Muscle building is a result of resistance training, so any supplement that improves training and performance has the potential to directly or indirectly promote muscle building. It is important to understand that muscle growth is determined by net muscle protein balance. This is muscle building (muscle protein synthesis) minus muscle breakdown (muscle protein breakdown).To maximise muscle building, we need to increase muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and reduce muscle protein breakdown (MPB). The following supplements have the potential to influence MPS or MPB, promoting muscle growth.
Research has found that in order to optimise MPS, protein needs to be evenly distributed across the day1, split into doses of 0.4g/kg of protein every 3 hours in conjunction with resistance training. Furthermore, the amino acid that is responsible for triggering MPS appears to be Leucine, while the other amino acids, in particular the essential amino acids ensure that the muscle continues to build muscle over a 2-3 h period after resistance training2. With this in mind, it is important to choose a protein source that is high in leucine and accompanied by a complete amino acid profile. Whey protein is a great option to consume after training to stimulate and support MPS and is rapidly absorbed compared to casein and/or plant protein. For more on Whey protein and the different types of Whey you can supplement your training with, read our Whey Protein explained blog post.
As opposed to whey protein, casein is a slow releasing protein. As previously mentioned, the net muscle protein balance is what determines how much muscle we build. If we can maximise MPS whilst reducing MPB, we can elicit optimal muscle growth. During the night we often go several hours in a fasted state, which is an environment that promotes MPB. As casein is slow releasing, it can be advantageous to consume casein as a pre-bed meal as its slow releasing properties may reduce MPB throughout the night3, promoting an overall increase in MPS. A larger bolus dose of close to 0.5g/kg may be optimal. Sources of casein include Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and milk.
Creatine is one of the most researched and proven supplements on the market for enhancing performance in high intensity and strength-based sports. Creatine helps our body reproduce energy allowing us to perform at a higher intensity for longer. Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the energy currency within the body and as the name suggest, it contains 3 phosphates. However, during periods of high intensity our ability to reproduce ATP from Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP – 2 phosphates) determines our ability to maintain intensity. Creatine improves performance by donating a phosphate to ADP (2 phosphates) to create ATP (3 phosphate) thus increasing performance.
Creatine is an intracellular supplement, meaning it works within the cell and as such requires a period of time to saturate the cell before providing benefits. The recommended strategy for supplementation is a loading period of 20g per day for 7 days followed by a maintenance dose of 5g per day. In order to maximise absorption, the daily dose should be split into 4 servings spread throughout the day and preferably taken with food.
- Increased muscular endurance4
- Increased strength5
- Increased glycogen storage6
- Improved anabolic signalling7
- Enhanced cognition8
Beta Alanine (BA) helps to act as a buffer within the muscle, reducing the burning sensation often experienced during exercise. When we exercise at a high intensity, hydrogen ions increase which decreases the pH levels within the muscle resulting in an acidic sensation. Beta alanine helps buffer this increase, helping to maintain a less acidic pH level within the muscle and prolonging the time we can exercise at a given intensity for, without experiencing the “burn”.
Similar to Creatine, BA is an intracellular supplements meaning that it also requires a loading phase in order to saturate the cell. The recommended dose is 80mg/kg for 8-12 weeks followed by a maintenance dose of 40mg/kg. These doses should again be split into 4 doses throughout the day. BA users often experience a tingling sensation in their hands and/or face. This is a perfectly normal reaction and is not harmful. Beta Alinine makes up one of the key ingredients in a lot of pre workout supplements.
- Increased time to fatigue9
- Increased anaerobic performance9
Caffeine is a natural occurring stimulant that can improve performance by increasing alertness, focus and performance. Caffeine takes up to 60 minutes to peak in the bloodstream, but its effects cab be felt in some users after 15 minutes. The dose required varies on the individual’s habitual caffeine intake as habitual caffeine users will need an increased dose to improve performance due to a reduced sensitivity. Contrary to popular belief, caffeine withdrawal and subsequently a reintroduction prior to an event does not further enhance the benefits of caffeine, so a pre-event withdrawal of caffeine is not necessary.
Doses between 3-6mg/kg consumed within 60 minutes of competition appears to be the most effective for improving performance10.
- Improved endurance performance10
- Improved anaerobic performance11
- Improved reaction time and concentration12
As is evident, optimising muscle building requires a multifaceted approach. The most important consideration is resistance training and your current resistance programme should reflect your goal, by incorporating the correct parameters to promote hypertrophy. Once you have the correct programme in place, your nutrition strategy should augment this and incorporating supplements that either improve performance or promote a positive net protein balance is key to optimising muscle growth! For more on lean muscle mass building, check out one of our recent blog posts. Are you a personal trainer or fitness professional? Want to know more about nutrition? Then you should sign up to our Optimum Nutrition for Health and Performance Course. The course consists of ten online modules and on completion of these you will receive an accredited certificate in Nutrition by the Association for Nutrition (AfN) and earn CPD points from your professional body.
- Bohé, J., Low, J.A., Wolfe, R.R. and Rennie, M.J., 2001. Rapid report: Latency and duration of stimulation of human muscle protein synthesis during continuous infusion of amino acids. The Journal of physiology, 532(2), pp.575-579
- Atherton, P.J. and Smith, K., 2012. Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. The Journal of physiology, 590(5), pp.1049-1057
- Boirie, Y., Dangin, M., Gachon, P., Vasson, M.P., Maubois, J.L. and Beaufrère, B., 1997. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 94(26), pp.14930-14935
- Chwalbiñska-Moneta, J., 2003. Effect of creatine supplementation on aerobic performance and anaerobic capacity in elite rowers in the course of endurance training. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 13(2), pp.173-183
- Rawson, Eric S., and Priscilla M. Clarkson. "Scientifically debatable: Is creatine worth its weight." Sports Science Exchange 16, no. 4 (2003): 1-6
- Van Loon, L.J., Murphy, R., Oosterlaar, A.M., Cameron-Smith, D., Hargreaves, M., Wagenmakers, A.J. and Rodney, S.N.O.W., 2004. Creatine supplementation increases glycogen storage but not GLUT-4 expression in human skeletal muscle. Clinical science, 106(1), pp.99-106
- Olsen, S., Aagaard, P., Kadi, F., Tufekovic, G., Verney, J., Olesen, J.L., Suetta, C. and Kjær, M., 2006. Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training. The Journal of physiology, 573(2), pp.525-534
- Rae, C.D. and Bröer, S., 2015. Creatine as a booster for human brain function. How might it work?. Neurochemistry international, 89, pp.249-259
- Derave, W., Ozdemir, M.S., Harris, R.C., Pottier, A., Reyngoudt, H., Koppo, K., Wise, J.A. and Achten, E., 2007. β-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. Journal of applied physiology, 103(5), pp.1736-1743
- Desbrow, B., Biddulph, C., Devlin, B., Grant, G.D., Anoopkumar-Dukie, S. and Leveritt, M.D., 2012. The effects of different doses of caffeine on endurance cycling time trial performance. Journal of sports sciences, 30(2), pp.115-120
- Davis, J.K. and Green, J.M., 2009. Caffeine and anaerobic performance. Sports Medicine, 39(10), pp.813-832
- Duvnjak-Zaknich, D.M., Dawson, B.T., Wallman, K.E. and Henry, G., 2011. Effect of caffeine on reactive agility time when fresh and fatigued. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 43(8), pp.1523-1530