Science Reviews Popular Bodybuilding Supplements

Bodybuilding Supplement Research

Bodybuilding Supplements
Bodybuilding Supplements Can Help Build Muscle. Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Natural bodybuilding is a growing sport and unfortunately, lacks evidence-based research according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports NutritionEric R Helms et al. answered the call to limited clinical studies on the subject. Researchers released an excellent review in 2014 titled “Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation.” Left out of the research: banned bodybuilding substances, supplements lacking supporting scientific data, and protein supplementation which is covered under the scope of food intake. Whether getting ready for competition or just want to know if bodybuilding supplements are right for you, the following information will shine some light on the subject. I will be sharing the most popular bodybuilding supplements according to research, their purpose and findings.


Creatine is an Effective and Safe Bodybuilding Supplement. Hugh Threlfall Photolibrary/Getty Images

Creatine occurs naturally in our body and is present in much of our living tissue. It helps supply energy to cells in our body and especially muscle tissue for contraction. Research shows supplementing creatine monohydrate (CM) has “significantly increased muscle size and strength when CM was added to a strength training program.” Healthy adults have shown no adverse effects using creatine as part of their bodybuilding routine. Research also discovered a loading phase “may not be necessary to increase muscle creatine concentrations.” Alternative forms of creatine, creatine ethyl ester (CEE) and Kre Alkalyn (KA) have been released as superior to CM but studies have not supported that finding. Creatine monohydrate still remains the most effective form and indicated to be the most ergogenic and safe supplement legally available.

Beta-alanine (BA)

Beta-alanine Improves Workouts and Builds Lean Mass. Mike Harrington Taxi/Getty Images

Beta-alanine (BA) is a non-essential amino acid which means it occurs naturally in our body.  We can also acquire additional BA from food and supplementation. When BA is consumed, muscle tissue grabs it from our blood stream and uses it to make carnosine. Carnosine is an important dipeptide buffering pH during anaerobic exercise like weightlifting and sprinting. Simply put, BA helps with improved workload and time to muscle fatigue, along with increased lean mass. However, paresthesia which is described as a burning or prickling sensation felt in the extremities has been reported as a side effect of large dose BA supplementation.​ “BA may increase exercise performance and increase lean mass in bodybuilders." Beta-alanine has shown no adverse effects when supplemented but further studies are required for the safety of long-term consumption.


HMB can be Helpful to Increase Lean Mass. Thomas Tolstrup Stone/Getty Images

Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) is produced in small amounts in the body. Research indicates it helpful in increasing muscle mass and decreasing muscle breakdown. The safety of HMB supplementation continues to be widely researched but two large studies indicate “HMB is safe and does not result in any major side effects.” HMB supplementation has been used to effectively treat disease in the elderly and people with chronic disease. However, according to the study, there are mixed effectiveness reviews for healthy, weight training adults. Because long-term studies are lacking for HMB, it can only be hypothesized to be effective for lean mass building“Therefore, future studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of HMB during caloric restriction in healthy, lean, trained athletes.”


BCAAs are the most widely used bodybuilding supplement. gradyreese E+/Getty Images

The branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) discussed in this review are proteinogenic (building blocks to protein) and include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Close to 18% of these amino acids are found in our skeletal muscle. BCAA’s have become “the most widely used supplements among natural bodybuilders.” Current evidence indicates BCAA’s stimulate muscle protein synthesis (growth) and largely due to the leucine component. Research indicates supplementing BCAA’s increases muscle mass and strength in combination with a training routine. However, additional “long-term studies are needed to determine the effects of BCAA’s on lean mass and strength in trained athletes.”


Arginine Linked to Increased Blood Flow. Mike Harrington Taxi/Getty Images

Arginine is another amino acid essential for protein building in our body and muscle tissue.  According to Wikipedia “most healthy people do not need to supplement with arginine because their body produces sufficient amounts.” Arginine remains a very controversial supplement and functions by creating nitric oxide (NO) in our body and linked to increasing blood flow. It's said to help with heart disease and often used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED). The effectiveness for athletes remains unclear with “approximately one-half of acute and chronic studies on arginine and exercise performance have found significant benefits with arginine supplementation, while the other one-half has found no significant benefits.” Obviously, more feedback is required on this one.

Citrulline malate (CitM)

Citrulline malate
Citrulline malate increases ATP for muscle cells. Peter Muller Cultura/Getty Images

Citrulline malate (CitM) is the new kid on the block gaining popularity with the fitness elite. Citrulline is essential in removing urea toxins like ammonia and malate helps with reducing lactic acid buildup. Positive supplementation feedback with CitM has reported increased adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is energy in the muscle cells. Also indicated was a 20% improved exercise recovery, reduced muscle fatigue, and increased athletic performance overall. It appears lean mass gain while losing fat was also reported supplementing with CitM during a training program. The drawbacks include not enough research on the new supplement, long-term safety remains unknown, and some research doesn’t strongly support positive claims. “Future studies are needed to conclusively determine if CitM is ergogenic and to determine its long term safety.”


Glutamine Beneficial for Stress Reduction. Lisa Ophoven Moment/Getty Images

Glutamine naturally occurs abundantly in muscle tissue and one of the favored bodybuilding supplements. This amino acid is made in the muscles and circulated through the bloodstream to organs that need it. The kicker is glutamine supplementation research does not support effectiveness for improved exercise performance, muscle building, or recovery but indicates glutamine “may be beneficial for gastrointestinal health” and also stress reduction. “As a whole, the results of previous studies do not support use of glutamine as an ergogenic supplement." More studies are needed to determine if glutamine will benefit dieting bodybuilders and improve their gastrointestinal health.


Caffeine is a Stimulant Effective for Sprinting. Mike Harrington Stone/Getty Images

“Caffeine is perhaps the most common pre-workout stimulant consumed by bodybuilders.” Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant causing you to feel more awake and alert. Numerous studies indicate caffeine very effective for endurance training, sprinting and weight training. However, not all studies support caffeine being effective for resistance training. Any enhancement in weight training seemed to occur only when large “unsafe” doses of caffeine were consumed. In fact, too much caffeine would have an adverse effect on exercise improvement according to research. Also, cycling caffeine use is also recommended.


Micronutrients Play an Important Role in Our Body Processes. Peopleimages E+/Getty Images

Micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals and play an important role in our body processes. Several outdated studies noted micronutrient deficiencies in dieting bodybuilders. Better nutrition information has been released for athletes since then making micronutrient supplementation a personal choice. The review does recommend “a low-dose micronutrient supplement may be beneficial for natural bodybuilders during contest preparation.” Future studies are needed to determine if micronutrient deficiencies still present eating a wide variety of foods as part of a training program.


Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation, Eric R Helms et al., 5/12/14

International Journal of Sports Nutrition, Food selection patterns of bodybuilders, Sandoval WM et al., 3/91

Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Metabolic profiles, diet, and health practices of championship male and female bodybuilders, Kleiner SM et al., 7/90

Sports Medicine Abstract, Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding, Lambert CP et al., 2004

Journal of Athletic Training, Position Statement, National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Safe Weight Loss and Maintenance Practices in Sport and Exercise, 6/11

Continue Reading