Supplements for Building Muscle

Muscle building with supplements
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Many athletes turn to muscle-building supplements in order to meet performance and training goals. But sometimes, the products offer more in terms of expected results than they can reasonably provide.

The efficacy of many supplements is not conclusive. Some scientific studies have shown promise but a single study (especially if it is limited in scope) is not a guarantee of positive results. Get as much information as you can before adding supplements to your diet and don't hesitate to get personalized advice from a registered dietitian or healthcare provider.


Phosphatidylserine, a compound known as a phospholipid, is a component in cell membranes (which is responsible for cell signaling and self-destruction, or apoptosis, of cells). It accounts for 15% of the phospholipid pool in the brain. Also, the lungs, testes, kidneys, liver, muscles, heart, and blood plasma contain this phospholipid.

Phosphatidylserine is typically used to support cognitive functioning, but it is also marketed as a supplement for building muscle. Cortisol levels often rise after intense exercise, and one of the hormone's effects is to break down muscle tissue. But a loading phase of 800 mg of phosphatidylserine followed by a maintenance phase of 200-400 mg of phosphatidylserine seems to reduce the levels of cortisol post-workout increasing the testosterone to cortisol ratio.

Phosphatidylserine is not an essential nutrient, meaning that the body typically makes enough to cover its needs. Many phosphatidylserine products today are derived from soy. Previously, it was manufactured from the brains of cows, but this practice was discontinued due to potential health risks of viral contamination.

Side effects may include digestive distress or reduced blood pressure, but not every study has reported side effects


Pyruvate supplements have become popular with bodybuilders because they are believed to reduce body fat, enhance energy, and improve the capacity for endurance exercise. Pyruvate supplies the body with pyruvic acid, a natural compound involved in energy metabolism.

Pyruvate is not an essential nutrient. The body can make all that it needs without supplementation. It is found only in small amounts in food, with apples being the best source.

Pyruvate supplements occasionally cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and an increase in bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Amino acids are naturally occurring molecules that the body uses to make protein. Branched-chain amino acids refer to the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which all have a “branched-chain” molecular structure. Muscle tissue is particularly high in branched-chain amino acids.

People use branched-chain amino acids to build muscle, improve sports performance, and minimize the effects of overtraining. This is because strength training and endurance activity use up greater amounts of branched-chain amino acids than regular daily activities.

Branched-chain amino acids are found in all foods containing protein. The best sources are red meat and dairy products. Whey protein powder, chicken, fish, and eggs are other good sources.

Like all amino acids, branched-chain amino acids may interfere with medications for Parkinson’s disease.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a mixture of different forms of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid found mostly in meat and dairy products. CLA has become popular as a supplement to burn fat and for weight loss. Evidence is needed to help us understand how CLA might work in the body.

Although linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that must be obtained through diet, there is no evidence that conjugated linoleic acid is required.

Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid is also known as alpha-lipoic acid. It is found naturally in the body, and among other functions, helps with metabolism to produce energy using oxygen. In a 2020 study involving 17 male resistance and endurance-trained athletes ALA reduced muscle damage, and inflammation while increasing recovery after a standardized single training session and a high-intense training week.

Gamma Oryzanol

Derived from rice bran oil, gamma oryzanol is said to help with menopause symptoms, lower high cholesterol, and have strong antioxidant properties.

Preliminary evidence in animal studies suggests that gamma oryzanol may help build muscle. However, the few human trials that have been held could not replicate these findings. Further research is needed.


Creatine monohydrate is another popular supplement for building lean muscle, as it is a precursor to creatine phosphate, an energy source for high-intensity muscle work. It is also one of the most the most thoroughly studied supplements. It is often used for for short-term events, so not valuable for endurance athletes. Research suggests that it may enhance glycogen storage in muscles, boosts lean muscle mass, and increase energy at the beginning of an intense workout, and reduce the accumulation of lactic acid build-up that causes muscle fatigue.

Using Supplements as An Athlete

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety, and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using supplements, make sure to consult your primary care provider first. When looking for supplements make sure you find a third-party seal like NSF, USP, or Consumer Labs. These seals verify the products' safety and listed ingredients are accurate.

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16 Sources
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