nutrition

The 6 Best Supplements for Building Muscle, Backed by Science

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

9 min read

a photo of a barbell with weight on the side on the ground with someone standing behind it

During workout recovery, your muscles have time to heal, repair, and grow. There are some supplements that can help you maximize your muscle gains.

How can supplements help with muscle growth and repair?

After a high intensity workout, your muscles need to recover. Workout recovery is, in some ways, just as important as the workout itself.

When you engage in an intense workout – strength training, resistance training, or otherwise – you might experience tiny tears in your muscle tissue. That’s a good thing, because it’s in the repairing of this tissue that you see muscle gains.

That’s also where a smart supplement routine can become a big asset. There are many muscle building supplements available to you that can help both help your exercise performance and support your workout recovery. Let’s take a look at six of the best supplements for muscle growth and repair.

The 6 best supplements for muscle growth and repair:

1. Protein Powder

Protein powders are popular workout supplements – and for good reason. Protein is an important building block of any sound diet. It’s also a major structural component of every cell in the body, and it’s what our organs, muscles, hair, and skin are made of. Getting enough protein is indispensable to healthy muscle growth and recovery.

Protein powders are concentrated forms of protein, derived from animal or plant foods containing protein. The three most common forms of protein powder are:

  • Protein concentrates. These are made by extracting protein from whole food using heat and acid. They are typically 60-80% protein, with the remaining 20-40% comprising fat and carbs.
  • Protein isolates. These go through an extra process of filtering, removing more fat and carbs and resulting in a composition of about 90-95% protein.
  • Protein hydrolysates. These are made through additional heating with acid or enzymes, thus breaking the bond between amino acids. Of the three most popular protein powder options, protein hydrolysates are absorbed most quickly by your muscles.

You have options: you can even choose between whey protein and plant protein. Care/of offers both: Our whey protein is a grass-fed protein isolate, and our plant protein comes from the proteins of organic peas, pumpkin seeds, and hemp. Some powders are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals – calcium, most notably.

Protein powders are especially beneficial for athletes and other people who engage in high intensity workouts. One study found that protein supplementation had benefits for the muscle mass, strength, and aerobic power of healthy adults. People who already eat protein-rich diets see less of a difference from adding protein powder to their routines.

2. Creatine

If you’re into exercising, you may have heard of creatine. You might’ve even had it recommended to you by your friends at the gym!

Creatine is an amino acid produced naturally by your liver, pancreas, and kidneys. Once produced, it’s delivered to your brain and muscles. About 95% of the creatine in your body is stored in your skeletal muscle.

While you can boost your creatine intake by consuming seafood and red meat, it’s also available as a hugely popular workout supplement. Creatine has been shown to support athletic performance, grow muscle mass, increase strength, and more. The most popular creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate.

One study examined the effects of creatine supplementation on the people engaged in four weeks of resistance training. The researchers found promising results, noting that the group that took the creatine experienced increased muscle strength compared to the placebo group. Another study likewise found that taking creatine supplements can lead to enhanced benefits from speed and resistance training, as well as improved aerobic endurance performance. The very same study noted that creatine can lead to benefits regarding strength, power, muscle mass, and neurological function.

That’s not all. Yet another study – this one involving young female volunteers engaged in ten weeks of resistance training – demonstrated the effectiveness of creatine. Compared with the placebo group members, the women who took creatine saw big increases in strength, muscle mass, and exercise capacity.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition performed an extensive review of existing creatine studies to determine creatine’s effectiveness in exercise, sport, and medicine. The review found that creatine monohydrate, in particular, boasts myriad therapeutic benefits for people of all ages. It also found that creatine is one of the most effective supplements available for athletes trying to boost their body mass and their high intensity exercise capacity. Studies also suggest that creatine helps support:

  • strength
  • sprint ability
  • muscle endurance
  • ballistic power
  • fatigue resistance
  • muscle mass
  • recovery
  • brain performance

If you’re looking for a supplement with a proven track record of supporting muscle growth and repair, creatine may very well be the way to go. Care/of’s creatine – appropriately dubbed “The Muscle Maker” – supports muscle development and fitness performance, and is an option available to vegans.

3. Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids have a range of benefits for your health, including improved immune function, enhanced brain health, blood lipid regulation, and optimized neuromuscular function. There are several different types of omega-3s, but the most relevant for our purposes are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Studies have shown that enrichment of EPA and DHA in the body is linked to enhanced rates of muscle protein synthesis, as well as a reduction of factors that regulate muscle protein breakdown. The available evidence is quite clear: Omega-3 supplementation has the potential to support muscle recovery. A popular form of omega-3 supplementation is fish oil, such as the fish oil supplement offered by Care/of. Fatty acid supplements should be stored in a dark, cool place.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is produced in the body via the UV B radiation from the sun and it’s an essential part of how our bodies store and use energy. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that is not commonly found in our diets. It can mostly be found in fatty fish, some other meats, and fortified foods like grain and dairy products. Vitamin D also helps support bone and immune health. Because of its importance for storing and using energy, vitamin D is also important for exercise capacity, as well as muscle and growth repair. Indeed, studies of animals and humans have shown that vitamin D plays a critical role in the regeneration of muscle, as well as in mitochondrial health.

While vitamin D is most known for boosting energy levels, it is also vital to our bone and immune health. It also, as previously noted, helps with the development and growth of muscle. Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to feelings of weakness and muscle loss. Moreover, vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium, and calcium is well known for its support of bone health.

Still, despite its importance, about 70% of people in the world are at least slightly deficient in vitamin D. A number of factors contribute to this reality. For instance, the amount of time you spend outside is important, since vitamin D is synthesized by the body when the skin is touched by UV rays from the sun. Other factors include sun intensity, pollution, sunscreen use, and skin color. The best way to increase vitamin D intake is to have more time in the sun; for adequate absorption, uncovered skin must be exposed to sunlight for approximately ten minutes per day.

The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 15 micrograms (mcg) or 600 international units (IU). For supplements, taking them with food is recommended; your body will absorb the most vitamin D if your supplements are taken alongside a meal with healthy fats in it.

Care/of offers vitamin D – dubbed “The Sunny D3” – that is formulated to be easy to digest. Taking one capsule can provide you the recommended daily allowance. Care/of also offers a vegan vitamin D option.

5. Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that your body naturally produces. In recent years, it’s also become an increasingly popular workout supplement.

Here’s how to think about beta-alanine’s effect on your muscles. Your muscles contain a protein building block called carnosine. Higher levels of carnosine may help the muscles during workouts, allowing them to perform for longer periods before fatigue sets in. Beta-alanine is a main ingredient of carnosine, and it is believed that beta-alanine supplementation may indeed boost your body’s production of carnosine. Studies have shown that daily supplementation of 4 to 6 grams of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks does improve exercise performance. Studies have also shown that beta-alanine supplementation may reduce exercise-related fatigue.

6. BCAAs

Your body has 20 different amino acids. Together they make up the thousands of different proteins in your body. In other words, they’re very important.

Of the 20, nine are what’s known as your essential amino acids. This simply means that your body doesn’t produce them on its own, and they therefore must be obtained through dietary means. Of those nine, three are what we call the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and they are: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

The BCAAs get their name from their chemical structure. You can get BCAAs in some protein-rich foods, including meat and eggs, and they’re also a popular supplement, mainly available as a powder.

BCAA supplements have been shown to support muscle growth by stimulating protein synthesis after exercise. One study found that people who consumed a drink containing BCAAs after an intense resistance workout saw a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who consumed the placebo. Still, it’s important to note that BCAAs don’t stimulate muscle growth on their own. One study even found that taking BCAAs can lead to decreased muscle protein synthesis if taken alone, since they need the other essential amino acids to achieve their full potential.

Diet for muscle growth and repair

You can also support muscle growth and repair through tweaks to your diet.

Consider adding some more high-protein foods to your routine. Some examples include meat, eggs, some nuts, and dairy products. You can also consider some foods rich in magnesium, including fruits and vegetables.

Furthermore, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of staying hydrated, especially when you’re engaging in intense physical exertion. Then, of course, it’s important to let your body rest. Getting enough sleep can go a long way toward helping your muscles heal and grow.

Key takeaways

Recovery is important after a high intensity workout. That’s when your muscles have time to heal, repair, and grow stronger. Fortunately, there are supplements that can support your muscle growth, both by supporting your workouts and by supporting the recovery of your muscles. Some of those supplements include:

  • Protein powder
  • Creatine
  • Omega-3
  • Vitamin D
  • Beta-alanine
  • BCAAs

You can also support muscle growth and repair through some adjustments to your diet and lifestyle.

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