Priority #1: Whey Protein Powder
Why it made the list: Whey tops the list of mass-gain supplements because it’s the most crucial for pushing protein synthesis. Whey is a milk protein that has a high level of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs, No. 4 on our list). Bottom line: Whey takes the crown because it digests fast and gets to your muscles rapidly to start building muscle. Whey also contains peptides (small proteins) that increase blood flow to the muscles. This is why we always recommend consuming whey protein immediately after training.
How to maximize its effects: Take 20 grams of whey protein powder in the 30 minutes before working out, and take 40 grams within 60 minutes after training. Also consider taking 20-40 grams of whey immediately upon waking every morning to kick-start muscle growth. Your best bet is to choose a whey powder that contains whey protein hydrolysates (whey protein broken down into smaller fragments for faster digestion) or whey protein isolate
Priority #2: Casein Protein Powder
Why it made the list: The other milk protein, casein, squeaks in just under whey. Casein has always played second fiddle due to its very slow digestion rate, yet this makes it ideal as a pre-bedtime snack because it prevents catabolism while you sleep by emptying slowly and steadily. Casein also makes you feel less full, which makes it a great snack for those who want to pack on muscle mass. And new research finds that casein gives whey a run for its money – when it’s taken postworkout, casein boosts muscle protein synthesis much like whey does. It’s even suggested that a whey and casein protein shake taken after training increases muscle growth better than either protein taken alone
How to maximize its effects: Choose a casein protein that contains micellar casein (the slowest-digesting casein you can buy) and take 20-40 grams right before going to bed. After workouts, add 10-20 grams of casein to your whey protein. Also, use 20-40 grams of casein in your protein shakes between meals
Priority #3: Creatine
Why it made the list: Creatine is made from three amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine. Anecdotal reports and scientific studies alike find that guys who take creatine gain a good 10 pounds or more of bodyweight and increase strength dramatically. Creatine works in a number of ways. For one, it increases the amount of fast energy in your muscles needed to perform reps in the gym. The more of this fast energy that’s available, the more reps you can do with a given weight, allowing you to get bigger and stronger in the long run. Creatine also draws more water into your muscle cells, placing a stretch on the cell that increases long-term growth. Most recently, creatine has been found to increase levels of insulin like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in muscles, which is critical for stimulating growth
How to maximize its effects: Take 2-5 grams of creatine in the form of creatine monohydrate, creatine malate, creatine ethyl ester or creatine alpha-ketoglutarate with your protein shake immediately before workouts. This will help keep your muscles saturated with creatine, producing the rapid energy they need to perform more reps. Then consume another 2-5 grams with your postworkout shake (in addition to 40-100 grams of fast-digesting carbs), a time when creatine will be rapidly taken up by muscle cells and the boost in IGF-1 levels will help prompt further growth. On days when you don’t train, take 2-5 grams of creatine with a breakfast that contains carbohydrates.
Priority #4: Nitric Oxide Boosters
Why they made the list: Nitric oxide (NO) is a molecule found throughout the body that’s involved in multiple processes. The one that bodybuilders are most interested in is its ability to dilate blood vessels, which allows more blood flow to the muscles for enhanced delivery of oxygen, nutrients, anabolic hormones and water (blood is mostly water). This gives you more energy during your workout, an enhanced muscle pump, and better muscle recovery and growth after the workout. NO boosters don’t provide NO, but rather the amino acid arginine, which is readily converted to NO in the body. Research has found that subjects who were given arginine increased muscle strength and growth and lost bodyfat
How to maximize their effects: Take an NO booster that provides 3-5 grams of arginine in the form of L-arginine, arginine alpha-ketoglutarate, arginine ethyl ester or arginine malate. Also, consider NO boosters that provide ingredients such as citrulline, pycnog-enol and American ginseng, which enhance arginine’s ability to increase NO. Take one dose at each of the following times: in the morning before breakfast, 30-60 minutes before training, immediately after training and 30-60 minutes before bedtime. When possible, take each dose without food and consider combining it with 500-1,000 mg of vitamin C, which can help maintain levels of NO for longer
Priority #5: Glutamine
Why it made the list: This amino acid has been a favorite of bodybuilders for decades because it’s central to muscle function and is one of the most plentiful aminos found in the human body. Glutamine provides numerous bodybuilding benefits, such as aiding muscle growth by increasing levels of leucine in muscle fibers, helping decrease muscle breakdown and bolstering the immune system, which helps prevent you from getting sick and missing workouts. Glutamine taken before workouts can help decrease muscle fatigue and boost growth hormone levels. In addition, recent research shows that glutamine might also play a role in fat loss by increasing the amount of calories and fat burned at rest and during exercise
How to maximize its effects: Take 5-10 grams of glutamine in the morning with breakfast, with your pre- and postworkout shakes, and with your nighttime snack