I was at Vitamin Shoppe the other day to pick up some egg protein powder, and I figured I’d take at look at the illegal steroid section in the back (the fancy stuff behind lock and key).
As expected, the usual suspects were sitting on the shelf with a host of new products claiming to be natural, powerful anabolics. The names always get me.
What’s the story with with these types of products? What are the best supplements for muscle growth?
Let’s cut through the hype and find out.
With testosterone levels on the decline, many men are drawn to the alluring marketing of testosterone boosters.
If we’re to believe some of the marketing claims, these products are basically natural steroids that will transform us into musclebound alpha males that make women swoon and men tremble. And they’re often backed by pseudoscientific claims or even references to “scientific studies” that “prove” their effectiveness.
Unfortunately they’re almost all completely worthless.
Some testesterone boosters really go to town with their ingredients (a sure sign of a scam), but most rely on one or more of the following ingredients:
ZMA is a combination of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6, and its story is about the same. Unless you’re deficient in zinc, studies have shown that ZMA doesn’t increase testosterone levels.
D-aspartic acid is a bit more promising in this regard. Research has shown that it can increase testosterone levels in both humans and rats, but the effective dosage in humans was just over 3 grams of D-AA per day. Most test boosters that include D-AA use half that dosage or less, which is sure to reduce its effectiveness.
The bottom line is testosterone boosters are a waste of money, and will never deliver the type of results most of them claim.
It’s also worth noting that minor improvements in testosterone levels are very unlikely to affect muscle growth. You might feel a bit more energetic and notice an increase in libido, but don’t think that you can significantly impact your muscle growth by taking a testosterone booster.
Like test boosters, most HGH (human growth hormone) boosters are a waste of money.
They’re usually full of amino acids that can provide various benefits when dosed properly (which they almost never are anyway), but which have never been proven to increase GH levels or muscle growth.
Another common ingredient is gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Research has shown that supplementation with GABA elevates resting and postexercise growth hormone levels, but the forms of GH increased have not been proven to contribute to muscle growth (there are over 100 forms of GH in your body, and all perform different functions).
Save your money and skip the HGH boosters.
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HMB (beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid–a mouthful indeed) is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine, and it has been growing in popularity thanks to a handful of studies that indicate it helps with strength and muscle growth, such as this and this.
These studies are controversial, however, because they were conducted by Steven Nissen, the inventor of HMB and owner of the patent.
When you look at unbiased research on HMB, which has also been conducted with resistance-trained men and not the elderly, it’s much less effective than Nissen has reported. For instance:
Researchers from Massey University also conducted a literature review on the subject of HMB supplementation, and their conclusion was very simple (emphasis added):
“Supplementation with HMB during resistance training incurs small but clear overall and leg strength gains in previously untrained men, but effects in trained lifters are trivial. The HMB effect on body composition is inconsequential.”
Save your money.
Thus far I haven’t really delivered on the title of this article yet. You’re looking for supplements that help with muscle growth…but do they exist?
Well, one at least: creatine monohydrate.
Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It is perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of over 200 studies–and the consensus is very clear:
There are many forms of creatine available, however, such as monohydrate, citrate, ethyl ester, nitrate, and others. Which is the best bang for your buck?
Check out my article on which form of creatine is most effective to find out.
You should also know that simply eating enough protein is an important part of maximizing muscle growth. Research has shown that the protein needs of people that exercise can be quite high, especially if they’re doing any type of resistance training.
You should eat no less than 1 gram per pound of body weight per day if you’re engaging in regular resistance training, and while protein supplements aren’t necessary, they can help you hit that number.