the top 26 muscle-building supplements

The big supplements: the top 26 muscle-building supplements


Category: Estrogen blocker

Benefits: Allows your body to maintain high testosterone levels without converting to estrogen. Studies show a doubling of testosterone levels in normal men.

Action: It binds to aromatase (the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen), holding it until it is destroyed.

Cautions: There are no known side effects.

Use: The suggested amount is 300-600 milligrams (mg) per day. It’s best taken at night with your last meal.


Category: Growth-hormone booster

Benefits: Alpha GPC is a naturally occurring phospholipid that enhances growth-hormone secretion by up to 20% following workouts.

Action: Alpha GPC is believed to work by inhibiting somatostatin, a brain chemical that signals the body to shut down growth-hormone (GH) release. By getting in the way of this inhibitory signal, alpha GPC can promote the continued secretion and circulation of GH.

Cautions: Minor side effects may include diarrhea, dizziness, heartburn, insomnia and restlessness in a small percentage of users.

Use: Take 200-600 mg per day in two separate doses, one 30 minutes before training and the other before bed.


Category: Functional amino acid

Benefits: Arginine is the basic ingredient in most nitric oxide (NO) products. It helps to increase blood flow to muscles and therefore nutrient delivery, muscle pump and ultimately muscle growth. It is particularly beneficial for bodybuilders with hypertension and insulin resistance due to hypertension.

Action: Arginine supplementation enhances NO production. NO is a multifunctional molecule that enhances blood-vessel dilation, nerve conduction and even muscle growth.

Cautions: None reported.

Use: Take three to five grams (g) of arginine as L-arginine, arginine alpha-ketoglutarate or arginine-ketoisocaproate two or three times daily on an empty stomach; take one of those doses with antioxidants 30 to 60 minutes prior to exercise.


Category: Functional amino acid

Benefits: BCAAs provide a host of benefits for bodybuilders, including maintenance of lean muscle mass while dieting and promoting muscle growth and recovery.

Action: Leucine, valine and isoleucine are the branched-chain aminos. These are crucial essential amino acids for anticatabolic and anabolic effects within muscle cells.

Cautions: Avoid taking more than 20 g a day; that amount or more can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Use: Take 5-10 g two or three times per day on an empty stomach; consume one dose before and/or after workouts.


Category: Unique

Benefits: Bovine colostrum is the fluid secreted by cows in the first few hours after they give birth (it precedes the flow of milk). Large doses have been shown to increase levels of growth factor IGF-1, a powerful anabolic peptide. One study found a muscle-building effect; most others suggest it may help with endurance, such as getting more reps during a set.

Action: Colostrum is rich in anabolic peptides, protective antibodies and immune messengers that help the gut heal. Once digested, these factors become fragments that may bolster IGF-1 production in the liver. The protein in colostrum is also a bit more anabolic than that in whey, gram for gram.

Cautions: Avoid bovine colostrum if you are allergic to dairy products. (Lactose intolerance shouldn’t be an issue, however, as commercial forms are generally lactose-free.)

Use: Effective doses are not firmly established, but recommendations are for 1-60 g per day in several divided doses.


Category: Protein

Benefits: Provides a steady stream of amino acids over a long period of time. Particularly effective while sleeping and when your meals are several hours apart.

Action: Casein is the insoluble protein fraction of milk. It is digested and absorbed more slowly than whey and provides the body with amino acids over an extended period (up to seven hours) in comparison to whey protein, the quickly absorbed soluble protein fraction in milk.

Cautions: Better used as a meal replacement than as a postworkout protein source.

Use: Take 20-50 g as a meal replacement, between meals or before bed.


Category: Functional amino acid

Benefits: Creatine boosts power output and increases lifting performance by about 10%, even in highly trained lifters. Recovery between sets is also improved. Due to its muscle-cell volumizing effect, gains of two to four pounds of lean body mass in as little as a week are common. Some lifters can gain up to 10 pounds.

Action: Creatine helps bolster levels of creatine phosphate, which in turn boosts adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the ultimate energy source for muscles. It also works to draw fluid into muscle cells, which adds immediate size, and it appears to directly stimulate pathways that turn on muscle protein synthesis.

Cautions: Take it with plenty of water. Creatine has an excellent safety record; you should avoid it, however, if you have a kidney disorder.

Use: Take 3-5 g of creatine with water, both before and after training.


Category: Estrogen blocker

Benefits: This can help neutralize the negative effects of high estrogen and high dihydrotestosterone (DHT–the “bad” testosterone) levels, such as from a prohormone cycle, keeping “good” testosterone levels up and excess water and fat retention down.

Action: DIM aids the liver in neutralizing the negative consequences associated with estrogen and appears to inhibit the effects of DHT. (In men, DHT affects the prostate gland.) DIM is beneficial for women as well as men.

Cautions: No toxic effects are known.

Use: The suggested amount is 200-300 mg in two or three divided doses.


Category: Phytochemical

Benefits: In large enough doses, beta-ecdysterone can enhance muscle growth.

Action: Produced by plants for protection, it’s a hormone that makes insects molt. In mammals, beta-ecdysterone is believed to kick-start protein synthesis in muscle and keep it up at a faster rate. This works best in conjunction with increased protein and calorie intake.

Cautions: No known side effects even at a higher dosage.

Use: Shoot for doses of at least 2 mg per pound of bodyweight per day or about 300-600 mg per day in two or three divided doses with high-protein meals. Take one of those doses immediately after your workout.


Category: Protein

Benefits: Egg protein is a very effective protein source that’s well tolerated by many, including people who are lactose intolerant. It’s an excellent source of aminos for those seeking muscle growth.

Action: Egg protein has a high biological value, meaning that most of the protein is used by the body. Egg protein is a high-sulfur amino-acid-containing protein, which is critical to the body’s hormone-producing pathways. In protein supplements, it is usually the egg white that is powdered to avoid the cholesterol and fat found in the yolk. Whole-egg protein contains both the yolk and the egg white, providing a high ratio of indispensable amino acids.

Cautions: Avoid this supplement if you are allergic to eggs.

Use: Take 20-50 g as a meal replacement, between meals or before bed.


Category: Testosterone booster

Benefits: Eurycoma longifolia, also known as Long Jack, enhances testosterone production in the body.

Action: It works directly on the testes to enhance the rate of testosterone production. It also frees up testosterone that is bound to SHBG (sex-hormone-binding globulin), which prevents testosterone from doing its thing at the muscle.

Cautions: There are no known adverse effects. However, it is relatively new as a supplement and, currently, little is known about it.

Use: Take 300 mg of a 20:1 strength E. longifolia product in a cycle of five days on, two days off for eight weeks, followed by a two-week break.


Category: Estrogen blocker

Benefits: Helps inhibit the harmful effects of high estrogen, allowing the body to maintain high testosterone levels without converting testosterone to estrogen.

Action: Formastane binds to aromatase (rendering it inactive) and doesn’t let go until the aromatase is destroyed.

Cautions: None.

Use: Take 50-250 mg per day.


Category: Functional amino acid

Benefits: Glutamine is a crucial bodybuilding supplement. It promotes recovery, aids digestion, enhances muscle growth and provides a host of other metabolic benefits for bodybuilders.

Action: Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid, and it is the most abundant amino in the bloodstream and in muscle. It serves as a building block for muscle and other proteins. Supplementing with it also helps prevent the breakdown of muscle mass during catabolic periods.

Cautions: Build up dosage gradually to avoid gastric distress.

Use: Ideally, supplement two to four times per day with dosages of 5-10 g each, for a total of 10-40 g per day. Take it upon rising, before and after workouts and/or before bedtime.


Category: Functional amino acid

Benefits: May boost your body’s ability to form creatine on its own, which would have the same benefits that creatine supplementation has–lean weight gain and added strength.

Action: Glycocyamine, also known as guanidinoacetate, is the precursor to creatine. In the liver, it receives an added molecule that turns it into creatine. Since taking creatine tends to inhibit the liver’s production of creatine, some researchers contend that taking glycocyamine with creatine will boost muscle creatine levels even higher. There currently is no data to test this theory.

Cautions: Glycocyamine supplementation is associated with higher levels of homocysteine, which is a clinical marker for cardiovascular disease. Avoid glycocyamine if you have a history of cardiovascular disease.

Use: Take 2-3 g of glycocyamine in one or two daily doses along with a methyl donor, such as betaine (trimethylglycine), dimethylglycine (pangamic acid, or vitamin [B.sub.15]) or SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine), to enhance creatine formation and reduce homocysteine levels.


Category: Functional amino acid

Benefits: For muscle growth and strength in trained individuals, there is minor benefit at doses most people can afford. In individuals just beginning a weight-training program, HMB may provide some benefit for muscle recovery and growth.

Action: HMB, a metabolite of the amino acid leucine, prevents muscle breakdown and aids the repair of damaged muscle cells.

Cautions: No known side effects.

Use: Take 3-10 g per day (beginners can stay on the lower side of the dosing scale, but experienced lifters will want to shoot for the higher end). Take it in two or three doses throughout the day with meals, but be sure to consume a 2-4 g dose immediately after a workout.


Category: Functional amino acid

Benefits: This BCAA is essential for all bodybuilders. Taking extra leucine as a supplement, along with other essential amino acids from whey protein, may accelerate muscular gains.

Action: Muscles use leucine as an energy source to fuel exercise, and it boosts protein synthesis at an early stage when it’s combined with other amino acids.

Cautions: No problems expected.

Use: We recommend 5 g of leucine (along with 25-50 g of whey protein) before and after workouts.


Category: Phytochemical

Benefits: This plant isoflavone supposedly builds muscle through several mechanisms.

Action: Methoxyisoflavone acts as an antiestrogen supplement, which in turn promotes higher testosterone levels. It also enhances protein synthesis and lowers cortisol. Forms that are esterified or encased in liposomes may offer improved bioactivity and, therefore, effectiveness.

Cautions: Isoflavones, as a class, are generally well tolerated.

Use: Take 1-2 g per day in three or more divided doses with meals. That much is necessary due to the high rate of clearance by the liver.


Category: Protein

Benefits: Milk proteins consist of casein and whey, both of which are extracted from milk and used in protein supplements. These are two of the most common protein sources used in shakes and other protein products. Milk proteins have a smooth mouth feel and high nutritive and biological value.

Action: Milk proteins are digested slowly for a more constant release of amino acids in the body, making them a high-quality bodybuilding protein source.

Cautions: Most bodybuilders tolerate them well, but those who are lactose intolerant should rely on other protein sources.

Use: Consume 20-50 g per dose up to three times a day as a meal replacement, between meals or as a late-night snack.


Category: Growth-hormone booster

Benefits: Mucuna pruriens (velvet bean) is a legume that enhances GH secretion, presumably leading to more muscle tissue and less bodyfat.

Action: It contains about 15% L-dopa (L-dihydroxyphenylalanine), which is converted to dopamine in the body and increases GH release.

Cautions: Side effects are rarely reported, but may include gastrointestinal problems.

Use: Take 300-800 mg per day in two separate doses, one 30 minutes before a workout and the other before going to bed.


Category: Micronutrient

Benefits: Supplementing with a multi can prevent deficiencies often produced by limited dietary variety and/or reduced calorie intake, as well as vitamin loss from increased exercise.

Action: Provides cofactors that cannot be produced by the body at sufficient rates to maintain optimal metabolism.

Cautions: Taking one or two doses of a multivitamin/multimineral complex daily will not likely lead to toxic levels of vitamins or minerals. Try to stay below 25,000 international units of preformed vitamin A (retinyl palmitate).

Use: We recommend taking a well-known brand that provides 100% of the daily value of C, D, E and most of the B-complex vitamins, as well as 100% of zinc, copper and chromium.


Category: Cortisol blocker

Benefits: Phosphatidylserine (PS) lowers cortisol levels and thereby raises free testosterone and aids anabolic status. It helps protect against the effects of overtraining and enhances recovery.

Action: PS is a phospholipid contained in membrane and nervous tissue including the brain. It is believed to inhibit cortisol by enhancing the structure and function of cell membranes.

Cautions: PS may reduce cortisol below normal levels in individuals with compromised adrenal function. If PS produces an increase in joint pain, lower the dose or discontinue taking it until the pain subsides.

Use: Take 800 mg per day as one or two doses before workouts and before bed.


Category: Functional amino acid (although it is not a true amino acid)

Benefits: Taurine improves the contractions of muscles, including heart muscle–meaning it may enhance strength and endurance. It also has cell-volumizing effects, as it improves muscle-cell hydration.

Action: Taurine is involved in muscle and brain function, as well as the metabolism of dietary fat.

Cautions: No known side effects are associated with its use, so it should be safe for most bodybuilders.

Use: Take 2-6 g per day in two or three divided doses. Taurine (usually 1 g) is added to many popular energy drinks.


Category: Testosterone booster

Benefits: Tribulus terrestris boosts the body’s own production of testosterone, which can lead to better gains in muscle mass and strength.

Action: The active ingredients in this herb–protodioscins and saponins–increase secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland. LH directly stimulates the testes to produce testosterone.

Cautions: Extremely high doses are toxic in sheep and goats. However, it would be nearly impossible for humans to ingest similar amounts.

Use: Take 750-2,000 mg of T. terrestris that delivers 20% protodioscins and more than 60% total saponins. After taking it for five days in a row, go off it for two days; after eight weeks, stop using it for two weeks before returning to it.


Category: Carbohydrate

Benefits: Increases muscle volumization and improves recovery from hard training sessions by helping to restock glycogen stores. Improves uptake of protein and other nutrients such as creatine and glutamine.

Action: Vitargo is a specialized complex carbohydrate that’s excellent for postworkout nutrition because it drives nutrients such as amino acids and creatine into muscle tissues to start the recovery process.

Cautions: As a complex carbohydrate, Vitargo must be counted toward your total carb and calorie intake for the day. Bodybuilders on low-carb diets should reduce their intake of Vitargo.

Use: Take 60-100 g, plus 5-10 g of creatine and 30-50 g of whey protein, after workouts.


Category: Protein

Benefits: This protein fraction from milk has a high level of BCAAs and a high biological value. It’s easy to drink and to digest, making it an excellent choice for bodybuilders.

Action: Whey protein breaks down quickly, providing the body with a rapid influx of aminos. It’s one of the best postworkout protein options.

Cautions: Unless it’s mixed with other proteins, such as casein, whey protein digests so quickly that it is less valuable as a meal replacement at other times of day.

Use: Take 20-50 g once or twice daily, especially postworkout, with 40-100 g of simple carbs.


Category: Micronutrient

Benefits: ZMA increases anabolic hormone levels, including free testosterone and growth factor (IGF-1), and it improves recovery through better quality of sleep.

Action: This patent-pending combination of zinc and magnesium aspartate, plus vitamin [B.sub.6], is supported by strong clinical research. ZMA increases free testosterone and IGF-1, which may otherwise be suppressed in hard-training athletes. Improved recovery due to enhanced sleep efficiency and increased anabolic hormone levels, as well as greater gains in muscle strength and power, are the ultimate benefits of ZMA supplementation.

Cautions: Be aware of the amount of zinc in other supplements, such as your multivitamin/multimineral. Although it’s tough to get too much zinc, consuming more than 100 mg per day can increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Use: For best results, take ZMA products that provide 30 mg of zinc, 450 mg of magnesium and 11 mg of vitamin [B.sub.6]. Avoid taking ZMA on a full stomach or with calcium. The best way to take this supplement is on an empty stomach before bedtime. Follow label recommendations.


Although each supplement on our chart gets an A for muscle building, we’ve graded them on a curve, assigning them up to five stars, to help determine what’s most suitable for you. Use the rating system and chart tips to choose the best among the best.

***** The five-star supplements are highly recommended for all bodybuilders on a daily basis. Follow FLEX and label recommendations for ultimate muscle-building effects.

**** Four-star items can boost muscle-building goals. Some of these work more indirectly, may cost a bit more or may not have the same strong effect as five-star supplements.

*** Many supplements with three-star ratings are cutting edge; others are well established. A few of them work better for some individuals than for others. Pay attention to your supplementation; adding one new item at a time is the best way to evaluate what works for you.

** These are for bodybuilders with special needs. They are often expensive or work best for bodybuilders in specific situations. For instance, some supplements work well for beginners; some work better for older bodybuilders. Analyze your needs before you try a supplement.

We don’t present any one-star supplements, as we wanted to list only the best of the best. Still, you may find muscle-building success with other supplements–new or old. Be on the lookout for high-priced or potentially harmful supplements. Do your research.




Yet, the focus has to be on all aspects of the sport: training, nutrition, recovery and supplementation. Too much emphasis on one element at the expense of another will prevent you from maximizing your gains. You must train sufficiently and allow your body to grow while you recover. You must eat properly, taking in all the nutrients your body needs for growth, but not so much that you get fat while you build muscle.

The same can be said of supplementation. Finding the ideal formula and keeping supplementation in its proper place are part of the discipline of being a dedicated bodybuilder. Often, iron-sport athletes either neglect supplementation or overemphasize it. At FLEX, it’s our job to provide you with the information you need to strike the right balance. Here are our suggestions for top-shelf muscle-building supplements. How many of our five-star supplements are you taking on a daily basis? Consider including some of the four- and three-star items in your nutrition plan, too, if they’re not already in it. Experiment. Have fun. Most important, pay equal attention to all components of this great sport.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Weider Publications

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