With the dawn of a new year, many individuals set goals to lose weight, build muscle, and/or improve their overall health and wellness.
The foundation of achieving these goals is built around the triumvirate of diet, exercise, and sleep. Without these, results simply won’t come.
But, once these essentials are covered, many seek to optimize and enhance their progress and results through the use of muscle building or weight loss supplements.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best supplements for weight loss and muscle gain to help you smash your fitness goals for the new year.
What Are the Best Muscle Building Supplements?
In the history of natural muscle building supplements, none have surpassed (or even matched) creatine monohydrate in terms of safety, efficacy, or price.
Creatine’s effectiveness has been demonstrated time and again in research, and it continues to be one of the best supplements for building muscle and strength.
The way creatine helps build muscle is multifaceted, but the primary manner in which it helps individuals build muscle is by improving energy (ATP) production in the body. Helping muscles more rapidly regenerate ATP allows for more total work to be completed during your training session as well as faster recovery.
Over time this adds up to more weight lifted for more reps and more frequent training sessions compared to what would be accomplished without creatine.
The result is greater performance and better muscle growth. <1,2>
Creatine also offers several other benefits in regard to cognitive function, neuroprotection, recovery from injury, and hydration.
For more on the many benefits of creatine, check out our comprehensive guide to creatine monohydrate.
After creatine, the next supplement many individuals purchase when looking to enhance their muscle-building results is whey protein.
The reason for this is that consuming enough dietary protein is vital to the muscle-building process.
Protein supplies the body with the amino acids it needs to repair and build muscle tissue.
When trying to build muscle and gain size, many individuals struggle to consume enough calories or protein due to low appetite or feeling full rather quickly.
Whey protein offers a way to get in the necessary calories, and protein individuals need to support muscle building without making them feel overly stuffed.
Several studies have shown that protein supplementation enhances lean mass gains when training and diet are on point. <3,4,5>
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that consuming protein (or creatine or any other supplement) will make you gain slabs upon slabs of lean muscle if you’re not training hard or consuming enough total calories.
These are supplements, not steroids.
The benefit of whey protein powder is that it provides a convenient, affordable, efficient, and tasty way to satisfy your protein and calorie needs for the day.
Can you build muscle without ever consuming a scoop of protein powder in your life?
Absolutely yes, you can.
But for those who struggle with poor appetite or don’t have the time to prep, cook, and clean, whey protein is a great option to help meet your nutrition goals and support muscle recovery and growth.
A little less commonly known than the first two ingredients in this list is betaine.
Naturally occurring in beets, betaine is a modified amino acid consisting of a molecule of glycine surrounded by three methyl groups.
In the body, betaine serves several roles. It serves as a methyl donor, helping to convert homocysteine to methionine, which is one of the amino acids used to synthesize creatine. In this way, betaine supplementation may support the body's endogenous production of creatine <9> while also offering cardiovascular support due to its actions on homocysteine.
In case you weren’t aware, high levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease. <6>
Additionally, betaine also functions as an osmolyte, which helps improve cellular swelling and hydration.
Research to date suggests that betaine supplementation in conjunction with a structured resistance training program may enhance lean mass gains (i.e., muscle growth) and athletic performance. It may also help to reduce fat mass, too. <7,8>
What Supplements Help with Weight Loss?
Of all the supplements to come, the one with which you are most familiar with is likely to be caffeine.
Simply put, caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance across the globe.< 10> It’s also been extensively researched and found to not only be effective but safe when consumed in reasonable amounts.
It can be found in several foods, most notably coffee, green tea, and chocolate. It's also added to several "functional foods" and dietary supplements, including pre-workouts, fat burners, protein powders, and even chewing gum!
Caffeine is well known for its ability to increase energy, alertness, and motivation, due to its effects on adenosine and dopamine neurotransmitter systems in the body.
But, it also offers some potential weight loss benefits as well.
Studies note that caffeine can boost metabolism between 3-11%, depending on an individual's genetics and caffeine usage.< 11>
Caffeine supplementation has also been noted to increase lipolysis (the release of stored fatty acids from adipose tissue) as well as increase fat oxidation (fat burning). <12,13>
Some research even suggests that doses as low as 100mg can increase resting metabolic rate (i.e., the number of calories you burn while at rest) by 3-4%. <14>
Caffeine (like many other stimulants) has been known to suppress appetite. It should be noted that these effects are more pronounced in individuals who are not as accustomed to consuming high amounts of caffeine daily.
Finally, caffeine can also enhance exercise performance and resistance to fatigue, which may allow you to train longer before succumbing to fatigue, thereby burning more calories, which ultimately helps your weight loss goals.
Combined, these actions make caffeine one of the best supplements to try to enhance weight loss.
Yohimbine is an alkaloid naturally occurring in several plants, most notably the African plant Pausinystalia Yohimbe.
Similar to caffeine, yohimbine is a CNS stimulant and has been shown to support fat loss <15>, but how it supports weight loss and fat burning is a bit different than caffeine.
Research has shown it to be an effective supplement for losing weight, but how yohimbine helps burn fat is a bit tricky. <15>
In addition to acting as a CNS stimulant, which increases levels of the fat-burning catecholamine noradrenaline (norepinephrine) in the body, yohimbine also operates s an alpha-2 adrenergic receptor agonist.
Why is this important?
Well, to keep things simple, fat cells (adipocytes) have two types of receptors that affect fat loss:
- Alpha Receptors -- encourage fat storage
- Beta Receptors -- promote fat burning
When fat burning catecholamines like epinephrine or norepinephrine bind to beta receptors, fat cells “open” and release their stored fatty acids into the bloodstream so they can be taken up by tissues and oxidized “burned” for energy.
However, when catecholamines bind to alpha receptors, lipolysis is, for all intents and purposes, significantly hindered. <16>
Now, here's where yohimbine comes in as one of the best "fat-burning" supplements.
By acting as an alpha-adrenergic receptor agonist, yohimbine binds to alpha receptors <17>, which prevents catecholamines from binding to them, thereby allowing more catecholamines to bind to beta receptors. This helps promote the release of stored fatty acids and will enable you to burn stubborn belly fat.
Now it should be noted that there is one “catch” with yohimbine supplementation -- it needs to be taken in a fasted state as elevated insulin levels reduce its effectiveness. <18>
If you want to get more from yohimbine than just an increase in energy and motivation, you need to take it in a fasted state, which, for many of you, is first thing in the morning before eating breakfast.
When you eat carbs (or protein), insulin levels rise, which negates many of the pro-fat burning effects of yohimbine.
Finally, research also notes that yohimbine supplementation may improve exercise performance <19> as well as reduce fatigue and increase time to exhaustion, which may help you complete more work and burn more calories before succumbing to fatigue. <20>
Grains of Paradise (Paradoxine®)
As you've likely noticed, most fat burners and diet pills on the market rely heavily on stimulants. This is since stimulants help suppress hunger and provide a very modest boost to an individual's metabolic rate.
Another reason fat burners typically contain stimulants is that when an individual is dieting on low calories, they usually have low energy levels, which can make it difficult to push hard during training or even go to the gym at all. Stimulants provide a temporary jolt to the mind and body to help get it into motion.
Despite the effectiveness of stimulants in supporting fat loss, non-stimulatory compounds can support weight loss.
That’s where Paradoxine comes in.
Paradoxine is a patented extract of grains of paradise standardized to 12.5% 6-paradol.
Grains of paradise is a spice related to ginger that has historically been used both in culinary applications as well as for the treatment of various ailments, including stomachache, diarrhea, and snakebite. <21>
The spice also contains various pungent compounds, including 6-paradol, 6-gingerol, and 6-shogaol, which share some structural features with capsaicin, another well-known non-stimulant thermogenic supplement.
Human studies have shown that supplementation with Paradoxine may increase thermogenesis and whole-body energy expenditure, which may help with reducing body fat. <21>
What Supplements Do Women Take?
There’s often a lot of confusion as to which supplements are “appropriate” for women and which ones are appropriate for men.
By and large, men and women can take the same supplements. There is no need for a special "women's" or "hers" pre-workout, just as there is no need for a "men's" or "his" pre-workout or protein powder.
Very often, the difference between a "his" and "her" pre-workout is the amount of caffeine contained in it. It's also worth noting that "her" pre-workouts also tend to underdose many of the other ergogenic ingredients (including creatine, beta-alanine, and citrulline) under the guise that women need different performance-enhancing supplements than men.
Both men and women can use SteelFit's full line of products.
What Supplements Do Men Take?
As we just stated above, both men and women can make use of the same muscle building and weight loss supplements. Depending on your caffeine sensitivity or tolerance, you may need to scale the dose of the pre-workout or fat burner accordingly.
How Often Should I Take Muscle Building Supplements?
The answer to this question boils down to which muscle building supplements you are taking.
Supplements like creatine and/or whey protein can be used every day as there are no downsides to taking them continually. And some supplements, like creatine and betaine, need to be taken consistently to ensure you maintain saturation.
Other muscle building supplements should be cycled.
To know with greater certainty whether or not a particular supplement needs to be cycled, consult the dosing directions on the product label or contact the supplement company directly for clarification.
How Often Should I Take Weight Loss Supplements?
There is never a time when you "should" take a weight loss supplement.
You “may” take one when you are dieting to help suppress hunger or boost energy levels, but they are by no means required to lose weight. That’s why they’re called supplements and not “essentials.”
That being said, if you do opt to use a weight loss supplement, consult the dosing directions on the product label.
Generally speaking, most stimulant-based weight loss supplements will recommend cycling off after 4-8 weeks of continual use. This is since consistent use of weight loss supplements (namely stimulants) will lead to habituation and tolerance, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the ingredients.
Choosing the best supplement for muscle growth or weight loss can be confusing due to the wide variety of products available on the market, as well as the massive amount of marketing mumbo jumbo you'll have to sort through to separate fact from fiction.
Remember that supplements are merely there to assist your diet and training program, not take the place of. Supplements cannot (and will never) replace proper diet, training, and sleep.
If those three pillars are already in place, supplements can be added to complement, support, and enhance your results.
But remember, building muscle and losing fat takes time, consistency, and effort. There are no shortcuts to building the body of your dreams.
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- Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:18. Published 2017 Jun 13. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
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- Cholewa, J.M., Hudson, A., Cicholski, T. et al. The effects of chronic betaine supplementation on body composition and performance in collegiate females: a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 37 (2018) doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0243-x
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