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 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)