12 Dec The Best Supplements for Muscle Growth and Recovery
Working out takes time and dedication, whether you’re focusing on bodybuilding, strength training, resistance training, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). And seeing changes in your body, like muscle growth and improved athletic performance, make it worth it to put in the hard work.
Dietary supplements can set you up for success and make your workouts more rewarding. They make it easier to ensure your body has everything it needs to increase muscle mass, speed up recovery time, and improve endurance.
This guide explores what muscle growth is and how you can increase muscle strength. Then we highlight the best supplements for muscle growth. So keep reading to find the best options to support your training sessions and reach your goals.
What Is Muscle Growth?
Muscle growth, also known as hypertrophy, refers to an increase in the size and number of muscle fibers that can occur in any muscle in your body. When you put your muscles under intense strain during a workout (e.g., lifting weights), you create trauma and small tears in the muscle fibers that your body must heal through muscle recovery.
Muscle recovery requires amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to repair and replace the damaged muscle tissue through muscle protein synthesis. This anabolic process increases muscle strength as more muscle fibers are added.
Repeated trauma and repair of a muscle to stimulate muscle growth through a regular workout routine, for example, leads to ongoing increases in muscle size and strength.
If you provide your body with adequate amino acids from protein sources and complete nutrition, you’ll start building muscle almost immediately after starting a regular workout routine. And you’ll see the most noticeable gains within 1-2 months.
About Amino Acids
The human body cannot produce nine amino acids required for muscle repair and growth. These are known as essential amino acids and include:
Your body must receive these essential amino acids from external protein sources. They’re not just for muscle recovery but for the overall health and maintenance of almost every organ, tissue, and cell. A food containing all nine essential amino acids is a source of “complete protein.”
Sources of Complete Protein
Animal-based protein sources always contain complete protein. They include foods such as:
Some plant-based protein sources also contain complete protein. These include foods such as:
- Soybeans (e.g., edamame, soybean sprouts)
- Soy products (e.g., tofu, tempeh, soy milk)
- Hemp seed
- Chia seed
High-quality protein supplements can be made from animal or plant sources. This allows vegans and those who avoid animal products to reduce environmental impact to obtain convenient sources of complete protein.
The process of repairing and building muscle tissue is known as hypertrophy. This is the primary type of muscle growth targeted by most bodybuilding, strength training, resistance training, and HIIT workouts. However, there are two types of muscle growth:
- Myofibrillar hypertrophy: Muscle growth that increases strength more than size is known as myofibrillar hypertrophy. It is an increase in the myofibrils, which make up the rod-like structures within muscle cells. Workouts with heavier weights, lower repetitions (reps), and longer rest periods help target myofibrillar hypertrophy.
- Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy: Muscle growth that increases size and endurance but not strength is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. It’s an increase in the sarcoplasmic fluid, which surrounds the myofibrils and facilitates improved energy supply (including water, glycogen, ATP, and creatine phosphate) for muscular contraction. Workouts with lighter weights, higher reps, and shorter rest periods help target sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Few workout routines exclusively target sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, but many include high-rep, low-weight sets to add to a myofibrillar plan.
Other routines, such as long-distance running and some calisthenics (workouts using bodyweight as resistance), may simultaneously stimulate sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy.
Regardless of which type of hypertrophy a workout routine targets, a balanced diet that supplies enough protein is necessary to facilitate muscle growth and health.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Many workout supplements focus on protein because it can be challenging to find the time (or appetite) to consume enough to support an intense workout routine. Here’s a quick look at how much protein different athletes may need:
- Moderately active: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day
- Moderately active with age-related muscle mass loss: Up to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight each day
- Extremely active: Up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day (endurance athletes may require over 2 grams per kilogram to support intense training)
One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds — you can find several metric conversion tools to determine your weight in kilograms for these calculations.
These are just recommendations. It’s best to consult with a trained sports nutrition specialist or healthcare provider for specific protein intake requirements based on your weight, age, health, workout routine, and goals.
Best Supplements for Muscle Growth
For example, the best muscle-building supplements for someone over 60 who wants to combat muscle loss may be different than those for a bodybuilder in their 20s who wants to try a clean bulking cycle.
We’ll explore some of the best supplements for muscle growth below to help you decide where to start.
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, include three amino acids — leucine, isoleucine, and valine — that form about one-third of muscle protein. This amino acid supplement isolates BCAAs to make them easier for your body to absorb and use during and after a workout.
BCAAs are often among the best pre-workout supplements and best post-workout supplements for muscle gain. This is because both timing strategies are effective for supporting muscle growth.
BCAAs can keep your energy levels higher during a workout, allowing you to keep up with high-intensity exercise for longer while helping to prevent muscle breakdown. They can also reduce muscle soreness and muscle fatigue while helping your body recover more efficiently.
We recommend looking for a high-quality BCAA supplement containing Ingredient Optimized BCAA, formulated for bioavailability. Higher bioavailability allows your body to absorb the supplement more easily.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder is the most popular animal-based protein supplement. It’s a natural ingredient made from the dried, powdered byproduct of cheesemaking.
Whey protein contains all nine essential amino acids and has a high concentration of BCAAs. And in addition to building muscle mass, whey protein supplementation may aid fat loss in those with higher body fat levels.
The three types of whey protein you’ll see include whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, and whey protein hydrolysate. Whey protein isolate is the most popular for muscle growth, as it’s highly digestible, and most of the fat, lactose, and carbohydrates have been removed.
We recommend finding a high-quality whey protein supplement that contains ioWhey, such as ioWHEY Protein by Performix. ioWhey is optimized for higher bioavailability, which makes it easier for your body to absorb, so you’re getting more of what you paid for.
Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder is one of the most popular plant-based protein powders available. It provides complete protein suitable for those reducing their intake of animal products or avoiding them altogether.
While other plant-based protein powders are on the market, pea protein tends to have a less intrusive taste and deliver a more balanced amino acid profile. In addition, it has high levels of BCAAs, which help the body efficiently repair and build lean muscle mass.
High-quality pea proteins, like those containing ioPea, can deliver protein absorption comparable to whey protein. ioPea is optimized for bioavailability and is clinically proven to be significantly more effective than non-optimized pea protein. We recommend Plantein by Kaged Muscle as an option that uses healthy, non-GMO ingredients.
Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid with various vital functions within the human body. It can help build and maintain muscle mass and is sometimes used for weight loss plans. Leucine is the primary BCAA that activates the process of muscle protein synthesis, and it’s commonly seen as one of the best post-workout supplements for muscle gain.
Look for a high-quality leucine supplement like ioLeucine, formulated for improved bioavailability. This helps ensure that your body can absorb more of the supplement in each serving.
Other Muscle Building Supplements
The best muscle-building supplements can vary from person to person, and there are several to choose from. You may want to experiment with different options alongside a nutritional specialist to find what works best for you.
Here are some popular choices for muscle growth and recovery supplements:
- Casein: This protein powder provides slow-digesting dairy protein that some athletes take before bed or instead of whey protein shakes.
- Beta-alanine: This is a non-essential amino acid sometimes taken to improve exercise performance and post-workout recovery.
- L-arginine: This is a non-essential amino acid sometimes taken to support athletic performance.
- L-citrulline: This is a non-essential amino acid sometimes taken to increase athletic performance.
- Creatine monohydrate: Creatine supplements are derived from amino acids and are often taken to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.
- Glutamine: A building block for protein, glutamine is sometimes taken to support the immune system and prevent muscle breakdown.
- Nitric oxide: This is a vasodilator commonly used by athletes to increase blood flow and improve performance. It is sometimes taken with L-arginine, which the body naturally breaks down into nitric oxide, and L-citrulline, which can increase nitric oxide production.
- Magnesium: Athletes often use magnesium supplements to improve physical performance, enhance glucose availability, and replace lost electrolytes.
- Calcium: Some athletes take calcium supplements to replace calcium lost through perspiration.
- L-carnitine: This amino acid derivative is sometimes taken to help burn fat, although research on its efficacy is limited.
- Vitamin D: Some athletes take vitamin D supplements to improve muscle protein synthesis.
- HMB: Hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB) is a byproduct of leucine, and it’s sometimes taken to prevent muscle breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis.
- Ashwagandha: This herb is sometimes taken to improve athletic endurance and provide antioxidants. Ashwagandha may also be taken as a testosterone booster to increase testosterone levels.
Use Caution When Choosing Supplements
Other risks are different between people. For example, Leucine and BCAA supplementation may have side effects for those who are pregnant or nursing. People with a rare genetic condition known as maple syrup urine disease should also avoid BCAAs.
We recommend consulting a healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your routine to ensure it’s safe for you.
Finding the Best Muscle Building Supplements For You
The best supplements for muscle growth vary depending on a variety of factors. And with experimentation and the assistance of a nutritionist or doctor, you can find one or more supplements that help you get more from your workouts.
And don’t forget to look for products that contain Ingredient Optimized supplements for improved bioavailability. Better bioavailability means that your body can absorb the supplement more easily, so you get more of what you’re paying for.