tissue. You can get this by taking BCAAs directly as free form amino acids or you can take a whey protein powder. About 25 grams of whey protein provides 6 grams of BCAAs.


There has also been some interesting research with the branched-chain amino acid leucine. It may act like an anabolic switch to turn on muscle growth through a non-hormonal process. It activates muscle building processes that hormones normally activate without manipulating hormones at all. It may also turn off catabolism by inhibiting the genes that tell muscle to break down. It is thought that at least several grams of leucine are required, usually taken after a workout, to activate this process.


Glutamine makes up 60% of your muscle amino acid pool and it can raise plasma growth hormone levels. Forty-five minutes after eating breakfast, 9 people were given 2 grams of glutamine. After 30 minutes plasma growth hormone levels increased up to 430%!

Another research study looked at immune function in 200 runners and rowers and discovered that infections were highest in marathon runners. They found that a 5 gram dose of glutamine after strenuous exercise increased plasma glutamine levels and lowered the incidence of colds within 7 days of the marathon, the most common time for upper respiratory tract infections. Indeed, only 20% of those in the group ingesting glutamine reported infections or colds compared to 52% in the control group drinking a placebo maltodextrin (carbohydrate) drink. An easy way to maintain increased growth hormone would be to consume 2-5 gram servings several times daily between meals. Growth hormone is naturally released after you fall asleep so be sure to take your last serving of glutamine shortly before bed.


HMB increases lean muscle mass by preventing the breakdown of muscle protein following a strenuous workout. It also is an intermediate to leucine and may act in the same way that leucine does. This gives the body a head start on the recovery process. Research shows that it is more effective for those who are just beginning a strength-training program, while veteran lifters have not experienced as much benefit. About 3 grams daily of HMB is an effective dose.

Beta-Alanine (Carnosine Synthesizer)

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid found naturally in the body and food. When consumed, beta-alanine enters the muscle cell to form carnosine. Carnosine is a dipeptide found mainly in fast-twitch muscle fibers where it buffers hydrogen ions (H+).

Buffering H+ prevents pH levels from dropping. A low pH or more acidity is what causes the “burn” in your muscles during training. Acid causes muscles to stop functioning due to a lack of ATP, hence the reason your muscles fail after 7-10 reps of heavy lifting. Higher carnosine levels can delay the “burn” allowing you to squeeze out more reps, sprint longer or lift heavier.

Oral beta-alanine supplementation can increase muscle carnosine by 64%. Recent research compared beta-alanine versus creatine supplementation on physical working capacity at fatigue threshold (PWCFT) in untrained young men. The male subjects consumed either 6.4 grams of beta-alanine per day for 6 days, then 3.2 grams per day for 22 days or 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for 6 days, then 10 grams per day for 22 days or a combination of the two versus a placebo. The results revealed beta-alanine increased PWCFT 60% more than creatine alone! These results are impressive for sure, which may make beta-alanine the next big hit muscle product.

Combine for best results

As you can see, there are many ways to gain an advantage in building muscle. You can combine strength, pump, anabolic and anti-catabolic ingredients for superior results. Whatever your strategy, you’re now armed with information to help you make an informed decision on muscle building supplements.

Previous Next Back to Top
More Related Articles