What you consume before and after you exercise can be as important as the quality of the workout itself. The supplements industry is among the most profitable, over-saturated and under-regulated in the world of nutrition. You know your body needs fuel to build muscle, but with so many options, how do you pluck the gems from the mountain of impostors? Once tasteless, chalky and gross, muscle-building supplements have made incredible strides, and a few stand out as superb.
5 Vegan Protein
Vegans are weak. Puny. They can’t put on muscle. Like UFC mixed martial arts cage fighter Mac Danzig, for example. Old stereotypes about vegans are exactly that—old. As the meat-free lifestyle takes off in popularity, the quality of supplements marketed to them continues to improve. Because whey is derived from dairy, vegans historically had to settle for inferior protein, but recent gains in technology have led to huge gains in vegan muscle. Soy, hemp and even pea-based supplements are now readily available, with some packing 20 full grams of healthy, plant-based protein per serving.
4 Weight Gainer
Hard-gainers, bean poles, slim Jims—listen up. Do you hit the gym hard every session and still walk away with the physique of a No. 2 pencil? There is a class of powdered supplements that relies on one inarguable principle: If you ingest more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Weight gainers pack an extraordinary amount of quality calories—up to 1,500—into each serving. Try scarfing down that much grilled chicken and tuna after you lift.
3 Nitric Oxide Boosters
Instead of bulking you up after you lift, this category of pre-workout supplement gives you the gas you’ll need to get through it successfully. By flooding your body with some variation of L-arginine, a precursor to nitric oxide, your body can produce more NO on its own, leading to increased vascularity and blood flow. You know when you see bodybuilders with garden hoses for veins? That’s vascularity.
2 Whey Protein Powder
It’s not an accident that when Little Miss Muffet had to take on hordes of angry spiders, she turned to whey in order to bulk up. The god of all protein, whey powder is so good at making human beings big and strong, it’s used in bodybuilding supplements and baby formula alike. Gym rats turn to the pricey but pure whey protein isolate variation, which is between 90 and 95 percent pure protein.
1 Protein Bars
When it comes to muscle-building supplements, the protein bar is the king of versatility. They’re convenient, they require no mixing or blending and the good ones pack 20 or more grams of the stuff that makes muscles. They range from decent to downright gourmet, but may contain more sugar and carbs than other supplements. Be warned: Refrigerate any that contain chocolate, and if you’re out on a hot day, eat them fast before they melt. They react about as well to sunlight as Stripe from “Gremlins.”