You go to the gym daily, but your muscle growth is slow. Or you already train diligently and still stagnate at your performance level during the workout. Indeed you have already thought about resorting to widely used supplements. But which supplements are suitable for muscle building?
The choice is vast. Suppliers are also a dime a dozen. Every manufacturer knows precisely why the supplement they sell should be the best on the market. Primarily as a beginner in weight training, you may rely on the advice of friends or family members who already practice weight training.
But which supplements for muscle building are relevant for the sport? We want to take a look at this topic so that you can get an overview and create a nutrition plan for your training.
- Muscle building needs a slight calorie surplus
- Supplements are often used for nutrient deficiencies
- Supplements are not a pure miracle cure
- Whey and creatine can help if used correctly
- BCAAs, vitamin, and mineral supplements are unnecessary with a balanced diet
- L-glutamine as a supplement is unnecessary, as this amino acid is produced naturally in the body
Supplements as a replacement
First of all, what exactly are supplements? Simply put, supplements are nothing more than dietary additions. Nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can all be added to the regular diet.
Use outside of sports
However, dietary supplements are not only used for (strength) sports but can also be helpful from a medical point of view. Deficiency or metabolic diseases that cause a deficit of vitamins or minerals can be treated with them.
Nutritional supplements can also be beneficial during recovery after an illness, injury, pregnancy, or breastfeeding.
Optimize muscle building with supplements?
However, you do not resort to supplements for muscle building from a medical point of view. You want to optimize your diet for your workout with their help and thus get faster results. But is it the case that supplements support you so strongly in muscle building?
First, it is essential to note that nothing beats a balanced diet. Even supplements can only partially compensate for the loss of nutrients if you eat unhealthily. Your workout in the gym will only improve if your food intake is balanced and balanced.
What do you need to build muscle?
Muscle mass is primarily made up of proteins and water. Therefore, proteins play a central role in muscle building. You can find proteins in supplements and, of course, in conventional foods. Meat, fish, legumes, eggs, and dairy products are among the protein suppliers.
Without calorie surplus no muscle building
To build muscle, you need a calorie surplus, but it must not be too large. The physical requirement is around 2,000-3,000 kcal daily, depending on body weight, age, and gender.
What is a calorie?
A calorie (kcal) is the physiological calorific value of food. One calorie is equal to about 4.2 joules of energy.
To build muscle, you need more calories. That means you also need to consume more nutrients. This can be done through conventional foods, or you reach for supplements. As for protein, for example, that's 1.5-2 g per kilogram of body weight.
Don't overdo it with calories
However, you must always be aware that muscle building takes time. It is not helpful if you set your calorie surplus too high. This is because too high a calorie surplus will result in a high increase in body fat percentage. This must be avoided. Aim for a surplus of about 100-300 kcal.
Whether you do this for your strength training via conventional foods or supplements is up to you. To supply your organism with the additional calories, however, there is no need for supplements.
Supplements are only beneficial in case of deficiency
Used purposefully, supplements can still be helpful. However, it depends on which food components have been excluded from the diet and where there is a deficiency.
If you overshoot your body's need for vitamins or minerals, the excess is either excreted or - in the case of fat-soluble vitamins, for example - harmful side effects can occur. If your organism lacks nutrients after muscle-building training, the right supplements can be helpful here.
Supplements for muscle building are no miracle cure
Nevertheless, you should not see the supplements as a miracle cure, especially as a beginner. The body requires significantly fewer nutrients when starting with strength training, as the muscle mass is also lower. Supplements used here hardly achieve any effect.
Focusing on balanced training, a healthy diet, and targeted recovery is better. You must not overtax your body. You can use the Alpha Progression app to get a custom workout plan that's geared for optimal muscle growth and does not overtax your body.
Which supplements are suitable?
But which supplements are the right ones for muscle building? To find the most effective supplement for your strength training, you need to recognize the acute nutrient deficiencies of your metabolism.
- Whey hydrolysate
- Whey isolate
- Whey concentrate
- BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
- Minerals and Vitamins
- Pre-workout booster
The most well-known supplement is Whey. Whey is a protein carrier that is considered a low-fat protein source. Keep in mind it is not suitable for a vegan diet.
Whey is available mainly in powder form and is often consumed as a protein shake. It can be consumed especially before and after a workout. However, you won't make a magic potion out of it, as it can only balance the protein needs that your natural diet doesn't cover.
The forms of Whey can differ. For instance, there is the Isolate, Hydrolysate, and Concentrate.
Whey Hydrolysate is a form that has been specially pre-treated so that the proteins are broken down into smaller di- and tripeptides.
What are bi- and tripeptides?
Bi- and tripeptides are formed during digestion in the kidneys and small intestine. Long-chain proteins are broken down into shorter units during this process. For Whey, the proteins are enzymatically "predigested" during production.
By splitting into bi- and tripeptides, the muscles can absorb Hydrolysate more quickly. Since the chemical manufacturing process is very complex, this Whey supplement is the most expensive. It is rather unsuitable for beginners and is offered in capsule or tablet form due to its peculiar taste.
Isolate is considered another high-quality form of Whey for muscle building. Isolate contains a protein content of 90-96%. At less than one percent, it is virtually lactose and fat-free, making it well-suited for lactose-intolerant individuals.
Isolate is separated from other whey components by ceramic filters during production. In terms of price, Isolate is slightly below Hydrolysate, as the manufacturing process is less complex.
Just like Concentrate, Whey isolate is also taken by shake. This supplement for muscle building is suitable for beginners but also advanced users. Due to the low lactose content, Isolate is ideal for lactose-intolerant people. Beginners can also reach for the much cheaper Concentrate.
Be careful when buying Isolate because many manufacturers stretch their significantly more expensive Isolate with Concentrate!
The packaging then says "Isolate," but only 10% Isolate is included in the worst case. If the carbohydrate and fat content is 1 g per 100 g, it is a pure isolate supplement.
Lastly, let's look at Concentrate, the most affordable Whey option. However, it also has the significantly lowest protein content at 70-80%. The fat content is also between 4-5%, while the amount of carbohydrates is around 4-8%.
Due to the high lactose content, lactose intolerant athletes should keep their hands off Concentrate. Concentrate is best suited for beginners, as they do not yet have to meticulously pay attention to the protein powder's low carbohydrate and fat content.
BCAAs for muscle building
BCAA means "Branched Chain Amino Acids." BCAA supplements contain the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Since they are in sufficient amounts in any high-quality protein source (e.g., Whey or "normal" animal protein sources), you don't need to supplement them.
Do you need L-glutamine?
L-glutamine is another supplement popularly used in strength training. It is an amino acid that is mainly stored in the muscles. Among other things, it is responsible for the accommodation of water in the body and increases cell volume during strength training. In the process, it promotes protein and glycogen formation.
In a balanced diet, L-glutamine supplements are unnecessary
Taking supplements such as L-glutamine is unnecessary as it is an amino acid produced naturally in the body. In addition, the nutrient is found in high concentrations in soybeans, cereals, and cheese products.
Manufacturers advertise consequences of not taking L-glutamine
Since taking L-glutamine makes little sense in most cases, especially if you already eat a balanced diet, manufacturers often advertise the "alleged" consequences of a lack of the amino acid.
If deficiency symptoms of L-glutamine occur, the risk of disease or infection increases. There are indeed disease states in which patients have significantly lower levels of L-glutamine in their blood. But this results from the disease itself and not a previous deficiency.
Also, the lack of L-glutamine does not have to affect the healing process. Some studies even show the opposite. So save your money because you certainly don't need L-Glutamine as a supplement. Instead, invest the money in a healthy diet!
Minerals and vitamins
Minerals and vitamins are considered "natural supplements." Often there are multivitamin supplements. However, these are also only needed if you have a deficiency.
For example, a vitamin D3 deficiency is prevalent because most people are too rarely exposed to direct sunlight. So it makes sense for most people to supplement vitamin D3.
A balanced diet reduces the risk of deficiency
Again, the best way to compensate for a vitamin deficiency is to rethink your dietary habits (except for vitamin D3).
In most cases, the need for vitamins is already covered. Fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fish, and even meat cover a large field.
Unnecessary supplements would simply be excreted by the body or even cause harmful side effects. If a deficiency does exist, a doctor should be consulted. Symptoms of deficiencies in vitamins or minerals can include sluggishness, fatigue, irritability, and depression.
Pre-workout boosters can summarize an entire category of supplements that temporarily increase exercise performance. These are taken about 20-30 minutes before a workout.
Here we must first differentiate between focus boosters and pump boosters before we look at the hybrid form.
A pure focus booster is a supplement to increase concentration and energy during training. According to EU guidelines, legal stimulants such as caffeine are used here.
Caffeine is often used with exotic ingredients such as Schisandra Chinensis extract to increase performance.
Added to this are B vitamins and so-called adaptogens, which make the absorption of caffeine more pleasant for the body and reduce additional stress and discomfort after the effects have worn off.
The counterpart to the focus booster is the pump booster. It contains neither caffeine nor other stimulants. Mainly the amino acids citrulline and arginine are used.
These promote blood flow to the muscles and provide the well-known pump effect. The muscles swell briefly from the nitrogen-rich substances.
Combination of focus and pump
There is a wide range of different pre-workout boosters on the market, often combining focus and pump boosters in one product.
The most significant positive effect on your performance comes from the caffeine it contains. However, you don't need a booster for this, as you can also get it from coffee or caffeine tablets (for a lower price).
If you decide to use boosters, make sure you consume them (especially if they are in high doses) in not too high amounts and not too regularly to avoid dependence.
Creatine for muscle building
Creatine is a metabolic product that the body extracts from food and then creates itself.
Creatine helps to replenish the so-called ATP storage (adenosine triphosphate) more quickly, which is responsible for our muscles' high-speed power outputs (anaerobic power efforts).
More precisely, creatine phosphate is metabolized to ATP by the enzyme creatine kinase (CK) during physical exertion, provided that the creatine stores in our skeletal muscles are sufficiently filled. Thus, more energy is made available.
Creatine supplementation of about 5 g daily has been shown to increase strength in the range of 1-10 repetitions and can, thus, lead to better muscle development. It is the best-researched supplement and is highly recommended due to its low price-to-performance ratio.
Furthermore, creatine can also be used very effectively outside of weight training. In sports such as shot put or discus throwing, where anaerobic power efforts are practiced, creatine is also suitable for improving performance.
Vegans are more at risk of creatine deficiency
Creatine is especially important for vegans because creatine that has yet to be metabolized is found mainly in fish, meat, and animal products. Since vegans are thus denied natural sources of creatine, supplementation is highly advisable. Plant-based creatine supplements may offer added value if a deficiency is present.
|Food||Creatin content in g/kg|
|Hering||6.5 - 10.0|
|Salmon||4.5||Tuna||4.0 or 2.7 - 6.5||Cod||3.0||Pollock||2.0||Pig||5.0||Cattle||4.5||Milk||0.1||Cranberry||0.02|
However, the intake of creatine through animal products is challenging, considering the amount of meat that would have to be consumed. Therefore, it is also a good idea for athletes with conventional diets to supplement creatine.
Taking supplements can be helpful, but it does not have to be.
In particular, as long as there is no endogenous deficit, taking Whey and vitamin or mineral supplements makes little sense. In addition, deficiencies should be treated with the help of a balanced diet.
Before taking (muscle-building) supplements, it is best to seek advice from a medical professional. A medical assessment can better identify deficiencies and adjust your diet accordingly.
In particular, a large blood count reveals possible deficiencies in a targeted manner.
In contrast to Whey, which does not need to be supplemented in a high-protein diet, creatine is a particular case. While it is true that creatine is present in some animal products, consuming the required meat is too much.
Therefore, creatine offers itself as a valuable supplement for ambitious athletes. It fills up energy reserves faster, and strength can also be increased in the long term, thus positively influencing muscle building.