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The Top 5 Science Based Supplements for Bodybuilding

November 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
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Supplements are a large part of the health & fitness culture, yet they prove to be a point of confusion for most athletes, and in particular, bodybuilders.

If you ask any bodybuilder what supplements they are taking, you will get answers that range from nothing to a laundry list that seems to include literally everything.

So should you take everything you can afford?  Should you take nothing?  Maybe somewhere in between the two? What is going to get you the best bang for your buck?

With the number of supplements on the market continually increasing, it is important to pin down the most effective supplements to take, especially if you don’t want to blow out your supplement budget!

We’ve got your back… so here are the top 5 results based, science-backed supplements for bodybuilders.

Protein Bars and Protein Shakes

For maximum muscle growth, protein requirements of strength training athletes are higher than sedentary individuals [1] and may be higher yet in individuals who are lean, training hard, and in a caloric deficit (for example bodybuilders dieting for a competition) [2]. While you can consume a high protein diet through food alone, addition of protein bars and protein powder shakes can be an easy and convenient way to meet your increased protein needs.

Recommendation: Consume protein supplements and bars as needed to help reach your daily protein requirements. Not sure what your daily protein requirements are? Give our Free Nutrition Plan a shot. Want to learn more about whey protein? Check out or article Supplements Simplified: Whey Protein.

Creatine Monohydrate

The International Society of Sports Nutrition has called creatine monohydrate the most ergogenic and safe supplement legally available [3]. This is based upon numerous studies which have found increases in muscle size [4-6] and strength [7] when creatine monohydrate is added to a resistance training program, without any adverse health effects [8].

Recently, new forms of creatine have entered the market. However, these alternate forms of creatine (while typically more expensive than creatine monohydrate) are no more effective at increasing muscle creatine concentrations than creatine monohydrate [9-11].

Creatine loading (taking a large amount of approximately10-20 grams per day for the first 5-10 days) is commonly recommended. However, this is not necessary because muscle creatine concentrations have been shown to be the same regardless of loading after 30 days [12].

Recommendation: Consume 3-5g creatine monohydrate daily to increase muscle size and strength. Want to learn more about creatine monohydrate? Check out or article Supplements Simplified: Creatine Monohydrate.


Caffeine is commonly consumed as a pre-workout stimulant. Consumption of caffeine has been shown to increase muscular power [13, 14], endurance [15], and exercise performance in athletes in a tired or sleep-deprived state [16, 17] supporting the use of caffeine pre-workout to improve performance.

One thing that should be noted is that the studies observing beneficial effects of pre-workout caffeine utilise very high dosages (3-5mg/kg) [13-16]. These dosages are near the higher end of what is considered safe to consume (6mg/kg/day) [18]. Moreover, individual responses to caffeine may also differ and some individuals may see benefits at lower dosages. In addition, tolerance to caffeine can increase rapidly so it may need to be cycled in order to remain beneficial for increasing performance[19].

Recommendation: Consume caffeine as needed and tolerated pre-workout to increase alertness and workout performance. Consider cycling caffeine if you are no longer noticing a benefit from its consumption. Want to learn more about caffeine? Check out or article Supplements Simplified: Caffeine.


Historically, bodybuilders eliminated foods and/or entire food groups when dieting for a competition [20-22] resulting in deficiencies in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and magnesium [21-26]. More research is needed on bodybuilders using more modern methods of contest preparation where foods and food groups are not restricted (for example those described by Helms et al. 2014 [27]). However, even while using a more flexible approach to dieting during contest preparation it can still be difficult to consume a variety of foods from all food groups, increasing the risk of micronutrient deficiencies. Therefore, it may be beneficial to take a multivitamin during contest preparation to prevent potential deficiencies.

Recommendation: Taking a multivitamin daily during bodybuilding contest preparation may help prevent micronutrient deficiencies when caloric intake is low, making it difficult to eat a variety of foods from all food groups. Want to learn more about multivitamins? Check out or article Supplements Simplified: Multivitamin.


Beta-alanine is becoming an increasingly popular supplement amongst bodybuilders. Although there is some evidence that beta-alanine supplementation may increase lean muscle mass [28] the primary benefit of supplementation with beta-alanine is increased muscular endurance and resistance to fatigue [29, 30]. However, this occurs primarily in activities greater than 60 seconds in duration so its benefit may be restricted to higher rep training protocols including dropsets, supersets, rest pause sets or periods of time when greater amounts of high intensity cardio is being performed (for example during contest preparation) [31].

It should be noted that some people may experience a tingling sensation when taking beta-alanine. Spreading out supplementation into multiple smaller dosages throughout the day should reduce this feeling [32].

Recommendation: Consume 3-4 grams of beta-alanine daily to improve performance on higher rep sets and high-intensity cardio. Want to learn more about beta-alanine? Check out or article Supplements Simplified: Beta-Alanine.

Although these supplements can help progress, they will not make up for a lack of solid nutrition and training. For maximum benefit, make sure your diet and training are on point prior to adding in these supplements. Need help? Check out of Free Nutrition Plan and Free Workout Plan.


1. Phillips, S.M. and L.J. Van Loon, Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci, 2011. 29 Suppl 1: p. S29-38.

2. Helms, E.R., et al., A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2014. 24(2): p. 127-38.

3. Buford, T.W., et al., International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2007. 4: p. 6.

4. Becque, M.D., J.D. Lochmann, and D.R. Melrose, Effects of oral creatine supplementation on muscular strength and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2000. 32(3): p. 654-8.

5. Volek, J.S., et al., Performance and muscle fiber adaptations to creatine supplementation and heavy resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1999. 31(8): p. 1147-56.

6. Stone, M.H., et al., Effects of in-season (5 weeks) creatine and pyruvate supplementation on anaerobic performance and body composition in American football players. Int J Sport Nutr, 1999. 9(2): p. 146-65.

7. Branch, J.D., Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2003. 13(2): p. 198-226.

8. Kim, H.J., et al., Studies on the safety of creatine supplementation. Amino Acids, 2011. 40(5): p. 1409-18.

9. Greenwood, M., et al., Differences in creatine retention among three nutritional formulations of oral creatine supplements. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 2003. 6(2): p. 37-43.

10. Spillane, M., et al., The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2009. 6: p. 6.

11. Jagim, A.R., et al., A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2012. 9(1): p. 43.

12. Hultman, E., et al., Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol, 1996. 81(1): p. 232-7.

13. Astorino, T.A., et al., Effect of two doses of caffeine on muscular function during isokinetic exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2010. 42(12): p. 2205-10.

14. Del Coso, J., et al., Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2012. 9(1): p. 21.

15. Duncan, M.J. and S.W. Oxford, The effect of caffeine ingestion on mood state and bench press performance to failure. J Strength Cond Res, 2011. 25(1): p. 178-85.

16. Mora-Rodriguez, R., et al., Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLoS One, 2012. 7(4): p. e33807.

17. Cook, C., et al., Acute caffeine ingestion’s increase of voluntarily chosen resistance-training load after limited sleep. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2012. 22(3): p. 157-64.

18. Nawrot, P., et al., Effects of caffeine on human health. Food Addit Contam, 2003. 20(1): p. 1-30.

19. Tarnopolsky, M.A., et al., Effects of rapid weight loss and wrestling on muscle glycogen concentration. Clin J Sport Med, 1996. 6(2): p. 78-84.

20. Steen, S.N., Precontest strategies of a male bodybuilder. Int J Sport Nutr, 1991. 1(1): p. 69-78.

21. Hickson, J.F., Jr., et al., Nutrition and the precontest preparations of a male bodybuilder. J Am Diet Assoc, 1990. 90(2): p. 264-7.

22. Lamar-Hildebrand, N., L. Saldanha, and J. Endres, Dietary and exercise practices of college-aged female bodybuilders. J Am Diet Assoc, 1989. 89(9): p. 1308-10.

23. Sandoval, W.M., V.H. Heyward, and T.M. Lyons, Comparison of body composition, exercise and nutritional profiles of female and male body builders at competition. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 1989. 29(1): p. 63-70.

24. Kleiner, S.M., T.L. Bazzarre, and M.D. Litchford, Metabolic profiles, diet, and health practices of championship male and female bodybuilders. J Am Diet Assoc, 1990. 90(7): p. 962-7.

25. Heyward, V.H., W.M. Sandoval, and B.C. Colville, Anthropometric, body composition and nutritional profiles of bodybuilders during training Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 1989. 3(2): p. 22-29.

26. Walberg-Rankin, J., C.E. Edmonds, and F.C. Gwazdauskas, Diet and weight changes of female bodybuilders before and after competition. Int J Sport Nutr, 1993. 3(1): p. 87-102.

27. Helms, E.R., A.A. Aragon, and P.J. Fitschen, Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2014. 11: p. 20.

28. Smith, A.E., et al., Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2009. 6: p. 5.

29. Hoffman, J., et al., Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med, 2008. 29(12): p. 952-8.

30. Hoffman, J.R., et al., Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players. Nutr Res, 2008. 28(1): p. 31-5.

31. Hobson, R.M., et al., Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids, 2012.

32. Harris, R.C., et al., The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids, 2006. 30(3): p. 279-89.

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