Supplements for Building Muscle

Muscle building with supplements
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Phosphatidylserine, a compound known as a phospholipid, is a component in cell membranes (which help regulate the movement of nutrients into cells and the elimination of waste products).

Marketed as a supplement for building muscle, phosphatidlyserine is thought to reduce the hormone cortisol post-exercise. Cortisol levels often rise after intense exercise. One of cortisol’s effects is to break down muscle tissue. By suppressing the release of cortisol, less muscle tissue is thought to be lost.

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. Theoretically, phosphatidylserine may enhance the blood-thinning drug heparin. People taking blood-thinners of any kind should consult their doctors.

Pyruvate (Dihydroxyacetone Pyruvate, DHAP)

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 occasionally causes stomach upset and diarrhea.

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. 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 to turn blood sugar into energy to meet the body’s needs. This may help to build muscle glycogen, which is the reason why athletes use lipoic acid. More studies are needed in this area.

It is also an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals. Unlike other antioxidants, it works in both fat and water, giving it a broad spectrum of action.

Gamma Oryzanol

Derived from rice bran oil, gamma oryzanol is said to help with menopause symptoms, anxiety, stomach upset, and high cholesterol.

Preliminary evidence suggests that gamma oryzanol may increase endorphin release and help build muscle. 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. Research suggests that it may boost lean muscle mass, strength, and performance, and reduce recovery time.

Using Supplements to Build Muscle

Due to the limited research and limited knowledge about the safety of long-term or regular use of supplements, it's too soon to recommend them as a means for building muscle mass.

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.

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