Today when I was searching for some olive oil to make some sauce for my pasta and chicken, I knocked a few bottles of my supplements off of my kitchen shelf with my elbow. That was the first time I really noticed how full my supplements shelf was – despite being in plain sight all the time.
So many supplements…Do I really need them all? – I thought to myself as I hurried to pick up that one rebellious bottle that was trying its best to make it under my bed. But really: do I need all those supplements I’m taking – every single one of them? I mean sure, they’re convenient additions to my healthy diet to make sure that I support my body with all the nutrients it needs. But still…
Now, don’t get me wrong here: I think every supplement I currently take is amazing for one reason or another (this sentence wouldn’t have been true just a few years ago, when I fell for all the ads and wasted most of my money on pure garbage). Still, there are some supplements that are better for a specific goal than others (to give you an example, I have a feeling that you wouldn’t take a joint support supplement to help with hair loss).
For this article I’m going to look into the top five natural supplements to take if you’re goal is to build more muscle and take your physique to the next level. All of the supplements on this list are backed by scientific research – as well as my own personal experiences.
1. Creatine – With a twist
Creatine-monohydrate is probably the most researched supplement out there that bodybuilders and fitness-enthusiasts have been taking for decades with amazing results.
If you take a look at how creatine works in your body, you might notice that it has a double-effect on your muscles. For one, creatine is involved in producing and storing energy in your muscles – you’ll become stronger with creatine. Secondly, creatine draws water to your muscle cells, giving your muscles a bigger, fuller look. Having well-hydrated muscles will also add to your strength-levels, while ensuring that your muscles are better supplied with the nutrients they need to grow. While creatine will directly make you bigger and stronger for sure, it can also lead to indirect gains over time if you manage to take advantage of your increased strength and push yourself harder during your workouts (you know, harder workouts = more gains).
In short, supplementing with creatine will:
- Make your muscles bigger – literally – by drawing water to your muscle cells
- Make you stronger and increase your athletic performance
- Reduce muscle-damage and improve your recovery after your workouts
- Help preserve lean-mass while cutting, and build lean mass while bulking
How to take creatine for best results?
My advice is to supplement with creatine continuously – regardless of whether you’re cutting or bulking. If you decide to take my advice, you should be taking 5 grams of creatine every single day, optimally sometime after your workout (along with a high-carb meal). This means no loading-phase, and no cycling creatine; just get started with 5 grams a day, and stick to it for as long as possible.
If you want to get the best results with creatine, make sure that:
- You take 5 grams with a high-carb meal, sometime after your workout
- You don’t ingest it with any food or drink that has caffeine in it (that’s just wasting the creatine)
- You try to take it during the day (and not at night, since you’ll get really thirsty afterwards, and have multiple bathroom-trips later on)
- You drink plenty of water throughout the day
Where to buy the best creatine supplement?
Creatine on its own is amazing! But I’ve found a supplement that has two additional muscle-building ingredients to boost your progress even more (hence the “twist“)! By adding L-Carnitine L-Tartarate and corosolic acid, this creatine supplement has additional properties that will improve your recovery and blood-circulation, help refill your depleted glycogen-stores (more strength), and even increase your insulin-sensitivity (trust me, this is a good thing). By taking this creatine supplement, you’ll probably start noticing results in as little as 30 days!
You already know that pre-workouts have a special place in my heart – but only the good ones. You see, a decent pre-workout will give you all the energy and focus you need to push yourself harder in the gym; it will increase the blood-flow to your muscles, temporarily making you stronger (which in turn will make you permanently stronger over time if you push yourself harder); it will also improve your muscle-endurance and delay fatigue.
Sure, the “high” from the energy-rush is amazing, and the pumps I get during my workouts are out of this world! But think about how much more gains you could make in the long-run if you never skipped a workout due to a lack of motivation; if you could get one extra rep on each of your sets; if you could train with slightly heavier weights…
A well-formulated pre-workout will do just that! Due to the temporary effects it has on your body, you can push yourself harder and have better workouts on a pre-workout – which in turn will cause your muscles to grow bigger and stronger, faster than they would without the extra boost.
How to take a pre-workout for best results?
I usually take my pre-workout about 15 minutes before starting my warm-up (which also takes about 10-15 minutes). This way my body has time to absorb the majority of the ingredients by the time I get started with my workout. Since the ingredients will stay in my blood-flow for quite some time, I usually don’t need to take a second dose during my workout (although for some – really rare – super-long workouts, I have a second dose to keep my energy-levels up). Also, don’t forget to drink lots of water with your pre-workout, as well as during your workout! Getting dehydrated will not only make you feel like shit – but it will actually raise your cortisol levels and cause your muscles to give in sooner!
Where to buy the best pre-workout?
Since pre-workouts are my number-one favorite supplements, I’ve tried them all (okay, maybe not all, but definitely way more of them than I can count). Still, I keep on coming back to this one: it’s highly dosed in the most effective ingredients, and doesn’t contain any of that garbage they usually put into pre-workouts (like glutamine, CLA, L-Arginine, or artificial sweeteners and dyes).
Epicatechin is a supplement that I’ve only become aware of recently. With limited research on its effectiveness, the results so far look very promising (with no safety concerns or side-effects). Basically epicatechin is a natural myostatin-blocker (also found in dark chocolate), that can theoretically lift the natural limit of your muscle-building capabilities.
Myostatin is a protein released in your body that sets the upper limit to how much muscle-mass you can maintain (just to make sure you don’t grow too much muscle). By partially blocking the actions of your myostatin, epicatechin can theoretically help you build muscle faster, and reach a more outstanding physique than you would with higher myostatin levels. Epicatechin will also give you incredible pumps at the gym (if taken before your workout), and it’s also an antioxidant (meaning that it will help you recover faster).
How to take epicatechin for best results?
I recommend taking 250-500 mgs of epicatechin a day, spread out into one or two doses. If you can, I’d highly suggest that you take one dose along with your pre-workout about 15-30 minutes before your workout. If you feel like taking a second dose, take it either 6-8 hours before or after your pre-workout dose!
Where to buy the best epicatechin supplement?
Epicatechin is one of those supplements that you don’t necessarily need to buy. Dark chocolate has a fairly high epicatechin-content, so if you eat enough of it, you can get your daily dose from dark chocolate alone. With that being said, I don’t recommend eating chocolate before your workouts, and you also have to keep in mind that dark chocolate is pretty high in calories (making it an extremely inconvenient option when cutting). For these reasons, I just find it easier to use this epicatechin supplement – taking 1-2 pills a day.
4. Phosphatidic Acid
Phosphatidic acid (PA) plays an important role in activating the mTOR – which regulates protein synthesis in your skeletal muscles. More simply put, PA will increase muscle protein synthesis – meaning faster recovery and faster muscle growth.
By taking PA, I’ve experienced some muscle-growth and a slight increase in strength over about 4-5 weeks. The most noticeable effect for me was how much fuller and harder my muscles looked – and felt – while taking this supplement. While I didn’t make any crazy gains, and I didn’t look like a pro bodybuilder by any means (not that I want to look like that anyways), it was definitely noticeable – which is more than what you can say about most supplements out there.
How to take phosphatidic acid for best results?
The ONLY scientifically proven dosage of PA is 750 mgs per day. Anything under that might be a waste of money. To experience the full benefits, I usually take the full dosage about an hour before my workout (or first thing in the morning on non-workout days).
Where to buy the best phosphatidic acid supplement?
Now, there are quite a few options when it comes to PA – some people would even recommend supplementing with soy lecithin since it also contains a minimal amount (although as a man I’d just stay away from soy altogether due to the hormonal imbalances it can potentially cause). Still, I usually just go with this one, taking three pills every day.
5. Protein Powder Variations
Protein powder is basically just food in a very concentrated form. You don’t need protein powder to grow big muscles; it’s just a more convenient way of making sure you get about 2 grams of protein per kg of lean bodyweight every day. Now, this can actually be quite difficult to reach if you’re on the heavier side (and your weight is in fact lean weight – NOT fat).
Eating the right amount of protein is crucial for your muscles. Having a high-protein meal – whether in the form of a protein powder or an actual meal – will cause an anabolic response in your body, meaning that it starts creating more testosterone (the primary male hormone). By eating enough protein, you’ll ensure that your muscles have all the building blocks they need to grow bigger and stronger.
I prefer to have about 2 protein shakes a day mainly because it makes it so much easier to reach my goal of 180 grams of protein per day, while also being fairly low in calories (perfect for cutting). Since my protein powder tastes amazing, it’s also perfect for adding some flavor to my oatmeal (or I’ll just have the protein shake on its own if I want a quick, healthy, but delicious snack).
How to take protein powder for best results?
Contrary to what most fitness gurus will tell you, you don’t absolutely need to drink a protein shake the second you finish your workout. In fact, the most important thing is to get the right amount of protein in every day from high-quality sources. With that being said – since protein can only be absorbed at a certain rate in your body, and it also triggers an anabolic response – I recommend having at least 2-3 high-protein meals a day.
Where to buy the best protein powder?
Ok, now here comes the tricky part. If you know anything about protein powders, you’ll know that there are quite a few variations. I’ll go over the most important ones and give you recommendations for the best options in each category!
- Whey Protein Isolate: Whey is the most versatile option to go for in my opinion: it contains all of the essential amino acids, it’s absorbed quickly through your digestive system, and it’s probably the best tasting option on this list too. This one here is definitely the best option if you’re looking for an amazing whey protein (since it’s an isolate, its protein-content is exceptionally high, while also being lactose-free)!
- Casein: Casein is also derived from milk, but it’s absorbed a lot slower than whey is. For this reason, many people enjoy a casein shake before going to bed – to ensure that their bodies have all the protein it needs throughout the night (when the muscle building actually happens). I rarely ever supplement with casein, but if you want to try the best option, give this one a go!
- Weight-gainers: Weight-gainers are supplements that are high in protein, but also contain carbs and fats. Basically they’re supplements made for hard-gainers, or just people who don’t have enough time to consume the right amount of calories each day. While I’ve never taken a weight-gainer myself, I do know that most of them are absolute shit, with the lowest quality ingredients possible. This one here is a rare exception, filled with only high-quality all-natural ingredients!
- Plant proteins: There’s no arguing that plant protein powders are inferior to dairy-based powders (like whey, casein, and even the weight-gainer I recommended). Still, if you’re a vegan, I guess it makes sense to take a plant protein powder. Keep in mind though, that you should be looking for a full amino acid profile, and you definitely want to stay away from soy! This plant protein powder is probably the one I’d go for if I ever got tired of whey…
But then again, if you’re clueless, or if you want the most basic – and still the best – option, just go with whey protein!
Do you have any other supplements that you want to know my opinion about? Feel free to start a discussion in the comments! Also, if you enjoyed this post, make sure to follow Vikingfinity, since I write articles just like this one every week – and you don’t want to miss them!