While there are many supplements on the market, some stand above the rest due to research evidence suggesting their benefit for muscle growth.
Combined with hard training and a high protein diet, using these research-proven muscle building supplements can enhance performance, strength, recovery and overall mass.
In this article, I’ll discuss some of my favorite supplements that may help you build muscle and are backed by 100+ research studies!
Muscle Building Supplement 1: Whey Protein
Whey protein is one of the most popular sports supplements on the market due to its muscle growth promoting properties.
A derivative of milk protein, whey is a fairly fast digesting protein that allows for stimulation of muscle protein synthesis both quickly and efficiently.
Muscle protein synthesis is the leading mechanism underlying how skeletal muscle actually develops. This process produces components in the muscle that allow it to contract more readily.
Studies have revealed that after ingestion of whey protein, levels of amino acids in the blood reach their peak in just over 1 hour, making it an ideal choice for quick stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (1).
Whey protein is also attractive as each serving typically includes upwards of 20 grams of protein, which, due to the protein source, is enough to actually stimulate protein synthesis.
This equates to a fairly low financial investment while allowing for a quick increase in total daily protein intake and stimulation of protein synthesis.
Multiple studies have shown that ingestion of whey protein leads to increases in hypertrophy or muscle growth likely due to increasing the total amount of protein ingested on a daily basis (2, 3, 4).
Whey protein is relatively cheap and has literally hundreds of studies revealing its effectiveness as a supplement to promote muscle growth. Try taking 1.5 – 2 scoops both pre and post workout as well as during the day as a snack or with a low protein meal!
Muscle Building Supplement 2: Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine monohydrate is also one of the more popular supplements on this list and my personal favorite supplement in the world!
As an overview, creatine allows for your muscle to be saturated with a compound called creatine phosphate. During muscular contraction, the body’s main energy source, ATP or adenosine triphosphate, becomes depleted as it’s used for muscular contraction.
It is creatine phosphate’s job to donate its phosphate group so that the used ATP can be quickly regenerated. This allows for longer durations of higher intensity exercise since energy is quickly replenished.
Multiple studies have indicated that regular supplementation of creatine can reliably increase lean muscle mass (5, 6, 7).
It is likely that, by supplementing with creatine, you can increase the amount of volume (weight x reps x sets) over time due to the replenishment of ATP. This can be a major factor in increasing muscle mass, long term.
This notion is further strengthened due to multiple studies indicating reductions in fatigue with regular supplementation of creatine (8, 9). Due to its energy-replenishing and fatigue-reducing effects, creatine monohydrate supplementation is a must for improving lean muscle mass.
Take 5g every day before or after the workout. When starting out you can load by taking 4 separate 5g servings during the day.
Muscle Building Supplement 3: Casein Protein
Casein, a derivative of milk protein, is a much slower digesting type of protein when compared to whey.
As a result, it allows for a much more sustained increase of amino acids in the blood and feeds your muscle between meals etc.
Every day the human body goes through both synthesis and breakdown of muscular protein. It is only when the level of synthesis is greater than that of breakdown that muscle growth occurs.
Since the digestion of casein is such a relatively slow process, it makes amino acids available in the blood over a longer time period, allowing for greater synthesis and less breakdown (10).
Additionally, consuming casein along with a whey source seems to be most optimal due to having a combination of fast and slow digesting proteins.
Casein’s sustained release of amino acids in the blood makes it a strong candidate for supplementation to increase the amount of muscle protein synthesis relative to muscle breakdown.
Try taking 30-40g of casein before bed or whenever you have a long period without food or protein (i.e. 4 hours+). Remember, you can also obtain casein protein from foods such as high protein yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, etc.
Muscle Building Supplement 4: Citrulline
Citrulline is an interesting blood flow/pump-based supplement, in that it converts to arginine in the body and also increases levels of arginine greater than that achieved by simply supplementing with arginine (11).
Time and again Citrulline has been displayed to be the better of the two supplements (arginine vs. citrulline) for improving levels of nitric oxide, which plays a role in improving blood flow to the muscle (12).
Evidence suggests that when individuals consume Citrulline prior to exercise, they experience improvements in total volume performed in addition to a reduction in fatigue, leading to even more volume over time (13).
Additionally, Citrulline has been shown to decrease muscle soreness. This is a major factor in improving recovery while allowing for more frequent training sessions (13).
Based on the evidence, Citrulline is a strong candidate for improving muscle mass. Try taking 6g, 30 mins before a workout, especially a higher rep or more metabolic session!
Muscle Building Supplement 5: Ashwagandha
Improving recovery and optimizing your key anabolic hormones is crucial for health and long-term muscle gains.
Ashwagandha, a traditional Ayurveda supplement, has been shown to reduce markers of muscle damage resulting from intense resistance training (14). Reductions in exercise-induced muscle damage may significantly reduce recovery times, allowing for more frequent training sessions.
This is an addition to another study indicating that using Ashwagandha may reduce your perception of pain and muscle soreness resulting from exercise, allowing you to push harder and train with more intensity.
Other research has revealed that Ashwagandha may also significantly increase the anabolic hormone, testosterone. Doing so could significantly improve your ability to build muscle, lose fat and improve general health
In fact, one study showed that regular supplementation of ashwagandha improved subjects’ testosterone levels by a whopping 17%! (15).
Ashwagandha has strong evidence behind it for both improving recovery and increasing levels of anabolic hormones; try taking around 200-400mg per day. Learn more about Ashwagandha here.
The Best Muscle Building Supplements Proven By Science
While supplements are not required for building muscle, there’s no doubt that they will streamline and speed up the process.
Whey, Casein, Creatine, and Citrulline have all been shown to either directly increase muscle mass or improve factors related to muscle growth, such as fatigue reduction and increased training volume.
Lastly, supplements such as ashwagandha may decrease muscle damage while also increasing levels of testosterone, which may optimize your ability to build muscle.
Once your diet and training is optimized, adding these supplements in is the next logical step!
1. Hall, W. L., Millward, D. J., Long, S. J., & Morgan, L. M. (2003). Casein and whey exert different effects on plasma amino acid profiles, gastrointestinal hormone secretion and appetite. British Journal of Nutrition, 89(02), 239-248.
2. Pennings, B., Groen, B., de Lange, A., Gijsen, A. P., Zorenc, A. H., Senden, J. M., & van Loon, L. J. (2012). Amino acid absorption and subsequent muscle protein accretion following graded intakes of whey protein in elderly men. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 302(8), E992-E999.
3. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36, 2073-2081.
4. Reitelseder, S., Agergaard, J., Doessing, S., Helmark, I. C., Lund, P., Kristensen, N. B., … & Kjaer, M. (2011). Whey and casein labeled with L-[1-13C] leucine and muscle protein synthesis: effect of resistance exercise and protein ingestion. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 300(1), E231-E242.
5. Branch, J. D. (2003). Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 13(2), 198-226.
6. Kilduff, L. P., Pitsiladis, Y. P., Tasker, L., Attwood, J., Hyslop, P., Dailly, A., … & Grant, S. (2003). Effects of creatine on body composition and strength gains after 4 weeks of resistance training in previously nonresistance-trained humans. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 13(4), 504-520.
7. Parise, G., Mihic, S., MacLennan, D., Yarasheski, K. E., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2001). Effects of acute creatine monohydrate supplementation on leucine kinetics and mixed-muscle protein synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology, 91(3), 1041-1047.
8. McMorris, T., Harris, R. C., Swain, J., Corbett, J., Collard, K., Dyson, R. J., … & Draper, N. (2006). Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol. Psychopharmacology, 185(1), 93-103.
9. Anomasiri, W., Sanguanrungsirikul, S., & Saichandee, P. (2004). Low dose creatine supplementation enhances sprint phase of 400 meters swimming performance. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand= Chotmaihet thangphaet, 87, S228-32.10. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36, 2073-2081.
10. Tipton, K. D., Elliott, T. A., Cree, M. G., Wolf, S. E., Sanford, A. P., & Wolfe, R. R. (2004). Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36, 2073-2081.
11. Moinard, C., Nicolis, I., Neveux, N., Darquy, S., Benazeth, S., & Cynober, L. (2008). Dose-ranging effects of citrulline administration on plasma amino acids and hormonal patterns in healthy subjects: the Citrudose pharmacokinetic study. British journal of nutrition, 99(04), 855-862.12. Ochiai, M., Hayashi, T., Morita, M., Ina, K., Maeda, M., Watanabe, F., & Morishita, K. (2012). Short-term effects of L-citrulline supplementation on arterial stiffness in middle-aged men. International journal of cardiology, 155(2), 257-261.
12. Ochiai, M., Hayashi, T., Morita, M., Ina, K., Maeda, M., Watanabe, F., & Morishita, K. (2012). Short-term effects of L-citrulline supplementation on arterial stiffness in middle-aged men. International journal of cardiology, 155(2), 257-261.
13. Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1215-1222.
14. Wankhede, S., Langade, D., Joshi, K., Sinha, S. R., & Bhattacharyya, S. (2015). Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 43.
15. Ambiye, V. R., Langade, D., Dongre, S., Aptikar, P., Kulkarni, M., & Dongre, A. (2013). Clinical evaluation of the spermatogenic activity of the root extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in oligospermic males: a pilot study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013.