Which Bodybuilding Supplements Are Actually Worth Something?
2020 update: Direct links have been removed as I have left the Amazon program. I still recommend the below bodybuilding supplements, however.
Everyone should have the desire to get in shape.
But do you even need supplements to get fit?
Simple answer: No.
In fact, the majority of the crap lining the nutrition stores and packed on online markets are bogus magic pills. You just need nutrition and exercise.
I’m a big fan of certain types of intermittent fasting. But you don’t even need to do that. As long as you eat well and exercise, you can get to your fitness goals.
It just takes time.
Sometimes a lot of time.
Even considering this, supplements can have their own special place in this process. Some of them do actually provide certain tangible benefits. But keep in mind that they will only work in conjunction with a healthy diet and stable changes to your overall exercise level.
I can’t speak for every single supplement out there, only the ones I’ve researched and have actually personally used.
So let’s get into this comprehensive article on popular supplements and have a chat about which supplements are good, and which you should definitely save your money on.
Disclaimer: I don’t sell supplements. I’m not sponsored by any of these companies. I have no stakes in this markets. But remember, what works for me might not work for you.
Best Bodybuilding Supplements For Men
5-HTP – Appetite Suppressant
The main task with losing weight is eating less. Reducing calories beyond your calorie maintenance levels is the only sustainable way to lose weight over time.
A potentially challenging part of this is dealing with the hunger cravings that arise from eating less.
One method to help knock these cravings down a notch, especially when you first start dieting (when the cravings are most intense), is to try out 5-HTP.
5-HTP has had some scientific legwork behind it, particularly with regard to decreasing food intake due to appetite suppression.
Beta-Alanine – Better Workouts
Beta-Alanine has two significant advantages for better workouts:
This will not suddenly make you a beast in the gym, but it can improve your workouts in general. It is most helpful when you are having a hard time keeping up with training, whether from fatigue or getting busy with other things in life.
I personally don’t use it, because the itch is terrible. But some people actually like the itch, so it’s worth a consideration.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) – Fasted Workouts
BCAAs won’t do much for you unless you fall into one of two categories:
- Professional Athlete
- Fasting enthusiast
If you’re a regular gym-goer, skip this. I know it’s popular, but it’s a bunk supplement. No studies actually backup anything that BCAAs do. And the studies that do show improvements report the benefits are so small it’s not worth a dollar, much less a recurring monthly cost.
However, if you fast, this stuff is great pre-workout to give you a boost without breaking the fast. The main bodybuilding issue with fasting is muscle deterioration. BCAAs can help reduce this by being an anti-catabolic agent for fasting.
So, personal consensus: Don’t buy it if you don’t fast, maybe give it a shot if you do fast.
Creatine – Muscle Growth
What’s not to love about creatine monohydrate? If there are any supplements you do decide to use, this one should definitely be included. It’s one of the few supplements with a ridiculous amount of science backed behind it to prove its usefulness.
Just 3 of the (many) benefits from creatine include:
- Increasing lean body mass (and muscle growth)
- Increasing anaerobic working capacity
- Reduction in body weight (Men only)
This is a staple to any supplement stack.
My advice is just to buy a cheap tub that has the right amount of creatine. There is no reason to pay ridiculous amounts of money for the exact same ingredients.
One option (the one I always buy) is Optimum Nutrition unflavored version, as it’s easy and cheap. Mix 5g in water and you’re good to go:
Fish Oil – All Around Benefits
Of course, we weren’t going to get through a list of supplements and miss the all-mighty fish oil.
This should be one of your main supplements, regardless of bodybuilding/weight loss goals. It is just a great addition for your overall health.
Here’s just 5 reasons:
- Faster weight loss
- Reduction in stress
- Reduction in muscular soreness
- Improvements in synthesizing protein
- Reduction in inflammation (especially workout related)
As for me, my favorite has always been NOW brand, as it has the highest amount of EPA/DHA and one of the bigger bottles will last a long time. I also like NOW because it doesn’t give me the fish breath problem. But that problem dissipates after a while of taking any brand, regardless.
Forskolin – Weight Loss (And Slight Improvements to Testosterone Levels)
You want to aim for 40-60mg of this one to have any type of proven effectiveness as far as clinical trials go.
There are a few studies (it is still relatively new) that point to some interesting conclusions:
- Speeds up fat loss (particularly in overweight/obese men)
- Has been shown to increase testosterone levels on a statistically significant level
Particularly this study interested me when I first heard of Forskolin because of this section in the pdf:
In this study, the change in free testosterone that occurred across the 12-week trial period was shown to be significantly different among groups (p < .05).
In this study, the increase shown for serum total test and free testosterone may be another and/or a contributing factor for the reductions in body fat percent and fat mass seen in the forskolin-treated group.
Seriously, check out the study. It also shows quite a decent increase in Test (nothing like steroids but still a welcome addition for the cost).
I’ve only ever used one Forskolin product, so this is the only one I can recommend. But as long as it has the same ingredients, I can’t say it’s better than any other:
Glucosamine/MSM – Joint Pain/Workout Recovery
Lots of people are not a fan of this one. So your mileage may vary. But this one helps me out a lot with any exercises that are stressful on the joints. So if you have problems with injuries, this may be a good idea for you too. It’s a staple of mine.
Glucosamine is a natural compound found in healthy cartilage, particularly in the fluid around the joints. It can help with recovery options and prevention of pain, especially in the knee region (squats, anyone?). They can also reduce inflammation and are safe for the long-term.
I’d steer clear of Chondroitin personally, as it has some negative scientific articles surrounding it. Sulfate or HCL is a more likeable alternative.
This is the one I use (I prefer the 375 count bulk, so I don’t have to order as much, but there are plenty of smaller options):
Green Tea Extract – Weight Loss
What’s not to love about green tea?
The only reason this is a “supplement” is because it would take a ridiculous amount of drinking green tea to reach the mg needed for fat loss aid. So, we take it in capsule form instead.
Most of you probably know this already, but green tea has a ridiculous number of years of studies behind it to prove some helpful additions to a workout regime including:
- Enhancing exercise-induced abdominal fat loss in overweight/obese individuals
- Increasing fat oxidation rates
That last study states the following:
Average fat oxidation rates were 17% higher after ingestion of GTE than after ingestion of placebo (0.41 ± 0.03 and 0.35 ± 0.03 g/min, respectively; P < 0.05). Moreover, the contribution of fat oxidation to total energy expenditure was also significantly higher, by a similar percentage, after GTE supplementation.
Acute GTE ingestion can increase fat oxidation during moderate-intensity exercise and can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in healthy young men.
It’s another one of the natural supplements that can help you reach your goals. Particularly for weight-loss.
Again, regardless of who you buy this from, it’s the same ingredient. Green tea extract. Not rocket science.
Don’t buy some expensive bottle for no reason.
My favorite kind is NOW. They are cheap, plentiful, and have veg capsules:
Multivitamin – All Around Benefits
I like multivitamins to make sure I’m hitting the vitamins/minerals I need. This is especially important when cutting down fat because I tend to eat a lot less, which in turns means I may neglect a balanced diet.
Naturally, not everyone needs this. If your diet is rich enough in the vitamins you need, don’t bother. But if you eat little dairy or vegetables, you’re probably deficient in something and this could help.
Since you (may) need them to keep your diet in check, they are of extreme importance. However, one big mistake I see is some weightlifters wanting to take the ones with the highest proportion of minerals/vitamins. But it’s important to note that you don’t need that much of any vitamin/mineral. There are recommended doses, and extreme amounts over that may not be in your best interest (or worth the extra cost).
There are about 5000 studies that have been done on multivitamins, so trying to link even just the “big ones” here would be next to impossible. Instead, a good link to review the current literature is here. It covers a plethora of important studies and gives some relevant analysis to determine who should and shouldn’t take a multi.
The one that I personally use is NOW. Particularly I like the ADAM version, designed specifically for men. Again, it’s cheap and has everything I want in it. Check the label and make sure it has what you’re looking for before buying:
Protein Powder – Muscle Growth
So, if you’re looking at supplements you already know how important protein is. What if you can’t hit your protein levels with food?
Buy some protein powder. Simple, really.
But there’s about 50 different kinds, and hundreds of brands. Where to start?
Well, let’s start off with discussing leucine. Leucine is an amino acid within most protein powder. This amino acid is directly responsible for most of the muscle growth.
Leucine is more abundant in animal-based proteins. So, if you’re trying to maximize the leucine within a protein source, you want to stick with whey, casein, and those types over soy or hemp protein powders.
So we knocked out a bunch of them. But what about the rest: whey, casein, egg?
Well, it depends a bit on your goals. I’ll give you a quick rundown that may help, but you should adjust this as needed based on personal preference:
- Whey is normally ranked #1, it’s rapidly digested and abundant in leucine. Great for pre or post workouts. Just great all around, really.
- Casein is slow digesting, meaning you still get all the good stuff, but it takes longer to digest. This means it can be better for muscle recovery (such as using before sleeping).
- Egg is a good alternative if you can’t stomach the former 2. It’s even slower to digest than casein. It tastes freaking horrible, though. So fair warning.
I’ve always been a fan of MusclePharm for protein powder. It lasts a long time and doesn’t cost that much when comparing it to other similar brands in terms of protein to money spent. It also tastes good, so I don’t have to suffer everyday drinking what tastes like the equivalent of melted tar.
They have the option to do 100% casein, 100% whey, or a mix. My personal favorite is the mix. The chocolate milk and chocolate peanut butter are both delicious.
As for egg powder, the only brand I trust is listed below. Other ones always threw me off, didn’t taste right, etc. So I stopped trying them.
Worst Bodybuilding Supplements For Men
Any Kind Of “Test Booster”
Unless you’re using steroids, don’t get your hopes up. Test boosters never actually work. They don’t raise testosterone levels.
These things are almost always a scam that includes some type of hyper-libido ingredient. So that way, when men take the drug they feel ridiculously horny and assume that there is a rise in testosterone, but there is not.
Don’t waste your cash.
Creatine Serum/Creatine Nitro (Pretty much any Creatine besides Monohydrate)
Creatine (monohydrate) is great. Creatinine is a waste product that serves no benefit.
Every type of creatine besides Monohydrate has ridiculously large amounts of creatinine, or it breaks down into it.
If you’re using creatine, stick with the traditional stuff. There are dozens of studies showing creatine serum (and other derivatives) not being as effective as traditional creatine powder.
For Gamma-aminobutyric acid to work, it needs to cross the blood-brain barrier. This is significantly difficult to do through oral supplementation.
However, people have said it can produce a calming effect. But, this article is not about calming down, it’s about bodybuilding supplements. So save your money.
A researcher, Onakpoya, did a review of the studies surrounding Garcinia Cambogia.
What’d he find? That every study was bullshit.
I’ll let him speak for this one, as I love the sassy-ness in the abstract:
The magnitude of the effect [of Garcinia Camobiga working for weight loss] is small, and the clinical relevance is uncertain. Future trials should be more rigorous and better reported.
More paid-off researchers. Glad we got guys like him to light a fire under their ass.
Glutamine (or L-Glutamine)
Some athletes can have high intakes of L-glutamine because of their high energy and protein intakes and also because they consume protein supplements, protein hydrolysates, and free amino acids. Prolonged exercise and periods of heavy training are associated with a decrease in the plasma glutamine concentration and this has been suggested to be a potential cause of the exercise-induced immune impairment and increased susceptibility to infection in athletes. However, several recent glutamine feeding intervention studies indicate that although the plasma glutamine concentration can be kept constant during and after prolonged strenuous exercise, the glutamine supplementation does not prevent the postexercise changes in several aspects of immune function.
However, the suggested reasons for taking glutamine supplements (support for immune system, increased glycogen synthesis, anticatabolic effect) have received little support from well-controlled scientific studies in healthy, well-nourished humans.
So unless you’re not a healthy, well-nourished human, save your cash.
And if you are an unhealthy, not-well-nourished human, use your cash to buy better food instead of this.
And if you’re using anabolic steroids, you don’t need an HGH booster to begin with, unless you’re trying to become a different colored version of the Hulk.
Tribulus Terrestris (Unless You’re Supplementing Your Sex Drive—In Which Case It’s Great)
As originally hinted at under the “Test boosters” section, Tribulus Terrestris is one of the hyper-libido ingredients usually placed in test boosters to give a placebo effect of increasing testosterone in men. However, TT does not actually work in increasing testosterone production.
It’s one of those drugs that are used to make men want to hump everything, so then they get the placebo feeling that they have higher test.
So let’s do a quick FAQ:
- But wait! I heard it helps you exercise better!
- I heard it could help control my bodyweight, though.
- But there are studies showing that it can increase muscle endurance, at least!
Nope. In fact, one study shown that muscle endurance increased for bench and leg press in the placebo group, and the TT group increased leg press only.
- Well… what does it do then?
It makes you horny as hell. If you’re having libido problems, or if you just want to always be immediately ready for round 37, then this stuff is for you.
In summary, this product does absolutely nothing for bodybuilding. But I’m still going to refer to it here for the libido purposes. Tell your wife/girlfriend to send me a thank you email later.
For the most part, don’t waste your money on supplements until your diet and exercise routine is in check.
Use supplements just to give yourself a bit of an extra edge after those two more important pieces are solidified in place.
Everyone has personal training problems that are hard to overcome. Supplements can be that extra stretch to get you there. No one needs all of these, tailor your supplement decisions directly to your training problems that need fixed.
And don’t toss your money to these supplement pan-handlers that sell bogus products using bought-out scientific research. You’re wasting your money and your time, when you could be dedicating that money to better supplements (or better food!).
But if you want to dive into supplements, start off with the basic three first: multi vitamin, fish oil, and creatine. Then, add protein powder as needed based on dietary concerns. Finally, start going into all the other stuff.
I hope this article was helpful to anyone that was struggling about what kind of supplements to buy for their goals. Any questions, drop them in the comments.
And now my question for you: What is your favorite and least favorite supplement? Let me know in the comments.