6 Supplements for Increasing Strength and Muscle Mass

Posted March 6, 2017 in Supplements 12 Comments »

6 Muscle Building Supplements

For those who workout endlessly in the gym looking to increase their strength along with their muscle mass, starting with the right workout routine and proper diet is the first step. After a while, even with the best conceived diet and exercise plans, many do find that they hit plateaus which is when they start to look towards dietary supplements.

There are a couple time-tested, scientifically sound muscle building supplements that can be used daily and a few that should be used in cycles. Protein supplements and BCAAs are two examples that can be used daily, while products like creatine and HMB are better used in spurts of 8-12 weeks before cycling off for the same amount of time. To find out more about these products, read on!

Strength Woman

Whey protein

As a starting point, most bodybuilders and power lifters who’re looking to get Swole, supplement with whey protein. Several research studies suggest that supplementing with doses of 1.5 g/kg of body weight with whey protein will help to increase lean mass and decrease fat mass [1]. Some products have gained unwanted attention recently due to containing high levels of heavy metals. Two popular brands named included Muscle Milk as well as EAS Myoplex [2].

Here are some great recipes for protein shakes on Project Swole. Shakes and smoothies can help us get a lot of great fruit, vegetable, and protein intake that we might not normally make the time to prepare.

Creatine monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is probably the best-researched dietary supplement currently available for increasing muscle mass [3]. Among other mechanisms, creatine has been shown to increase insulin-like growth factor-1 which is well-known to have an anabolic effect [4]. At lower doses of just 2-3 g/day, creatine monohydrate is not effective at promoting gains in strength or lean tissue mass [5]. At doses of 9 g/day when combined with 36 g/day of whey protein and 6 g/day of conjugated linoleic acid, creatine has been shown to increase both strength and mass over a 5 week time period [6].


Leucine, an essential amino acid, can’t be synthesized by humans, so it must be obtained from dietary sources. Leucine itself has been gaining attention by researchers lately–both for its anabolic effects, but also for how it regulates protein metabolism in terms of preventing muscle wasting during weight loss. In particular, leucine supplementation seems to be a good option for those who’re seeking to maintain muscle mass while dieting. For anabolic effects, it’s difficult to get adequate amounts of leucine from dietary sources. Typically, doses of 2.5 mg of leucine, taken three times per day with meals is recommended to stimulate protein synthesis [7].

Branched-chain amino acid

Amino acid supplementation was popular back in 1994. New research on the importance of supplementation with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) for preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) as well as promoting recovery from exercise is bringing it back.

A recent study, in particular, found that supplementation with BCAA for three weeks promoted an anabolic hormone profile with subsequent resistance training [8]. Specifically, this study demonstrated significantly higher levels of serum testosterone in response to resistance training with lower levels of cortisol and creatine kinase.

Creatine kinase is a marker of muscle breakdown. For this particular study, they used Nutri-Build II supplement and participants consumed 12 capsules of this product per day which contains a mixture of l-glutamine, l-leucine, l-isoleucine, and l-valine.


Betaine, not to be confused with beta-alanine, is a nutrient which functions as a methyl donor in various processes in your body. Though it’s found naturally in food sources such as broccoli, beets, and shellfish, it’s unrealistic to ingest the same doses as can be obtained with betaine supplements. For those who believe that the measure of a man (in the gym) is how much they can bench, some research suggests that betaine supplementation is effective at increasing upper body strength, and bench press, in particular. For this study, test subjects were randomized to placebo or 1.25 g of betaine dissolved in Gatorade for 2 weeks[9].

Beta-hydroxy-beta methylbutyrate (HMB)

The last supplement for this article will probably face some criticism. HMB showed promising results in studies for increasing lean muscle mass and strength in studies earlier this decade [10]. HMB is a leucine-derived metabolite which consequently depends on your dietary intake of the amino acid, leucine. However, to achieve the recommended 3g/day of HMB which has been used in studies, it’s nearly impossible to consume enough dietary leucine. Though there has been some heterogeneity in the literature regarding studies on the effectiveness of HMB, a recent review pointed to a few different reasons [11].

To start with, this recent review study found that the optimal dosing of HMB is 3.0 g/day while the 1.5 g/day dosing used in some studies is less effective. As well, studies on the effectiveness of HMB typically find better results when this supplement is consumed for 12 weeks instead of the shorter 10-day studies.

Overall, there continues to be ongoing research on dietary supplements that improve athletic performance. I imagine that most Project Swole regular readers have tried supplementation with creatine as well as whey protein. For the others on this list, what have been your experiences with these supplements?


  1. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Oct;16(5):494-509
  2. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/july/food/protein-drinks/whats-in-your-protein-drink/index.htm
  3. Nutrition. 2007 Sep;23(9):647-56.
  4. nt J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Aug;18(4):389-98.
  5. Nutrition. 2010 Jun 29.
  6. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2009 Feb;19(1):79-96.
  7. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010 Jul;13(4):403-7.
  8. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Mar 1.
  9. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Jul 19;7:27.
  10. J Appl Physiol 94(2):651–659.2003.
  11. HMB supplementation: clinical and athletic performance-related effects and mechanisms of action. Amino Acids. 2010 Jul 6.


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12 Responses to “6 Supplements for Increasing Strength and Muscle Mass”

  1. I’d just like to say that I am a huge fan of Project Swole. I have been visiting this site for well over a year now and have found it be such a great source of CREDIBLE information. Thanks Steve!

    My questions is about creatine “loading”. I know that about 10 years ago I was told how important it was to load and cycle creatine. However, I have tried to find more recent and credible data supporting this and have not found anything really from the last decade. My concern is because creatine has really been refined and undergone some serious transformations in the last decade (e.g. kre-alkalyn). Is loading and cycling still important? I can assume cycling is so that your body doesn’t stop producing it’s own creatine, but what about loading? Some specifics about laoding and cycling and how to incorporate them into my workout routine would be wonderful.


    • Loading is still a good idea with creatine monohydrate but it is not required. I believe kre-alkalyn does not require loading. To load, simply take 3-4 extra servings a day for about a 4-5 day period. I would still cycle it – 6 to 8 weeks on, one month off, repeat.

  2. […] If you’re looking for supplements that have been well-researched, follow this link to find out which supplements help increase muscle mass and strength. […]

  3. I always try to get the nutrition and vitamins from the foods directly, rather than supplements. However, after reading this post it looks like that eating a proper diet is only the basic step and for that perfect muscle growth supplements is very important. Thanks for the excellent guest post, will follow your blog more actively now,

  4. […] Project Swole: This post is by Jarret Morrow, M.D. He writes about six great supplements to increase protein. […]

  5. I use creatine and whey which i guess for most people that train — it’s a given.
    I also use BCCA’s mixed with water which i consume during training.
    The others, I wouldn’t really bother with.
    They are expensive and in terms of ‘bang for buck’ offer little (in my own experience).

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