From supplements that help pack on the muscle to options that help avoid “muscle wasting” and provide energy for longer workouts, these are some of the most popular options on the market. Some supplements have been vetted through clinical studies while others are simply favorites of many weight lifters, aerobic fanatics, and other workout regulars.
Whenever possible, we included research studies compiled by the National Institue of Health and information provided directly from the NIH. As always, we suggest consulting with your doctor or a dietician before you start taking any type of potentially performance-enhancing product.
TRY: Whey Protein Offers Numerous Benefits
One of the most popular choices among people who love hitting the gym is whey protein. It’s easy to see why this supplement is important for many people looking to pack on the muscle. Whey protein helps build muscle and aids in muscle recovery after an especially hard workout.
Whey protein also helps with amino acid development which starts to deplete with age and some illnesses. Whey protein helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and it can help curb hunger. The National Institute of Health says protein “optimizes muscle training response during exercise and subsequent recovery period.”
If you’re eating beef, chicken, eggs, veggies, and other foods that are part of a balanced diet you’re already receiving a good dose of glutamine. However, if you’re pushing hard in the gym, especially with weightlifting, you could benefit from some extra help.
Glutamine helps with muscle recovery, allowing you to get back to work faster as you increase weights. If you’re at the gym every day, glutamine may be an easy choice for your routine. The National Institute of Health notes that several studies have shown it “may help with recovery of muscle strength and reduce muscle soreness after exercise.”
AVOID: HMB Supplements Can Help With Lean Muscle
HMB, also known as beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, is a molecule that is found naturally in our bodies. When you have enough HMB you will notice gains in lean body mass. HMB works by improving the effects of protein and leucine in your diet.
Lean muscle mass ensures your body works to burn off calories and it aids in future muscle gains by providing you with a stronger base to work from. Leucine is the main ingredient in BCAA, the next supplement on our list. We would avoid this product and go with BCAA supplements.
TRY: BCAA Is An Amino-Acid Powerhouse
BCAA or “Branch-Chain Amino Acid” is taken before or after a workout. BCAA’s three main active amino-acids include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAA helps avoid “muscle wasting” by increasing muscle growth and reducing lean mass losses. The BCAA’s in our body accounts for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40% of all our amino acids.
BCAA’s are believed to reduce and even stop muscle wasting. This supplement has also been shown to reduce exercise fatigue. The NIH notes that several studies have found the “possibility of greater gains in muscle mass and strength during training.”
TOSS-UP: Nitric Oxide Boosters Supplements
Nitric Oxide booster supplements can provide more energy during a workout and also aid in muscle recovery following the end of your routine. As the name suggests, these supplements deliver more oxygen to your muscles by improving blood flow. With a better delivery system, your muscles receive more nutrients, anabolic hormones, and water.
This supplement is actually a compound found naturally in our bodies. The product causes blood vessels to widen and stimulates the release of certain hormones including insulin and human growth hormone. The National Institute Of Health notes that “while some reported that dietary supplementation with NO donors induced benefits in exercise performance, others did not find any positive effect.”
TRY: Creatine For Maxed Out Repititions
Creatine is found naturally in muscle cells. It is partially responsible for allowing muscles to produce energy, especially if you’re workout regime includes heavy lifting and high-intensity exercises. Creatine is actually produced from the amino acids glycine and arginine.
You gain additional creatine from meat intake and exercise along with muscle mass and hormone levels such as testosterone. 95% of creatine is stored in muscles as phosphocreatine. When we increase these levels we develop more energy in our cells in the form of ATP, the body’s high-energy molecule. The National Institute of Health notes that creatine may “increase strength, power, and work from maximal effort muscle contractions.”
TOSS-UP: ZMA Could Help With Certain Deficiencies
ZMA is a combination of ingredients: zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6. All three of these ingredients are essential for people who push their bodies in the gym. Be aware that the jury is still out on this supplement in terms of improving energy in the gym, a claim made by some manufacturers.
With that said, if you’re low on zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 on your diet, this supplement may help improve your blood sugar control and mood. The active ingredients are also believed to help improve immunity. Honestly, improving your diet may be a better option. Studies are still lacking but many popular fitness publications swear by the product.
TOSS-UP: Vitamin C
Studies into the effects of Vitamin C on the body during workouts have pointed to better muscle recovery and growth. Researchers have also found that this supplement helps with overall energy levels which could improve your time spent in the gym.
Many bodybuilders swear by Vitamin C because it helps with protein metabolism and blocks the synthesis of vital proteins that can lead to infection and inflammation. It is also believed to help lower the ratio of cortisol to testosterone, allowing for better gym performance in males. The National Institute of Health notes that studies have yet to find a direct increase in performance in people who take vitamin C supplements as part of their workout routine.
TRY: Pre-Workout Supplements
The term “pre-workout” is not as straight-forward as some other supplements. Typically this product provides five main ingredients. Beta-Alanine, a non-essential amino acid, increases carnosine in your muscles, a key component of controlling muscle fatigue. Caffeine is added for energy purposes, usually in amounts ranging from 100-300 milligrams or one to three cups of coffee.
Many popular pre-workout supplements also include creatine which helps with ATP gains that provide additional energy during your workout. Another popular addition is L-Citrulline which helps with nitric oxide production which helps maintain normal blood vessel function. Finally, BCAAs are often added to assist with muscle recovery and lean muscle stabilization and growth. Various studies have shown positive effects when workouts are combined with BCAAs.
TRY: Casein Is Often Used As A Bedtime Supplement
Casein is a dairy protein that is found in milk. It is often taken before bed because it’s a slow-digesting product. Casein releases amino acids at a slow rate, allowing for muscle recovering both throughout the day or during our sleeping hours.
Several studies have shown the benefits of taking Casein. It is often taken right before bed because that’s when much of our actual muscle growth cycle occurs. If you’re looking for big gains with round-the-clock assistance you might want to look into taking Casein as part of your daily routine. The National Institute of Health posted several studies that seemed to show both Casein and standard Whey Protein working towards the same gains and fat-loss.
Toss-Up: Fish Oil For Inflammation
Fish oil is an amazing product even without weightlifting. The supplement helps promote heart, brain, eye, and joint health. Bodybuilders and intermediate gymgoers love it for what they believe is the product’s anti-inflammatory benefits. While not as highly researched for bodybuilding, athletes swear it helps promote muscle growth while also providing a better range of motion.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says we should eat 8 ounces of fish per week and if you’re not doing that this might be a smart supplement to consider with your doctor’s approval. Also, eat more fish!
Toss-Up: Citrulline Malate (CM) Supplements
Citrulline malate (CM) is believed to work by using L-citrulline and malate to promote increased rates of ATP which is the component that provides muscle energy to our bodies. Minor research into Citrulline malate has found that 8 grams of the supplement were capable of allowing athletes to improve the number of repetitions they could complete in the gym. The product is also believed to reduce post-workout soreness by up to 48 hours.
A study from Mississippi State University found that 8 grams of the supplement also improved lower-body repetitions. Glutamine works by removing excess ammonia which can build up during intense workout sessions which helps regulate the body’s acid-base buildup.
TOSS-UP: Carnitine Has Potential But Research Is Lacking
Often touted as a fat-loss supplement, Carnitine is also known to help with muscle growth by focusing on several different parts of our body’s mechanics. One of the biggest benefits of this supplement is its ability to increase blood flow to muscles. It also increases testosterone levels following a workout and it increases T receptors inside muscle cells.
Research has also shown that carnitine supplements increase IGF-1 levels, a hormone that acts as a major mediator of growth hormone (GH). It’s still unclear if such increases help with workout routines.
Beta-ecdysterone is best taken throughout the day to maximize its effects. This supplement features a phytochemical found in plants. Scientists in Russia studied the product and found it to have anabolic properties that are beneficial to weight exercises.
The supplement is believed to work by stimulating protein synthesis which helps fuel additional muscle growth. Muscle size and strength gains have been reported but much of the research is still preliminary. A study posted by the National Institute of Health concluded that this supplement should be listed as an “S1 Anabolic Agent” which would place it on the prohibited substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency
TOSS-UP: High Molecular-Weight Carbs
High molecular-weight carbs or HMCs are made from heavy molecules, typically with the help of waxy maize (corn). This product rapidly passes through our stomach and into the intestinal tract where it’s absorbed into the bloodstream.
Because HMCs move through the stomach at a rate equal to nearly 100% that of sports drinks, this helps regular carb intake which slows cortisol levels and prevents muscle loss. It can also help increase insulin levels and replenish glycogen levels. One study shared by the National Institute of Health found that “following prolonged, intense endurance exercise, the ingestion of carbohydrate solutions enhance velocity and power output during subsequent high-intensity resistance exercise.”
AVOID: Greens Supplements
If you’re not eating enough veggies, algae-based foods, grasses, and fruits, you might want to consider a “greens” supplement. This product takes various nutrient-rich foods like wheatgrass, alfalfa, herbs, vegetables, legumes, and fruits, and compacts and distills them into powdered form.
We always recommend eating a balanced diet that includes healthy food options but this is a good stepping stone to realizing what a nutrient-rich diet can do for your energy levels and your ability to spend more time in the gym. We marked this supplement as “avoid” because it’s incredibly easy to achieve proper levels with whole foods.
TOSS-UP: Vitamin D Has Many Positive Effects On Your Body
Vitamin D, while not exactly a “workout supplement” has many positive effects that may help in the gym. This is especially true if you live in an area where the winter months steal too much of your typical exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin D helps with testosterone output, improves bone density, and has been shown to increase energy levels, all good things for the gym. Several health bodies in the UK have recently suggested this supplement in areas where the sun is lacking for much of the year. The National Institute of Health notes that Vitamin D can help people who have “difficulty exercising” but the comment doesn’t point specifically to studies focused on Vitamin D and exercise performance.
TOSS-UP: Iron Could Be Beneficial In Certain People
The National Institute of Health notes that Iron is a supplement that might help exercise performance specifically in people with anemia. In these individuals increasing iron to an acceptable level has been shown to improve exercise performance in some groups.
Iron helps increase oxygen updates and reduces heart rate. Iron also helps decrease lactate concentrations during exercise. If your iron levels are within a normal range we suggest skipping this supplement altogether.
TRY: Sodium Bicorbonate May Provide Short-Term Help
Sodium bicarbonate is known to enhance our body’s disposable of hydrogen ions which are created with intense muscle activity. In completing its task, the product reduces metabolic acidosis and the muscle fatigue that results from that process.
Several studies have shown minor to moderate improvement in performance for both short-term and intermittent high-intensity activity. If you’re reaching athlete-type levels this product is probably more beneficial than users who only casually workout. The National Institute of Health notes that this supplement “Might provide minor to moderate performance benefit for short-term and intermittent high-intensity activity, especially in trained athletes.”
TOSS-UP: Tart Or Sour Cherry
Tart or sour cherry features phytochemicals that are believed to “facilitate exercise recovery by reducing pain and inflammation,” according to the National Institute of Health. However, there have only been several studies conducted and the results have been mixed.
It’s believed this product can aide in muscle strength recovery while reducing soreness after a workout. It may also reduce inflammatory effects on our lungs, although the jury is still out on the product’s ability to improve aerobic performance.