Top 4 Muscle Building Supplements! What are they really worth?
What is it with the popular muscle-building supplements? What effects on muscle building do they really have? Many myths and numerous half-truths are spread, especially in dietary supplements. The Internet is also full of recommendations that could not be more different.
To shed some light on the matter, let’s look at the four most popular muscle-building supplements.
The whole thing is interesting for your own training and important for fitness or personal trainers.
As a trainer, you will regularly have to answer questions about dietary supplements or make recommendations of your own accord.
Young people who are just starting out in training, in particular, usually want to take supplements right from the start to accelerate muscle growth.
- Classification of supplements in the diet
Many supplements are said to have a muscle-building effect. However, many of these recommendations are scientifically untenable.
You have to distinguish between professional athletes (e.g., bodybuilders) and recreational athletes.
The following sentence is important to understand:
There is no scientific evidence that supplements promote muscle growth over the long term than regular foods.
Especially for recreational athletes, supplements are usually less important than is often assumed.
Before thinking about supplements, it’s important to focus on the more important dietary factors. For classification, we use the following pyramid.
It would be best to convey to the customers that it is much more important first to pay attention to the normal diet and train continuously and regularly.
You have already achieved a lot as soon as you have mastered the “normal” diet and regular training.
After that, you can think about supplements.
Of course, we don’t want to demonize dietary supplements completely. As is so often the case, the devil is in the details.
That’s why we’ll look at the individual supplements below and find out for whom they make sense or whether they are unnecessary.
Muscle Building Supplements – Protein powder
According to a survey from 2018, 22% of Germans regularly consume protein shakes.
Since muscle is made of protein and can only be built if you consume enough protein, adequate protein intake is essential for muscle building.
However, it does not matter whether the protein comes from protein-containing foods or a protein shake.
The protein requirement can be met relatively easily through normal nutrition for recreational athletes. However, there are several reasons why recreational athletes can also use a protein shake.
- Relief in everyday life: If you do not want to make sure that there is something protein-rich on your plate at every meal, a protein shake can be very useful.
- Sweets substitute: Protein shakes usually taste very delicious and can satisfy the craving for something sweet.
- Alternative: Protein shakes are a sensible alternative to common protein-containing foods
- Vegans: Although many plant-based foods contain a lot of protein, vegans may not want to cover their daily protein requirements “just” with legumes, nuts, and grains. Vegan protein shakes are becoming more and more popular and can now absolutely keep up with animal-based ones in terms of taste! You can find out more about protein intake in a vegan diet here.
- For bargain hunters and students: You pay 1.25 dollars for 50g of protein from a good protein powder (20 USD/kg – there would also be a lot cheaper).
If you want 50g of protein from chicken, you pay 2.27 dollars even for the cheapest meat (which we would not recommend).
Protein powder is not expensive at all. It is even cheaper than other protein suppliers.
It also makes sense for gyms to sell protein shakes. If you don’t want to set up an extra counter for it (which would be very expensive), you can also sell the protein shakes from a vending machine.
It can also make sense for professional athletes, such as bodybuilders, to consume protein shakes. This makes it easier to meet the increased protein requirement.
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Protein powder conclusion
If you want to make life a little easier, you can use protein shakes. However, if you pay attention to the protein content of your diet in everyday life anyway, you can safely do without it.
Muscle Building Supplements – BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids)
Some background knowledge helps understand BCAAs. Protein consists of individual, stringed together amino acids.
There are hundreds of different amino acids, but “only” 21 of them are relevant for us humans as a building material.
When we eat protein from different sources, each protein has a different amino acid profile – and that’s a good thing!
Eight of these amino acids are essential for us humans!
The body can produce the other amino acids from these.
Two other amino acids (arginine and histidine) are semi-essential and are only necessary for specific life situations (e.g., growing up).
BCAA supplements contain three essential amino acids.
All three are said to be particularly important for muscle building. Leucine has been shown to play a significant role in protein biosynthesis, and isoleucine stimulates cellular glucose uptake. Valin’s role is not yet entirely clear.
The supplementation is intended to improve protein biosynthesis and thus muscle growth.
You can read also about muscle building and hormones! These four important hormones influence your muscle-building + and practical tips for you here.
However, several scientific studies show that the intake is excessive for (ambitious) recreational athletes!
While the three amino acids are essential, and their importance in muscle building has been partially proven, meeting your protein needs, in general, will meet your needs anyway!
BCAAs are present in animal and vegetable protein suppliers, which means that plenty of BCAAs is already ingested. For example, animal products naturally contain 15-25% BCAAs.
Muscle Building Supplements – EAAs (Essential Amino Acids)
EEA supplements contain all eight essential amino acids.
These would be:
So EAAs contains the three amino acids of BCAAs and five more. Again, supplementation is said to have benefits for muscle building.
However, the conclusion is similar here: Taking it is superfluous for (ambitious) recreational athletes!
While it’s essential to meet your essential amino acid needs, this happens automatically once you meet your protein needs. Protein shakes also contain all the essential amino acids.
Therefore, it is much more important to cover your protein requirements in general!
Be it through animal and vegetable protein suppliers or protein shakes.
BCAAs and EEAs for professional athletes
As already mentioned, the need for essential amino acids must be met. Even professional athletes can ensure this through the general intake of protein.
But: The essential amino acids are important for regeneration, especially after training (whether they are supplemented or ingested through normal food).
Taking EAAs instead of a normal protein shake or a protein-rich meal after training, the essential amino acids get into the blood faster.
The background is that the food components are first broken down with a protein shake or a protein-rich meal.
EAAs can also be taken during training due to their easy digestibility. This ensures a good and constant protein intake.
However, it has not been scientifically clarified whether this minimal temporal advantage impacts muscle building.
Conclusion BCAAs and EAAs
Possibly you have a minimal advantage in the professional field through the fast recording. Anyone who wants to spend the money could do so. Everyone else, however, can safely save themselves BCAAs and EAAs.
Muscle Building Supplements – Creatine
Creatine is a substance that helps provide energy to the muscles.
The human body can produce one to two grams per day itself. Together with the creatine, which is also found in small amounts in certain foods, this is completely sufficient for all vital processes.
Therefore, it is not necessary to supplement creatine from a health perspective.
The supplementation is then used for athletic performance. Whether this results in an advantage is described below.
How does creatine work?
ATP (adenosine triphosphate ) is necessary to supply the body with energy. When the ATP has been used up, it must be replenished. There are various sources for this resynthesis of ATP.
Creatine (specifically creatine phosphate) is the fastest way to restore ATP.
After ATP use, a phosphate is missing in ATP – ATP has become ADP (adenosine diphosphate).
The creatine phosphate then gives up its phosphate to the ADP and thus produces ATP again. This gives the body energy for another 20-30 seconds.
The fact that you have 20-30 seconds of energy after restoring ATP with creatine also brings us to the effect of creatine supplementation:
Taking creatine regularly gives you a little more energy or strength for extended periods during high-intensity exertion.
In training practice, this can mean that you can handle a little more weight in the respective exercises or do a little more repetitions with the same weight.
This increases the training volume somewhat and may have provided an effective training stimulus.
How is the study situation?
The study situation is not very clear. On average, you can expect an increase in strength of between 5 and 15%, but there are also some people for whom creatine has no effect.
In addition to increasing strength, creatine can also have an optical effect.
Creatine supplementation causes more water retained in the muscle cells, resulting in a slightly “plumper look.”
As already mentioned, one to two grams are produced by the body itself every day.
In some cases, creatine can also be ingested through food. Herring, salmon, beef, and pork contain 0.3-1g creatine per 100g of each food.
However, these amounts are not yet sufficient to affect athletic performance.
If you want to supplement creatine, you should take between three and five grams per day. Lighter athletes should focus more on the three grams, heavier athletes on the five grams.
Supplementation is possible in the long term. There are no “loading phases” (as was often assumed in the past) necessary.
The body can store a maximum of 5 grams. Everything above that is excreted.
The recommended three to five grams should not be exceeded, and otherwise, side effects can occur.
Examples would be:
- digestive problems
Types of creatine
There are different types of creatine on the market. However, all are based on creatine monohydrate. All other types have no better effect but cost significantly more.
Therefore, in the case of supplementation, one should always resort to creatine monohydrate.
Time of recording
Creatine is relatively easily broken down by stomach acid, so it should only stay in the stomach for a short time.
Therefore, it should not be taken with a meal, as in this case, it would remain in the stomach for too long. In the best case, you take it after getting up or after training since you usually have a relatively empty stomach.
Studies show no side effects with long-term and permanent use with the proper dosage. However, you should refrain from taking it if you have kidney problems!
It has not yet been proven that the body produces less creatine by taking creatine.
At least with a normal intake (three to five grams).
Conclusion – Creatine
Of course, creatine is not a must-have for muscle building and is unnecessary.
However, if you want, you can supplement it and see whether there is a positive effect.
Muscle Building Supplements Overall Conclusion
In summary, one should not go crazy when it comes to supplements.
Advertising usually promises too much.
Much more important are the design of the training, the regularity of the training, and the diet.
Protein powder occupies a special position among the supplements listed, as it is also a sensible alternative or supplement to conventional protein-containing foods for recreational athletes.
After the muscle-building supplements, I will focus on supplements more to increase health in one of the following blog articles.
For example, zinc, iron, and vitamin supplements are discussed.