Building Muscle with Supplements: A Beginner’s Guide

November 21, 2023

Embarking on a muscle-building journey involves more than just hitting the gym and lifting weights. While a well-structured workout routine and a balanced diet are foundational, supplements can be valuable tools to support your muscle-building goals. In this beginner's guide, we will explore the basics of building muscle with supplements and provide insights into some key players in the supplement game.

How to Choose Fitness Supplements as a Beginner

Entering the world of fitness supplements can be daunting, but you're not alone. Many beginners find themselves in the same position, eager to explore the benefits supplements can bring to their muscle-building journey but unsure where to start. Recognizing the potential benefits of supplements demonstrates a commitment to achieving optimal results in your workouts. The following workout supplements can help you add muscle mass, maintain energy levels during exercise, and expedite your post-workout recovery.

Whey Protein Powder: The Foundation of Muscle Growth

No matter your level of experience, whey protein powder is a must-have supplement for every bodybuilder. The body can digest whey rapidly to deliver all nine essential amino acids to the muscles during the most crucial period for muscle growth. Whey is also rich in the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which provide the necessary building blocks for muscle protein synthesis. Leucine, a pivotal catalyst in this process, kickstarts the mechanisms for constructing muscle protein, utilizing other amino acids as the foundation for further growth.

Consuming whey protein before a workout provides your muscles with a readily available source of amino acids during your workout and may help prevent muscle protein breakdown. However, aim for a relatively small serving when using whey protein as a pre-workout supplement to avoid digestive discomfort. Taking whey protein after a workout rapidly delivers amino acids to support muscle recovery and growth during the optimal post-exercise window. Many individuals combine their approach and take whey protein pre- and post-workout to provide a continuous supply of amino acids, offering pre-workout support and optimizing the recovery process afterward.

Dosage: 10-20g pre-workout; 20-40g post-workout.

Creatine Monohydrate to Power Your Workouts

Creatine monohydrate, often shortened to simply creatine, stands out as one of the most extensively researched and effective muscle-building supplements ever. Scientific studies show that creatine increases muscle mass and boosts muscle strength. Many incorrectly believe that creatine only causes water weight gain, but this is a common and persistent misconception. Creatine draws water into muscles, which signals muscle cells to increase protein synthesis, resulting in genuine, long-lasting muscle growth.

Creatine is also crucial for providing muscles with a swift energy source to fuel muscle contractions. It increases the body's phosphocreatine stores, a form of stored energy in the muscles that enhances the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the primary energy currency of cells, and an increased supply of creatine enhances its availability, allowing for more efficient energy production. Boosting ATP synthesis sustains muscle contractions and supports the energy-demanding processes involved in lifting weights. Over time, this translates into substantial gains in both muscle strength and size, emphasizing the pivotal role of creatine in optimizing physical performance and fostering muscular development.

Dosage: Most people start with a five- to seven-day loading phase, taking 20g per day divided into four or five doses. After that, take 3-5g of creatine split into pre- and post-workout doses.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) to Support Muscle Recovery

The trio of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Among these, leucine takes center stage in the realm of muscle growth. It activates muscle-protein synthesis within muscle cells and mitigates muscle-protein breakdown, thereby enhancing the potential for muscle growth. Leucine also boosts insulin levels—an anabolic hormone that helps transport glucose, amino acids, and creatine to muscle cells.

While leucine holds particular significance, it's crucial to recognize the importance of all three BCAAs. Muscles can use BCAAs for energy during workouts, enabling you to train more intensely without rapidly fatiguing. BCAAs are unique in that you can take them before, during, and after exercise. Consuming them in the morning helps thwart muscle breakdown while promoting an anabolic state, incorporating them during workouts provides an energy boost, and taking BCAAs after workouts aids in enhanced recovery and muscle growth.

Dosage: BCAA dosages vary by person. Start with 1.5g and adjust based on your needs and tolerance. Some individuals take up to 5g of BCAA supplements at a time, while others experience optimal results with lower doses.

Beta-Alanine to Delay Fatigue

Beta-alanine is an amino acid that enhances exercise performance during resistance training. It works by combining with naturally occurring histidine to increase carnosine levels. Carnosine acts as a lactic acid buffer in muscle cells, helping to regulate pH levels during exercise. Too much acidity contributes to muscle fatigue and a decline in performance. Increasing carnosine levels can delay the onset of muscle fatigue and allow for extended periods of high-intensity exercise, leading to greater muscle stimulation and growth over time. Interestingly, beta-alanine supplements are more effective at increasing carnosine levels than direct carnosine supplementation. The body has to break down carnosine into its individual parts before reassembling it after digestion, which degrades its bioavailability.

Dosage: Research shows that beta-alanine works best with a loading phase of 4-6g per day divided into doses of 2g or less. Doing this consistently for at least two weeks can increase muscle carnosine concentrations by 20-30%. After four weeks, muscle carnosine concentrations may increase by 40-60%.

Note: Some individuals may experience a harmless and temporary tingling sensation known as paresthesia when taking larger beta-alanine doses.

Glutamine for Fatigue, Muscle Repair, and Post-Workout Soreness

Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid naturally occurring in the human body and is a fundamental building block for recovery and muscle growth. It helps buffer fatigue-inducing chemicals triggered by intense exercise, including lactic acid, ammonia, hydrogen ions, inorganic phosphates, potassium ions, and adenosine. Buffering these metabolites delays fatigue, which allows you to push through more repetitions during your workouts.

Performing more reps during your workouts is great for building muscle, but it also typically means more soreness afterward. Doing more work than you’re used to can also lead to muscle damage and prevent you from working out as often as you’d like. Glutamine helps address these issues in two ways. It is a building block for protein synthesis and aids in muscle repair. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that help mitigate exercise-induced muscle soreness for a faster recovery.

Dosage: Most individuals experience the best results with around 5g of glutamine. Start with 1.5g of glutamine up to three times per day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Anti-Inflammatory Support

While not directly a muscle-building supplement, omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil, play a vital role in reducing inflammation. Intense workouts can cause excessive inflammation, hindering recovery and muscle growth. Omega-3s can reduce inflammation, thereby mitigating exercise-induced muscle damage and potentially preventing excessive muscle tissue breakdown. They also foster a healthier environment for muscle repair by promoting the anabolic process and protein synthesis. Additionally, omega-3s’ anti-inflammatory properties support joint health by maintaining the integrity of synovial fluids that lubricate joints and facilitating the repair of joint tissues. Omega-3s can also enhance your overall physique by improving fat metabolism.

Dosage: Fish oil capsules are the most common omega-3 source. PureBulk carries 1000mg fish oil softgels. Take two per day for the best results.

HMB for True Beginners

Although all fitness enthusiasts can benefit from beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), it’s one of the best muscle-building supplements for beginners. HMB is a derivative of the BCAA leucine and provides a protective shield against muscle breakdown to foster a conducive environment for muscle growth. Additionally, it enhances the fat-burning processes within the body. Scientific research shows that HMB significantly increases muscle mass and strength, particularly in those who are at the novice stage of their fitness journey.

Supplements can be a powerful tool to build muscle faster and recover from workouts better when paired with a well-rounded diet and consistent exercise routine. Before incorporating any new supplements into your regimen, meet with a healthcare professional or a nutritionist to ensure they align with your individual needs and goals. With the right combination of supplements, nutrition, and exercise, you can lay a solid foundation for muscle growth and embark on a fulfilling journey to a stronger, healthier you.

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