The 5 Best Supplements to Gain Muscle in 2022

Which are the best supplements to gain muscle? If you’re looking for the answer to that question, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll help you decide which ones are worth your money. 

Do dietary supplements build muscle and improve your body composition?

No, they don’t. Not on their own. No legal supplement will make you bigger, stronger, or leaner by itself. You can’t replace hard work with supplements.

However, combined with strength training and a good diet, a select few give you a helping hand towards a muscular physique. The combination of intense workouts, a balanced diet with plenty of protein-rich foods, and an effective supplement or two might be the best option for building muscle mass.

The following are the five best supplements to gain muscle.

Creatine

Creatine is a molecule your body produces naturally in your pancreas, liver, and kidneys. You also find creatine in the food you eat. 

You store creatine in your muscles as creatine phosphate, which your body then uses to create a compound called ATP. ATP is essential for energy production during physical work, including strength training.

Using a creatine supplement increases the amount of creatine stored in your muscles by up to 40%.1 That means that your body can create ATP faster and more efficiently. In gym terms, you’ll be able to lift a few extra reps with a certain weight. You can lift heavier and do more reps. Training intensity and volume are two essential factors for muscle growth, and creatine is an effective way to boost them both.

lean mass increase creatine supplement

Also, creatine might increase the number of satellite cells inside your muscles.2 Satellite cells are the source of new material required for muscle growth.3 If you quit training or take a lay-off, these satellite cells help you regain your muscle mass once you start weight training again. They don’t disappear; they just go to sleep. Once you take up resistance training again, they wake up and activate, ready to help you gain your lost muscle mass back. 

Creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements out there, with more than 500 studies backing it. Decades of research demonstrate that creatine is effective for gaining muscle mass and strength. The evidence is so strong that you rarely find new studies on creatine and building muscle anymore. There is nothing left to prove. Studies on creatine now focus on other things, like preventing loss of muscle mass during periods of immobilization and potentially positive effects on brain function. These studies often reveal the benefits of creatine supplementation in these fields and never find any adverse effects.

There are many types of creatine on the market. Creatine monohydrate is the original and still the best. No other types of creatine are more effective.4 If you see claims to the contrary, it’s a sales pitch without scientific evidence. Some different types of creatine, like creatine ethyl ester, are quite a bit less effective than the less expensive monohydrate.

As a bonus, creatine has no adverse effects. Even the International Olympic Committee, who aren’t usually the biggest fans of dietary supplements, confirm that “with the exception of increased body mass, there are no side effects associated with creatine monohydrate supplementation, and this has been extensively reviewed.” 5 And that increase in body mass isn’t body fat! While any weight gain might be detrimental in sports with weight classes and where your body weight directly influences performance, it’s a boon for anyone looking to gain strength and muscle mass. Early speculation about kidney issues after using creatine has been proven to be unfounded.

I recommended creatine for anyone looking to perform better, gain strength, and build muscle. Creatine works no matter how old you are.6 Since creatine is mainly found in animal products, vegetarians and vegans might benefit the most from using creatine.7 And don’t worry, creatine supplements are synthesized from non-animal sources and are vegan friendly.

About 20–25% of the population don’t benefit from creatine supplements. They are so-called “non-responders.” However, the reason for this might be something positive, believe it or not. It’s probably because they already have high enough creatine levels in their muscles. Ingesting more doesn’t do anything. So, if you are one of the 20–25%, don’t feel too bad.

Overall, if you’re looking for the best supplements to gain muscle, creatine stands out as the cream of the crop.

Read more: Creatine: Effects, Benefits, and Safety

Protein Supplements

If you want to build muscle, getting enough protein is essential. 

While getting all the protein you need from your regular diet is entirely possible, it’s not always that easy or practical.

Evidence suggests that 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and day maximize your potential for gaining muscle.8 Adding even more protein won’t do any harm, but neither will it make you build muscle any faster.

That’s quite a lot of protein! Considering that protein makes you feel full and satiated, many people struggle to eat that much from regular foods.

That’s where protein supplements enter the picture.

Protein supplements are just regular food proteins in powder form. You get no more and no less “effect” from protein supplements than you would get from adding the same amount of protein from eggs, meat, beans, dairy, or whatever complete protein you can imagine. However, they are an easily digestible, convenient, reasonably inexpensive, and often tasty quality protein source. If you struggle to get enough protein or prefer the convenience of a shake now and then, consider adding a protein powder to boost your overall protein intake.

A 2018 meta-analysis of 49 studies found that everything else being equal, you will gain muscle mass by adding a protein shake to your regular diet.9 Participants who increased their daily protein intake from 1.4 g/kg to 1.8 g/kg gained 27 % more muscle, on average, than people in control groups. You could do that by simply eating more chicken, eggs, and beans, but again, it might be a struggle. 

It makes no difference if you get your protein solely from regular food or use protein supplements to boost your intake. You’ll build muscle just as well in both cases. You don’t need protein supplements, but, at the same time, there is nothing wrong with having part of your everyday protein intake come from supplements. They are inexpensive, or at least they can be if you look around for deals, and very convenient. Most people find it easier to drink a post-workout protein shake than opening a can of tuna in the locker room, for example.

A protein shake after your workout increases muscle protein synthesis and decreases muscle protein breakdown. That’s a recipe for muscle growth!

Are Different Types of Protein Supplements Better Than Others? 

There are many different protein supplements on the market. Some of the most popular are whey protein, casein protein, and soy protein. The first two come from milk, and soy protein is made from, no surprise, soybeans. Other options include egg protein powder, beef protein, and vegan alternatives like rice and pea protein powders.

Further reading:

Some studies show more significant gains from dairy proteins, like whey and casein proteins than soy protein. At the same time, several studies find no difference between different protein sources, as long as your total protein intake is the same.

In general, vegetable proteins have less essential amino acids, the amino acids you have to supply through your diet, not only to build muscle but to live. If you don’t eat animal protein or only a little of it, you can simply eat more vegetable protein to make up for it. 

Most likely, you can use a protein supplement from vegetable or animal sources and see comparable results. They are both excellent choices to increase your total daily protein intake and help you gain lean body mass and muscle strength.

For most people who can use dairy products, I would pick a whey protein powder as the go-to protein supplement of choice. Whey is a high-quality protein with plenty of important amino acids you need to build muscle. It also contains high amounts of BCAAs, the branched-chain amino acids essential for muscle gain. Whey protein is a better source of BCAAs than BCAA supplements because BCAAs alone can’t support muscle protein synthesis.10

Read more: BCAA vs. EAA: Which Is Better For Your Gains?

The most common types of whey protein are whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Whey protein concentrate contains more carbs and fat, while isolate is almost pure protein. They are both excellent choices for muscle building. For most purposes, concentrate is the cost-effective option, while isolate might be the best option if you’re on a strict cutting diet.

Read more: Whey Protein Concentrate vs. Isolate: What’s The Difference?

Protein supplements have no known harmful side effects. They simply add to your daily protein intake, nothing more, nothing less. Studies have not found any harmful effects from high protein intakes, up to 3 grams per kilogram of body weight and day, over prolonged periods. That does not mean that a protein intake higher than that is harmful, just that no long-term trials have studied it.

All in all, one of the best supplements to gain muscle is good old protein. Consider adding a shake or two if you find it hard to get enough through regular foods.

Read more: Protein for Strength Athletes and Bodybuilders – How Much, How Often, and What Kind

Caffeine

Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world. It boosts performance both in endurance sports and activities that require short bursts of intense effort.

Recent research proves that caffeine helps you perform better in strength sports and regular strength training in the gym.11 The fact that caffeine used to be on WADA’s list of prohibited substances and banned from Olympic competitions says something about its effects.

Coffee and other sources of caffeine boost performance by stimulating your central nervous system, elevating your levels of endorphins, and by making intense training feel less painful.12

Caffeine doesn’t increase muscle protein synthesis in and of itself, but when you perform better in the gym, you stimulate muscle growth over time.

Also, caffeine offers several benefits that might not be associated with immediate gains in performance, but that could still help you gain muscle and strength.

Caffeine boosts glycogen synthesis.13 That means that caffeine helps you store carbohydrates in your muscles more effectively. More glycogen in your muscles improves recovery and makes you look fuller and perform better.

Caffeine might increase your testosterone levels following a workout.14 While your cortisol levels get a boost as well, the ratio between the two hormones improves.

The most common way to improve performance through caffeine intake is, of course, by partaking in regular coffee. Early research suggests that coffee is a poor choice if you want the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine. Several studies could not replicate the documented effects of pure caffeine. More recent research wiped those doubts away. Today, scientific consensus tells us that you get the same performance boost regardless of the source of caffeine. Coffee, energy drinks containing caffeine, caffeine pills, or even caffeinated chewing gum all work just fine.

According to the International Olympic Committee, supported by decades of research, 3 to 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight one hour before exercise improves performance with low to no risk of adverse effects.15 Higher doses might boost performance even further but also increase the risk of side effects like nausea and dizziness.

Six mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is also the dose where you can expect max benefit in the bench press.16 You’ll be able to do more reps with a specific weight if you are caffeinated as you lie down on the bench and grip the bar. If you can handle heavier weights, you will likely get stronger and stimulate muscle growth in the long run. 

caffeine strength

That’s why we can safely conclude that caffeine is one of the best supplements to gain muscle. Also, the recommended dose of 3 to 6 mg per kilogram of body weight is safe, making caffeine a no-brainer.

Read more: Caffeine: Effects, Benefits, and Safety

Weight Gainer Supplements

Weight gainers are designed for people who struggle to put on weight and need a concentrated source of calories. Much like protein supplements, weight gainers or mass gainers are simply food in powdered form. Unlike protein supplements, weight gainers contain a lot of carbohydrates, too. The result is a larger serving size and often 1,000 calories or more per serving.

The benefits of getting enough calories and protein when your goal is to build muscle are well documented. If you don’t get enough, you’ll be hard-pressed to add any significant amounts of muscle and body weight.

That’s where weight gainers are helpful. They provide you with a ton of calories and enough protein to boost muscle protein synthesis in an easy-to-drink package.

However, weight gainers can be both a blessing and a curse.

If you struggle to get enough calories from a healthy diet alone, they can be a blessing. They allow you to boost your calorie intake without stuffing yourself. That makes them one of the best supplements to gain muscle.

If you’re going for fat loss, trying to get that ripped body, you should probably avoid weight gainers. When you prioritize weight loss and getting shredded, concentrated sources of calories could sabotage your efforts. A calorie deficit is essential to attain your goals, and drinking 1,000 calories or more in one sitting is probably not the best way to reach them.

In summary, weight gainers can be a valuable tool to gain as much muscle as possible, but only if you’re struggling to eat enough regular foods. If you’re on a cutting diet, a weight gainer is probably one of the first things to cut.

Nitrate

Nitrate is a substance found in vegetables like spinach and beets. When you eat those, your body converts the nitrate into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide, or NO, is a molecule that helps your muscles contract. It also plays a role in muscle repair, like following acute or chronic injury, and increases blood flow to your muscles when you exercise.17

Nitrate supplements, most often in the form of beet juice, help you perform better by enhancing the function of your mitochondria. Research also suggests that you can do more reps using a nitrate supplement.18 If that means you end up with a higher total training volume, it could lead to more significant gains in the long run.

Athletes eating a regular mixed diet already get a fair amount of nitrate. One study found highly trained athletes get, on average, slightly more than 100 mg of nitrate per day from their food alone. However, increasing that amount to 300–600 mg per day could offer performance benefits.19 20 That requires a supplement unless you base your diet on beets and spinach.

The most common nitrate supplement is beet juice concentrate. Drinking half a liter of beet juice a couple of hours before a workout gives you enough nitrate for a performance-enhancing effect. Most people would cringe at the thought of drinking half a liter of beet juice in one go. The same amount from a beet juice supplement means somewhere around 70 ml. Much easier to get down.

If you love beet juice, you could use the real thing, of course, and drink half a liter or more before training. That might also have the added benefit of turning your urine blood red for a while.

Nitrate and beet juice might not offer any direct anabolic effects, but if it allows you to complete a higher training volume, it could indirectly promote muscle growth.21

Since nitrate likely offers several health benefits, and many studies demonstrate a performance-enhancing effect and improved muscle contractions, a beet juice supplement could be a good idea. That’s why it belongs on this list of the best supplements to get cut and gain muscle.

The Best Supplements to Gain Muscle: Summary

There you have it! The five best muscle-building supplements to gain muscle you can buy.

  • Creatine supplements increase strength and lean muscle mass.
  • Protein supplements like whey protein and soy protein boost your overall protein intake, which is essential for muscle growth.
  • Caffeine improves performance and might even increase testosterone levels.
  • Weight gainers are an excellent, concentrated source of calories if you’re struggling to eat enough regular food.
  • Nitrate improves blood flow to your muscles and allows you to do more reps.

There are plenty of other popular supplements out there that claim to increase muscle mass. These include testosterone boosters, glutamine, and BCAAs. Very few of those claims have scientific support. For example, while BCAAs are essential for muscle growth, supplemental BCAAs do not have any muscle-building properties.

Want to learn more about dietary supplements? Which ones are worth your money, and which are questionable or useless? Check our StrengthLog’s Supplement Guide, our free guide where I review 26 of the most popular supplements.

More Resources

To get the benefits you want from a supplement, you need your training and diet to be on point. If you go through the motions in the gym or eat an unbalanced diet, supplements won’t be the solution.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry, buddy. We’ve got you covered. 

How to Build Muscle: Exercises, Programs & Diet covers the most important things for building muscle in an easy-to-read guide. Armed with the information in this guide, you’re well on your way to reaching your physique goals.

For more in-depth information on eating for muscle growth, check out my article, aptly titled, Eating for Muscle Growth: When, How, and How Much to Eat for Adding Lean Mass. Everything you need to know, from how many calories and how much protein you need to gain muscle to the importance of vitamins and minerals.

If you’re looking for effective training programs and a way to track your training, consider trying our app StrengthLog! The app is 100% free to download.

Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

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References

  1. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007; 4: 6. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise.
  2. J Physiol. 2006 Jun 1;573(Pt 2):525-34. Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training.
  3. Textbook of Natural Medicine (Fifth Edition)
  4. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition volume 18, Article number: 13 (2021). Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?
  5. The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine: An IOC Medical Commission Publication, Volume 19
  6. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2014 – Volume 46 – Issue 6 – p 1194-1203. Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training in Older Adults—A Meta-analysis.
  7. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 May; 17(9): 3041. Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes: A Systematic Review.
  8. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Mar;52(6):376-384. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults.
  9. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Mar;52(6):376-384. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults.
  10. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug 22;14:30. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?
  11. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition volume 15, Article number: 11 (2018). Effects of caffeine intake on muscle strength and power: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
  12. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews Volume 71, December 2016, Pages 294-312. A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance.
  13. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2008 Jul;105(1):7-13. High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine.
  14. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Apr;18(2):131-41. Dose effect of caffeine on testosterone and cortisol responses to resistance exercise.
  15. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Apr;52(7):439-455. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete.
  16. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Aug; 74: 185–193. Caffeine Increases Muscle Performance During a Bench Press Training Session.
  17. Physiol Rep. 2018 Jan; 6(2): e13572. Acute ingestion of dietary nitrate increases muscle blood flow via local vasodilation during handgrip exercise in young adults.
  18. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: December 2016 – Volume 30 – Issue 12 – p 3520-3524. Ingestion of a Nitric Oxide Enhancing Supplement Improves Resistance Exercise Performance.
  19. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Jun;25(3):278-84. Beetroot Juice Improves On-Water 500 M Time-Trial Performance, and Laboratory-Based Paddling Economy in National and International-Level Kayak Athletes.
  20. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2014 Jul;9(4):615-20. The effect of variable doses of inorganic nitrate-rich beetroot juice on simulated 2,000-m rowing performance in trained athletes.
  21. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas has over 30 years of training experience and is a highly appreciated writer and educator on exercise, fitness, and nutrition. Few people stay more up to date and have a better grasp of the field of exercise science than Andreas.