Top Supplements for Growth

The supplement game is BIG. All it takes is to search fitness online to see a multitude of supplement companies pushing their blends to enhance your physique, drop the kilos and add weight to all your lifts. With that, there seems to be blurred lines and a lack of transparency regarding supplements that are scientifically validated and worth the spend.

I want to first of all start out by saying that I'm not a Dietitian meaning that I'm unable to provide specific recommendations regarding nutrition and supplementation. However as an Exercise Physiologist I am able to interpret and understand scientific literature and provide suggestions to my clients in order to assist them in achieving their physique and performance goals.

Assessing the reliability of research means ticking off a number of boxes. The most reliable research compares the test ingredient to a placebo and is double-blinded meaning that both the participants and researchers are unaware of who's taking what. Additionally, there are enough participants in the study for the results to be substantial and the study has been replicated numerous times all of which demonstrate similar trends.

With that being said, here are the top five supplements I believe to be beneficial for building lean muscle mass based on supplementation research.

1. Protein Powder

You guessed it. The most widely purchased and consumed supplement on the planet and there's a reason for it. Protein is a macronutrient found in numerous foods and acts as an integral structural component of tissues. It's most commonly known for it's role in building lean muscle mass. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends individuals who exercise consume between 1.4g to 2.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight [1]. Consuming at least 20g of protein post-workout is linked to increasing Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS), improving strength and recovery in those that lift weights [2]. As of current, literature supports whey protein as being the highest of quality when compared to powder alternatives [3] [4]. In addition, choose a protein powder with adequate Leucine, a Branch Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) that is a primary driver of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). A dosage of approximately 3g per serving is ideal with a 2:1:1 ratio of Isoleucine and Valine; it’s BCAA counterparts. [5] With a good quality and sufficient protein source, supplementing with BCAA powder provides no additional benefit.

2. Creatine Monohydrate

One of the most well-documented supplements for improving strength and lean body mass. Creatine Monohydrate acts to increase our storage of Phosphocreatine, an immediate energy source used in fast explosive type muscle contractions [7]. There are many supplement companies that advocate for different types of Creatine, however there is no recent research to suggest any comparative superiority. In addition Creatine Monohydrate is one of the most inexpensive supplements on the market. I believe the famous phrase goes, 'If it's not broke, don't fix it.'

3. Citrulline Malate

A relatively new ingredient gaining traction in the world of supplementation. Citrulline Malate is linked to an increase in Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS), lean body mass and resistance to fatigue associated with both anaerobic and aerobic exercise [8] [9]. Citrulline Malate when metabolized converts to L-arginine. Consuming L-arginine is less effective than Citrulline Malate as it is quickly metabolized by the liver, which does not allow enough time for it to effectively carry out it's function [10]. Currently, science supports a 6g dosage of Citruline Malate to be optimal, though smaller dosages have also been shown to be beneficial [11] [12].

4. Caffeine

Easily one of the most consumed ingredients in the world (as I drink my morning coffee).  Although not directly linked to increasing lean muscle mass, caffeine is a supplement that has been shown to improve fatigue resistance and performance in both anaerobic and aerobic exercise [13] [14]. With volume being the main driver for muscle hypertrophy and strength [15], it can be postulated that caffeine consumption can assist in improving the quality of your workouts, increasing your performance and training volume as well as one's overall positive training adaptation. Research supports consumption of caffeine for performance to be within a 3-6mg/kg dosage, with consideration to individual tolerances [16] [17].

There are a number of supplements not mentioned in this list that also provide benefit, however for the purpose of this article I've chosen those most scientifically validated and are able to fit nice and snug in your gym bag.

by Daniel Chapelle, AES, AEP


1. Kreider, R., Almada, A., Antonio, J., Broeder, C., Earnest, C., & Greenwood, M. et al. (2004). ISSN Exercise & Sport Nutrition Review: Research & Recommendations. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition, 1(1), 1.

2. Witard OC, Jackman SR, Breen L, Smith K, Selby A, Tipton KD. Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jan;99(1):86-95.

3. Norton LE, Layman DK, Bunpo P, Anthony TG, Brana DV, Garlick PJ. The leucine content of a complete meal directs peak activation but not duration of skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mammalian target of rapamycin signaling in rats. J Nutr. 2009 Jun;139(6):1103-9.

4. Norton LE, Wilson GJ, Layman DK, Moulton CJ, Garlick PJ. Leucine content of dietary proteins is a determinant of postprandial skeletal muscle protein synthesis in adult rats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jul 20;9(1):67.

5. Wilson GJ1, Laymen KD, Moulton CJ, Norton LE, Anthony TG, Proud CG, Rupassara SI, Garlick PJ. Leucine or carbohydrate supplementation reduces AMPK and EF2 phosphorylation and extends postprandial muscle protein synthesis in rats. AM j Physiol Endorinol Metab. 2011 Dec;301 (6):E1236-42

6. Norton LE, Wilson GJ. Optimal protein intake and frequency to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Agro Food Industry HiTech. 2009;20(2):54-57.

7. Candow DG, Vogt E, Johannsmeyer S, Forbes SC, Farthing JP. Strategic creatine supplementation and resistance training in healthy older adults. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2015 Jul;40(7):689-94.

8. Pérez-Guisado J, Jakeman PM. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 May;24(5):1215-22.

9. Le Plénier S, Walrand S, Noirt R, Cynober L, Moinard C. Effects of leucine and citrulline versus non-essential amino acids on muscle protein synthesis in fasted rat: a common activation pathway? Amino Acids. 2012 Sep;43(3):1171-8.

10. Osowska S, Moinard C, Neveux N, Loï C, and Cynober L. Citrulline increases arginine pools and restores nitrogen balance after massive intestinal resection. Gut 53: 1781–1786, 2004.

11. Bailey SJ, Blackwell JR, Lord T, Vanhatalo A, Winyard PG, Jones AM. l-Citrulline supplementation improves O2 uptake kinetics and high-intensity exercise performance in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2015 Aug 15;119(4):385-95.

12. Nagaya N, Uematsu M, Oya H, Sato N, Sakamaki F, Kyotani S, Ueno K, Nakanishi N, Yamagishi M, Miyatake K. Short-term oral administration of L-arginine improves hemodynamics and exercise capacity in patients with precapillary pulmonary hypertension. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2001 Mar;163(4):887-91.

13. Wiles JD, Coleman D, Tegerdine M, Swaine IL: The effects of caffeine ingestion on performance time, speed and power during a laboratory-based 1 km cycling time-trial. J Sports Sci. 2006, 24 (11): 1165-71. 10.1080/02640410500457687.

14. Carr A, Dawson B, Schneiker K, Goodman C, Lay B: Effect of caffeine supplementation on repeated sprint running performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008, 48 (4): 472-8.

15. Schoenfeld, BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res 24(10): 2857–2872, 2010.

16. Applegate E: Effective nutritional ergogenic aids. Int J Sport Nutr. 1999, 9 (2): 229-39.

17. Graham TE: Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Sports Med. 2001, 31 (11): 785-807.

Daniel Chapelle