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 has 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 (based on science-backed principles) and overall well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan to effetcively build muscle as a skinny guy (AKA a lifting hardgainer). When you have a great program used by other successful hardgainers that have gone before you, you can't go wrong if you simply stick with it.
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 fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill personal trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in the classroom). No, instead, to create the best weight training and nutrition program for maximum results, you must be a little more selective in the program you choose to follow.
So, here are the 3 different paths you can take to guarantee you follow a finely-tuned, effective program that will leave nothing to chance and give you the best muscle building and strength gains of your life (again, if you simply execute and don't quit after a mere week 'cause you don't notice a change...).
See our flagship 7-step introductory guide to building muscle for beginners which covers all the basics you need to know, and guides you through designing and creating an effective program for muscle gain without getting fat. If you don't want to spend any money buying a pre-made program or finding a (good) personal trainer, and/or you're the DIY type who enjoys researching every little detail and knowing about how everything works and fits together, this is probably the path for you if you have the patience.
If you don't want to take the time to plan your own natural bodybuilding plan from scratch, following an already made, high-quality, credible program from a true expert in this field can save you a ton of time.
It can give you a great head start on your transformation journey and makes things a whole lot simpler as it's simply a matter of understanding what the program involves, how to do perform all the exercises, how to execute on the included meal plans (taking into account your own perferences as you'll want to tweak any pre-made diet plan for your own needs), and then simply executing week in and week out.
Sean Nal's popular hardgainer program is the one I currently recommend most, as it's the most complete, easy to follow program for beginners that I've seen (and I've experimented with many over the years). It's also the exact program that initially changed everything for me and I owe a fair part of my overall hardgainer success (going from 132lbs/60kg to 220lbs/100kg - mostly muscle) to being fortunate enough to having stumbled upon this program when I was struggling with gaining weight and building muscle. See my full review of Sean Nal's program here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't for everyone though 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 really consider if you have any type of serious injury though.
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)