What Are The Best Supplements For Lean Muscle Growth?

What Are The Best Supplements For Lean Muscle Growth?

Matt Paterson (B.Ex & Sport Sci)

Supplements are one of the best tools for fitness enthusiasts and those looking to sculpt their physique into their own mental image. If you’re looking to develop lean muscle mass without the downsides of gaining too much fat through bulking or want to optimize your muscle gain potential, supplements can help you achieve that muscle growth easier.

While there are a wide variety of supplements on the market that promise a variety of results, many of them are extrapolating on unrealistic results from studies. In this article, we’ll cover the best supplements for developing lean muscle mass backed by scientific studies.

Protein Powder

Protein powder is everywhere nowadays, and for good reason. People find it amazingly helpful for a variety of goals, from lifting to losing weight to hunger suppression. Protein is a vital nutrient as most of our bodies are made up of protein and we cannot create our own.

Protein powders, especially whey protein, can supply necessary proteins and amino acids within proteins that develop the growth of muscle through the anabolic process. Without sufficient protein intake, the anabolic process would be slowed or stunted, resulting in little to no muscle growth.

Benefits of Protein Powder

  • Greater lean muscle mass development, especially notable when ingested after a workout [1]
  • Whey protein contains higher concentrations of leucine and BCAAs--essential amino acids [1]
  • Protein powders can be more quickly digested versus other protein sources [1]
  • A decrease in muscle soreness following a workout, most often known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) [2]
  • Reduced appetite as protein digests slower can leave a person feeling satisfied for longer [3]

Recommended Intake

Average protein powder servings range from 20-30 grams, often a single scoop. Protein powder can be great when trying to target a gain in lean muscle mass as they allow you to increase your protein intake without increasing calories by a large amount. However, you should include other sources of protein. While protein is vital for the body, it’s important to eat a well-rounded diet including fats and nutritious carbohydrates.


Creatine is one of the best supplements for building lean muscle. It’s a completely natural substance that’s found within the body that helps supply energy to muscles to improve performance and recovery--and thus the building of muscle during recovery. [4]

For many people, creatine can sound a bit scary, but it’s surprisingly the world’s most studied supplement and there have been no verifiable studies proving any harm from creatine consumption. Creatine is already a naturally occurring chemical compound in the body, and by supplementing more the body can use greater amounts to aid you in lean muscle growth. [4]

Benefits of Creatine

  • In studies, Creatine has shown to develop more muscle in the comparison between two similar diets that only differed in the supplementation of creatine [4]
  • Creatine has shown to allow people to lift more and heavier weights in training sessions [5]
  • Lower the stress and pain within muscles after a workout, reducing the effects of DOMS [4]
  • More water in muscle cells to help maintain muscle volume during and after training [6]

It’s important to note the creatine works best while taken on a prolonged intake. Benefits can start to show within 3 days of intake, and further support of that muscle growth has been shown as creatine is continued to be ingested afterward. [4] This “creatine loading” is often used by lifters and athletes, but many of them choose to take 25 grams of creatine for prolonged periods.

Recommended Intake

The average person can see great benefits from taking 5 grams of creatine for a series of days, often suggested for five-day periods while they lift. [7] This intake interval can supply the muscles with 10-40% more creatine reserves and provide the same benefit as creatine tends to concentrate in muscles over that period rather than being used up all at once. [7]

Essential Amino Acids

Amino acids are a very scientific word that confounds people sometimes, but they are easy to understand. Protein is a big complicated chunk of amino acids, and when protein is digested these amino acids are split apart and are used to help develop, build, and repair muscle within the body.

Amino acid supplements are the refinement of protein down to the individual amino acids for better bioavailability without the extra filler of sugar and the agents that bind protein together. Amino acid supplements, thus, allow for the body to more quickly using these amino acids.

Essential amino acids are what the body requires to digest. “Essential” in the nutrition world means what the body cannot supply itself, and must intake. Other non-essential amino acids can be created by the body, but are available in supplements.

A simple supplement for the essential amino acids is branched-chain amino acids or BCAA supplements which contain three of the most essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

The Benefits of Essential Amino Acids, or BCAA Intake

  • Improved muscle development through protein synthesis [8]
  • Lower DOMS after training [9]
  • Greater strength and endurance throughout training [10]

In comparison to protein powders, amino acids can supply specific amino acids instead of a blanket amount as found in protein sources. This can help in the case of BCAAs as leucine, isoleucine, and valine have been found to greatly increase muscle development. [10]

This doesn’t mean amino acids should be taken instead of protein powders; protein powders often contain all 20 amino acids, while amino acid supplements either are selective or contain a selection. Amino acids can be taken alongside normal protein intake for their benefits, and they are valuable for people on all-plant diets where there can be a deficit in essential amino acids not often found in plant sources like leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Recommended Intake

Intake depends on the specific essential amino acid supplement you choose. BCAAs, for example, can be taken in 3-6 gram dosage before exercise to see the benefit.

Build the Lean Muscle

We hope this list of supplements for lean muscle growth has given you valuable insight into what supplements have been proven by scientific studies to help develop muscle. Any choice of protein powder, creatine, or essential amino acids can help you develop that lean figure you seek at a much faster rate.

[1] D Joe Millward, Donald K Layman, Daniel Tomé, Gertjan Schaafsma, Protein quality assessment: impact of expanding understanding of protein and amino acid needs for optimal health, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 5, May 2008, Pages 1576S–1581S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1576S

[2] Andersen LL, Tufekovic G, Zebis MK, Crameri RM, Verlaan G, Kjaer M, Suetta C, Magnusson P, Aagaard P. The effect of resistance training combined with timed ingestion of protein on muscle fiber size and muscle strength. Metabolism. 2005 Feb;54(2):151-6. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2004.07.012. PMID: 15690307.

[3] Veldhorst MA, Nieuwenhuizen AG, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Westerterp KR, Engelen MP, Brummer RJ, Deutz NE, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Effects of complete whey-protein breakfasts versus whey without GMP-breakfasts on energy intake and satiety. Appetite. 2009 Apr;52(2):388-95. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2008.11.014. Epub 2008 Dec 3. PMID: 19101599.

[4] EARNEST, C.P., SNELL, P.G., RODRIGUEZ, R., ALMADA, A.L. and MITCHELL, T.L. (1995), The effect of creatine monohydrate ingestion on anaerobic power indices, muscular strength and body composition. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 153: 207-209. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1995.tb09854.x

[5] Kilduff LP, Pitsiladis YP, Tasker L, Attwood J, Hyslop P, Dailly A, Dickson I, Grant S. Effects of creatine on body composition and strength gains after 4 weeks of resistance training in previously nonresistance-trained humans. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Dec;13(4):504-20. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.13.4.504. PMID: 14967873.

[6] Häussinger D, Roth E, Lang F, Gerok W. Cellular hydration state: an important determinant of protein catabolism in health and disease. Lancet. 1993 May 22;341(8856):1330-2. doi: 10.1016/0140-6736(93)90828-5. PMID: 8098459.

[7] Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., 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 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z

[8] Norton LE, Wilson GJ, Layman DK, Moulton CJ, Garlick PJ. Leucine content of dietary proteins is a determinant of postprandial skeletal muscle protein synthesis in adult rats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jul 20;9(1):67. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-67. PMID: 22818257; PMCID: PMC3488566.

[9] Nosaka K, Sacco P, Mawatari K. Effects of amino acid supplementation on muscle soreness and damage. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Dec;16(6):620-35. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.16.6.620. PMID: 17342883.

[10] Matsumoto K, Koba T, Hamada K, Tsujimoto H, Mitsuzono R. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation increases the lactate threshold during an incremental exercise test in trained individuals. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009 Feb;55(1):52-8. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.55.52. PMID: 19352063.

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