Stack to the Max for Muscle Gain
Ok, so we all know that protein is essential for building muscle. And for supercharged muscle gain – protein powders are your best friend.
But that’s not the end of the story…
Whey or pea protein supplements and a solid workout schedule will get you good gains. But if you want to push things that little bit further – from good to excellent, or excellent to outstanding – you’ll need to add some other supplements to the mix.
This article will give you a thorough overview of the different supplements that you can "stack" alongside your chosen protein. We’ll go deep on the different kinds available, explain why they’re important and how much you should take. Let's dive right in!
Some unethical supplement companies are guilty of recommending products with unproven track records. Products that don't have enough research behind them to back up the claims stated on the label. That doesn't mean those supplements are unhealthy, most are thoroughly tested for safety. Safety is one thing – effectiveness is something else altogether.
But not creatine.
Of all the supplements, creatine has had the most rigorous scientific testing - hundreds of studies have been carried out on this substance and all of them show that it has tremendous benefits.
Creatine is naturally found in cells in small quantities. It’s one of the energy sources our body uses. We intake it every day through meat, but not enough to see any muscle building benefits.
Creatine supplements are usually taken through powder and the best kind for muscle gain is creatine monohydrate.
When taking it, you first need to go through the "loading phase" - in other words, the concentration of creatine in your cells needs to reach an optimal level. Once that happens, you’ll notice your muscles getting considerably bigger in a very short time - you might even have to buy new clothes to squeeze your bulging muscles into! That's because creatine draws water into tissue. This makes your muscles not only bigger, but also stronger meaning you can lift more, compounding your results. Creatine improves blood flow which improves workout stamina and endurance and it also improves recovery.
Dosage: The recommended amount for muscle gain is 5g of creatine per day — just imagine, all those benefits at such a low dosage. And best of all, creatine monohydrate, the best form of creatine, is also the cheapest of all the supplements – result!
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that has both positive and negative effects. On the positive side it improves alertness, focus, gives you an enormous energy kick and fights tiredness. On the downside, caffeine can be addictive, especially if taken in large quantities. Anyone that drinks coffee will know how easy it is to get hooked to caffeine as you can build a tolerance to the effects relatively fast and start craving more and more.
But why is caffeine on a list of stimulants for muscle building? Well, most popular and effective pre-workout supplements are caffeine-based. In other words, they are packed with caffeine, as well as other ingredients to further boost your energy levels. If you just choose to take pure form caffeine isolate, you’ll get 90% of the benefits while tremendously reducing the cost.
Dosage: It depends on your tolerance, but make sure you stay under 400mg per day and start slow. Caffeine can make you nervous and jittery, and it affects sleep. Don't drink any caffeine or take supplements that contain it within six hours of bedtime.
Branched Chain Amino Acids - BCAAs - or leucine, isoleucine and valine are essential for recovery. Leucine is the most effective of the three, and good BCAA supplement will contain 2:1 ratio of leucine to other acids.
When you lift weights, the muscle tissue in your body tears and the body works on repairing the damage for days afterwards. That's when serious muscle growth happens. BCAAs help the process by aiding recovery and helping muscle protein synthesis or the cellular process of building muscle.
Furthermore, these acids increase energy levels during workouts and even fight cortisol – a hormone that blocks testosterone and triggers the breakdown of muscle tissue. The downside of BCAAs is that you need to remember to take them regularly to get the best results.
Dosage: They are best consumed with your breakfast (5-10 grams), as well with your pre and post workout shakes.
Beta-Alanine is another amino acid that is found naturally in our bodies. It’s commonly found in a variety of foods that contain high amounts of protein.
Through supplementation you increase the levels of beta-alanine in your body, which then increases levels of carnosine in your muscles. What is carnosine? It’s a naturally occurring chemical found mostly in muscle and brain tissue. Higher levels of carnosine increase muscle strength and endurance. In other words, you will be able to train harder, putting a few more pounds on the bar, and pumping for a few more reps. And that's all it takes to break your plateau and reach new PRs.
Dosage: Take 4-6 grams per day, but try to distribute it in several small doses. Some people also like to take two grams on non-training days, while taking it both before and after the workouts on training days. Just remember that to get the best results, you need to have a constant supply of extra carnosine, which can only be achieved by taking beta-alanine consistently over a long period.
Nitric oxide boosters provide an amino acid called arginine, which increases levels of NO.
Nitric oxide is a molecule that dilates blood vessels, thus improving blood flow throughout the body, including muscle tissue.
Blood contains everything you need for your muscles to properly function - water, nutrients, hormones, oxygen. Increasing the amount of blood pumped through your muscles will boost your energy levels during workouts and significantly improve recovery, triggering accelerated muscle growth. The arginine found in NO reactors also has one extra benefit, and that is boosting fat loss.
In other words, NO boosters are a must if you want to push your gains to the next level.
There are many different types of NO booster. We recommend either L-arginine or Citrulline Malate if you want to try some of the more advanced NO supplements available on the market.
Dosage: Take 8 grams of Citrulline Malate to boost your workouts and improve performance and recovery.
Glutamine is another favourite of old-school bodybuilders and is a supplement that has been around for decades. Although some other chemicals with fancy names pushed it to the side a bit, glutamine is still a good pick and provides a plethora of benefits.
Glutamine is an amino acid, and our body already contains a lot of it. Its primary benefit is increasing the levels of leucine, a chemical that boosts the immune system and fights the breakdown of muscle tissue. Furthermore, glutamine increases workout performance by decreasing fatigue, helping you last longer when under the bar.
The issue with this supplement is that because our body already contains a lot of it, you need to take plenty if you want to see any effects.
Dosage: Take up to 10 grams with breakfast, pre and post workout shakes and even with dinner. It's not an expensive supplement, but considering that you sometimes take close to 50g per day, you’ll use it up really quickly, adding to the cost of your stack.
You've probably heard about carnitine if you have ever researched fat-loss supplements. Well, it turns out that it helps muscle growth too.
Carnitine increases blood flow to the muscles in a similar way to NO boosters. With better blood flow your muscles receive more nourishment and are able to recover more quickly.
The fat burning properties of carnitine are also important. When bodybuilding, you should consume plenty of calories, so you need to make sure that any excess is turned into muscle rather than fat. With a lower body fat percentage, you’ll look more shredded and your lean body mass will be higher. Basically, you’ll have more muscles relative to your weight.
Dosage: 1-3 grams of any carnitine supplement such as L-carnitine taken with breakfast and pre and post workout shakes is the right dosage. For L-carnitine, spread out up to 4g across the whole day.
Muscle Gain Stack Takeaways
That concludes our list of the essential supplements you need to take alongside protein powders for maximum muscle gain.
We’ve chosen only supplements that are proven, have a good track record and will get you the best results.
If you need to choose only one - take creatine, as it’s cheap and extremely effective. If your budget can push to two additional supplements, add caffeine to the mix as it will skyrocket your gains more quickly than the others.
As for the rest, it's your choice, and it largely depends on the depth of your pocket.
Also, as with all supplements – don't expect miracles. Supplements help you reach your natural peak, or go slightly above that if you take care of your nutrition, exercise regime and recovery. But you need to put in 100% effort, day in, day out to achieve your goals.
Nobody said it's going to be easy, and it isn't. Your job is to train hard, rest well, and eat healthily. Your supplement stacks will aid you in achieving your goals, but won't achieve them for you.