Last Updated: Dec 24, 2018
As mentioned around the site over and over again, the truth about weight lifting supplements is there's an endless amount of average, overly-hyped, and straight-up unnecessary bodybuilding supplements out there in the industry that prey on those who don't know any better. However, there most definitely are a few types of supplements that will indeed give you an edge when combined with a well-designed muscle building program and make things more convenient.
The trick is knowing what to look for among the vast supplement sea out there. The following recommended supplement stack for muscle gain (IMO) is what I've personally used with success and has been carefully hand-picked with a strong BS radar and a lot of objective research over the years. If you want to plan the best supplement stack for your mass gain goals, the following supplements are safe bets and a good place to start, and are also some of the best overall value for money supplements on the market (yet still high-quality which is important):
Whey protein supplements are well worth considering for any good muscle building supplement stack to ensure you're getting sufficient grams of protein on a daily basis to reach your muscle building goals. Remember that without enough protein in your diet, no matter how hard you train in the gym your body won't physically be capable of building new muscle tissue. You don't need to go too overboard with your protein intake, but there's a certain amount you must reach every day to promote growth, and sometimes it may be a little difficult to reach that amount via whole foods alone. That's where whey supplements come in handy as they can really top up daily protein intakes with a quick and convenient shake.
Optimum Nutrition's whey protein is the one I suggest as it's excellent overall value and a safe bet for trusted quality. It's been a long-time best seller for a reason. Sometimes the best-selling product isn't always the best, but in this case it's pretty bang on as it's not just great value for money but a very decent, high-quality whey protein product overall that's made up of whey protein isolates - which compared to whey protein concentrate is better quality and better for you. Can't go wrong with this product. Just a heads-up though that you don't want to overdo your whey intake, and still aim to get the majority of your daily protein intake from whole foods.
Again, I stick with Optimum Nutrition for my casein because they're reliable and well-priced. Casein is a different form of protein than whey that is digested a lot more slowly - ideal to be taken before bed so that you minimize any potential muscle breakdown due to the many hours that you'll go without food. I've taken this product every single night before bed for years and I recommend you do the same if you want to do everything you can to prevent muscle loss during sleep. Sure, you can take other forms of slow-digesting protein before bed (such as cottage cheese - no thanks) - but I find that having a casein shake is the quickest and most convenient way. And with some milk, this powder is very tasty.
I stick to basic creatine monohydrate powder instead of using fancy pre-work formulas because it simply works well and it's cheaper. To be honest I believe many pre-workout formulas are just over-hyped and not worth it. Before a workout all you need is a solid meal, some creatine powder like this one, and perhaps some caffeine. Everything else is just noise in my opinion.
Creatine increases your strength in the gym and therefore leads to more muscle gain over time and is one of the most effective muscle-building supplements in existence so I recommend it to everyone. Just like with my whey and casein protein I choose Optimum Nutrition (no, I don't work for them lol) because they're just great. I take 5g daily - either roughly 30 minutes before training or in the morning on non-workout days.
Bodybuilders and weight-trainers have a higher requirement for vitamins and minerals that the average person so including a good multivitamin in your supplement routine is a good idea (according to most respected experts in the field) to cover your bases to make sure you're not missing out on important nutrients. I usually take this particular brand of multivitamin because they're a proven quality brand and well-priced, and this multi is known to be potent and easily absorbed which is exactly what you want. I personally take 1 daily.
Just an extra note though - multivitamins are totally optional if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Nobody can prove that you absolutely must use one, so in the end it's totally up to you. But personally I think it's a good idea to cover your bases and I tend to feel better in general when I'm taking a good multivitamin like this one (again like I said I love to test and experiment a lot). Plus, if you take excess vitamins/nutrients your body will simply flush out the excess unneeded stuff in your urine. Just wanted to make that clear though - I'm NOT saying that a multivitamin is absolute 100% necessary. Your call, warrior.
See Also: Guide to Multivitamin Supplements
Fish oil is another great supplement to take for overall health and well-being, and it also aids in the muscle-building process and has a host of other benefits such as better brain function, joint health and healthier skin. The Nordic Naturals version is one of the best out there and what I personally take (I take 1-2 daily but you can definitely pop more if you want). It's one of the highest quality fish oils you can get your hands on so just know that you could opt for a cheaper brand for your fish oil - I just personally like to buy the best when it comes to this.
Thanks it for my list of the top muscle-building and fat loss supplements for 2018 and beyond. I've personally used all of these good-value yet very decent quality supplements and they're always my first picks when they're in stock. If you have questions about which supplements may or may not be right for you then feel free to reach out to me here and I'll try my best to steer you in the right direction (and keep in mind I'm not a doctor and all my advice is simply my own careful judgement from many years of experience). Again, I want to be clear that these supplements will not do anything for you unless you have all of the basics in place. But once you do, they can be of great assistance in reaching your goals. Good luck my friend and stay strong.
Hopefully this article helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)