Last Updated: Feb 3, 2018
The world of health and muscle-building/fat-loss supplements can be very confusing and if you don't know the science behind it all you can easily get marketed into buying some crappy product that you don't even need.
Everywhere you look in the bodybuilding industry you will see endless ads of "revolutionary magic pill" supplements that will transform you in a week or make building muscle a breeze.
This industry is such a massive multi-billion dollar arena and clever marketing is sucking in SO many people who wouldn't know what's best for themselves.
You need to be a little smart about it, and a little research and learning upfront can save you much time and effort in the long-run.
No, the honest truth is that MOST supplements are not worth your time and money, but there definitely ARE some great types of supplements that have been proven to help you reach your muscle-building goals faster and that will also make sticking to a nutrition plan much more convenient.
Before I reveal to you the very best types of supplements that are worth including in your daily routine, I firstly want to get something straight: Whether your goal is to gain weight and build muscle fast, or to get ripped, remember that NO supplement in the world will get you there by itself.
Supplements are to be used, just as the name implies, as a supplement to a great training program and effective nutrition plan. Nothing can replace the basics, so only add in supplements once you've mastered the basics and have a solid routine in place.
Ok, let's take a look at the most effective, proven types of muscle building supplements out there that have stood the test of time and are worth investing in:
Eating enough protein every day to build muscle can be difficult for some people if you purely stick to whole foods. Remember you should be aiming to consume a minimum of 0.8 to 1.5 grams of protein for every pound you weigh. That's where protein supplements can come in SUPER handy.
Specific supplements like whey protein, meal replacement supplements that contain a decent serving of protein, and other protein-based supplements like protein bars or balls can all be used as a very conveninent substitute once or multiple times per day to ensure you meet your daily protein consumption to enable muscle gain.
See Also: Ultimate Creatine Beginner's Guide
Creatine is a substance produced by the body to supply our muscles with energy. It can be found in fish and red meat, but in small quantities. You would need to eat a lot of these foods to produce significant creatine to gain more muscle, so that's why using creatine supplements is very popular amongst bodybuilders and athletes. Using creatine supplements will increase muscular endurance and therefore increase your muscle gains. It has been proven time and time again to be a safe and highly effective muscle building supplement.
See Also: Multivitamin Guide for Weight Trainers
For us weight lifters who train intensively trying to gain muscle, you may not be getting enough vitamins and minerals that you need each day since you will be placing a lot more stress on your body. Taking a high-quality, potent multivitamin everyday is like a backup plan in case you don't get enough of each vitamin and mineral throughout each and every day.
See Also: Glutamine Supplement Guide
Glutamine is an amino acid used in the body to prevent muscle breakdown. After heavy weight training, the body will lose glutamine and will break down muscle tissue in order to raise those glutamine levels back up. So by supplementing your muscle gain diet with glutamine, you can effectively prevent muscle breakdown.
Essential fatty acids are known as the "good fats" and are very helpful in the muscle building process. They can improve matabolism and increase testosterone levels, as well as having positive effects on your overall health. Some great EFA supplements to take are flax seed oil and Udo's Choice Oil Blend. You can read more about EFA's here.
Including a high quality fish oil is also a great idea for overall health and well-being. There are many benefits to doing this such as helping with better skin, better brain-function, optimal health, etc. Not necessary for muscle building but highly recommended anyway because remember that it's not just about muscle...
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)