Best Muscle Building Supplements - The Top 10

Article by James Collier BSc (Hons) - Moderator and Contributor to Muscletalk as an Expert in Nutrition.

With the vast array of nutritional supplements and erogenic aids on the market it is no wonder that even many experienced bodybuilders and athletes are baffled as to which are effective. After many questions on MuscleTalk, I decided to write an article listing the top 10 best value-for-money supplements available to bodybuilders and a brief description of there use.

This article is based solely on my professional opinion and experience, but I have taken into account experimental, epidemiological and anecdotal evidence. The list is in no particular order (except for the first two, which, I feel, are the most useful), and, indeed, not all listed are appropriate for every bodybuilder, but all listed have their uses for some individuals. Most of the others not listed here, I feel, are a waste of money (though I keep a slightly open mind, as there are new developments). You do not need supplements to build a great physique, but they are an extremely useful and effective way of improving your gains.

Meal Replacement Powders (MRPs)
These are 'complete' nutrition containing high protein, moderate carbohydrate, essential fatty acids and all essential vitamins and minerals. They are an invaluable aid to the bodybuilder as they can be used to substitute one or more of the many meals he/she has to consume in a day; or can be used to complement a meal. MRPs should be made up with water only.

MRPs started quite a few years ago and since then, many companies have improved on the original idea. Some now many other ingredients which are often added merely to help market a brand, although some added ingredients, like pre- and probiotics (see and many anutrients (substances found in food which have no nutritional value per se but have been found to have health benefits) are useful additions.

Although they are called 'meal replacements' they are not a substitute for all food, and I would suggest a maximum of two or three per day replacing smaller meals, rather than main meals. Most come in portion sachets, but some are available in tubs. The problem is, sachets make up to a large volume which can be hard to consume in one go, and they are very expensive, so why not consume them as two half portions?

A must for the enthusiastic and busy bodybuilder.

Protein Powders
A few years ago, a new system of filtration identified ion-exchange whey protein as a top quality protein source. Before then, protein powders were based on cheap, poor quality soya protein, or egg white protein (which mixes poorly). Whey is a very important addition to a bodybuilding diet, because it is semi-elemental, i.e. it is naturally predigested. This means it is digested and absorbed very quickly after ingestion. For this reason it is ideal mixed in water first thing in the morning or after training

Whey protein has a high biological value and similar amino acid profile to that of human muscle tissue, as well as being digested, absorbed and taken up by muscles quickly. However, some people feel whey protein (especially whey protein isolate) passes too quickly through our gut, so not all is available for absorption.

There are two main production processes for whey protein producing different quality formals: whey concentrate and whey isolate, the latter is supposed to be superior in quality (and price!). However, as a protein source, whey concentrate does the job very well and does having the protein being absorbed very slightly quicker or having a few mg more of one amino acid really make that much different compared to having a balanced, healthy diet and putting a lot of effort in the right places in your workout? The following analogy was posted by a member: using whey isolate is like filling a family car with Formula 1 type petrol - it won't improve the performance of it. Use the money saved to buy some good quality food.

There are also other quality protein powders on the market often made up of a combination of two or more sources of protein. These often include whey, but other sources as well, so there is a more staged digestion of the protein. For example whey, soya isolate, wheat, egg white or casein (the slowest digested protein). The formulas are often ideal drunk mixed with skimmed milk last thing at night when it will be many hours before you can consume more protein, or if you are a shift-worker and have long periods of work without a tea-break.

Other useful protein powders available are those based on casein alone (for night time shakes) and soya isolate or pea protein for the vegan bodybuilder.

Quality protein powders are invaluable to the bodybuilder, as it is often impractical to eat the amount of high protein food required for optimal gains. Ideally they should be consumed in between or as a compliment to meals.

Weight Gain Formulas
Weight gain powders will always have their place in the bodybuilding market. I do not mean the ridiculously high calorie crash weight gain formulas full of simple carbohydrate and fats; but the moderately high calorie, high protein formulas available. Typically these are 600 or so calories, 50g protein per serving, high carb and can be mixed with water or skimmed milk.

Weight gain formulas are not necessary for every bodybuilder, but very useful for the skinny newcomer who struggles to eat enough food to put on quality weight. Also useful for the off season more-advanced bodybuilder with a fast metabolism and busy lifestyle to add a few more quality calories. Again though, weight gain formulas are not a substitute for good food, and are there purely to add in extra quality calories.

Maltodextrin, also known as multidextrose or glucose polymer powder, is a synthetic polysaccharide, i.e. a complex carbohydrate. It is used by a range of sports people to help meet the high-energy demands of intense exercise, especially by tri-athletes. Although structurally it is a complex carbohydrate the chemical structure is such that it is open to rapid enzymatic degradation, i.e. it is digested and absorbed very rapidly, infact faster than sugar, so it scores high on the glyceamic index. For this reason many people are worries it will put on fat so in bodybuilding it is invaluable for the lean hard gainer who struggles to eat enough carbohydrate each day. By adding the powder to drinks can increase intake by 6-800kcals a day. It is also useful for post workout replenishment of carbohydrate stores. Maltodextrin powders are cheap, and useful for bulking up on.

Probiotics are live strains of 'good' bacteria, which help our digestive system work efficiently, e.g. bifidus and acidopilus. Formulas have been manufactured which contain one or more live strains of these bacteria and are available in special yoghurts, powders, capsules or specially formulated probiotic drinks.

Food processing, pollution and antibiotic therapy, have lead to colony size of the 'good' bacterial flora occurring naturally in our gut being reduced. By actively consuming the bacteria, the size of the colonies in the gut can be increased, which improves digestion and the immune system is improved, increasing our ability to fight disease. Probiotics may also have a role in reducing the severity of allergies.

Almost everybody should be supplementing with probiotics in their diet for optimal health. Bodybuilders especially so, with their high demands for good nutrition, should include formulas in order to digest their food better, recuperate quicker and stay well. You can also check out our probiotics article.

Top 10 Bodybuilding Supplements Part 2