The Best Muscle Building Supplements that Work (or not)

Listed below are several of the best muscle building supplements that have a reputation for being useful for both men and women who weight train.  All are safe natural substances that have little if any effect on hormone levels such as testosterone.  Here we will be discussing, whey protein, creatine monohydrate,  BCAAs, nitric oxide, beta-alanine, argenine, fish oil, glutamine, and leucine.

Whey Protein as a Muscle Building Supplement

muscle building supplement

Of all muscle building supplements, besides creatine monohydrate, whey protein is the most known and used.  As an inexpensive first rate protein with high biological value, it is hard to beat.  Whey can be made in a protein shake and helps repair muscle tissue and may help with heart health and supporting the immune system—not bad for once known as being only a by-product of cheese making.

Creatine Monohydrate:  The Volumizing Muscle Building Supplement

Creatine monohydrate is supposedly the most popular supplement with athletes on the college level.  Creatine is a nitrogen based organic acid that occurs naturally within our muscles.  We get our energy from a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  Every expenditure of muscular energy such as a contraction, causes ATP to lose a phosphate molecule and become ADP (adenosine diphosphate).  Speaking simplistically, it is the creatine that helps get back the lost phosphate molecule to become ATP again and re-set up the energy process.  We naturally obtain creatine in eating meat and fish.  Creatine is known as a cell volumizer in that it pulls water into muscle cells thus creating a sort of “hydraulic effect.”  The result is result can be an extra rep or two on a set.  If you take creatine, be sure to drink a lot of water to stay well hydrated during the day otherwise you may get muscle cramps.

 Branched Chain Amino Acids:  The Protein Sparing Muscle Building Supplement

Many bodybuilders take branched chain amino acids when they are employing what is called a cutting diet or when they are training fasted.  BCAAs are usually taken in powdered form by mixing with some kind of liquid.  BCAAs are great for fat loss when on a low carbohydrate diet because they have a protein (muscle) sparing effect and do not cause an insulin spike.  Another side benefit with BCAAs is that your muscles won’t suffer as much damage after workouts and so you won’t get as sore.  They are also supposed to increase resistance to fatigue and better regulate your immune system.  Also, they are meant to be taken alone and not with other sources of protein.  [1][2][3][4][5].

Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound in the body using l-arginine (a natural amino acid), oxygen and NADPH (a membrane-bound enzyme complex).  It causes vasodilation which is the widening of blood vessels because it causes the smooth cells within vessel walls to relax.  You might be familiar with nitroglycerin pills for angina (heart pain).  Nitroglycerin helps produce nitric oxide to alleviate angina by means of vasodilation.  Sellers of nitric oxide argue that it gives you better better muscle pumps and allows for more nutrients to get to your muscles.  The evidence for this is rather sketchy.  Nitric oxide supplements are very expensive.


Supplementing with beta-alanine increases carnosine in skeletal muscle.  Carnosine is a dipeptide (a molecule consisting of two amino acids, beta-alanine and histidine) found in fast twitch muscle fibers.  Carnosine helps to keep the PH levels from dropping (becoming too acidic) which would cause a condition known as intramuscular acidosis.  The high acidic level in your muscles is why your muscles get fatigued and you feel the burn at the end of a set of high reps.

Beta-alanine does not make you stronger or improve your VO2max (aerobic capacity) but it may help you to have more staying power strength-wise for what may be called your anaerobic threshold.  Also, as we get older, skeletal muscle carnosine decreases.  It has been suggested that the elderly may benefit from beta-alanine supplementation to improve their muscular endurance and keep them from falling and injuring themselves.  [6][7].


Arginine is a natural precursor to nitric oxide which was mentioned before which helps dilate blood vessels.  It may help with better blood flow and lower blood pressure.  In weight training, it is supposed to help increase tolerance to exercise—it has done so in studies with patients with stable congestive heart failure.   There is more evidence for arginine as a useful exercise supplement than there is for nitric oxide. [8][9].

Fish Oil (Omega 3 essential fatty acids)

Reading about the benefits of fish oil (omega 3 fatty acids) is sometimes unbelievable.  It seems more like they are selling snake oil which is supposed to be good for everything from cataracts to postpartum depression.

The evidence however, is in.  Omega 3 fatty acids do 2 basic things:

1)      They help lessen inflammation and

2)      They increase insulin sensitivity

Decreasing inflammation and increasing insulin sensitivity are two enormous macro benefits and based upon these, fish oil sellers embellish and also tell you omega 3 fatty acids:

  • Help burn fat
  • Fight depression
  • Assist in recovery from exercise
  • Alleviate pain
  • Assist in healing
  • Help decrease blood pressure
  • Lower bad cholesterol
  • And a whole lot more–Again, any benefit you can think of that would be a result of lessening inflammation and making your body more insulin sensitive is what you get with omega 3 anything.  It’s great stuff!


This debate is still going on about the necessity of this supplement.  Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body.  It is supposed to aid in recovery by keeping your immune system going strong.  When you exercise hard, your immune system can become greatly compromised.  This can happen especially if you have a tendency to overtrain.  Elite athletes who use it swear by it.  Maybe you have to get to the elite level to agree with them because the only athletic studies that seem to recommend it are ones that involve world class athletes who train at optimum levels.


Leucine is an essential amino acid in that the body does not naturally synthesize it.  It has to be ingested.  It reportedly is the only amino acid supplement that can stimulate protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.  It is like a trigger for growing muscle.  Many studies have been done to see if extra supplementation has any exercise advantage but there is no strong evidence to support this.   It is given an honorable mention here because its case comes up periodically as a supplement of interest.


Many trainers and medical professionals say that if you consume a well balanced diet with plenty of protein, plenty of colorful vegetables and whole, complete carbohydrate foods, you will never need supplements.  Many top coaches agree that many so called muscle building supplements such as whey protein, creatine, glutamine, leucine, and so on, should only be for the elite athlete who is at the top of their game when a split second needs to be shaved off the clock or that extra little something is needed to tip the scales against your opponent who is also a titan as oneself competing at a world class level.  Although there is much controversy involving the use or value of some supplements, one thing that can perhaps be agreed upon and that is that young people who do not yet have their full adult body weight should probably steer clear of most if not all of what are known as muscle building supplements.













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