Learn what to look for and avoid when shopping for a safe, effective muscle-building supplement
Anyone who didn’t just tumble off the Twinkies truck knows the rewards from making a commitment to fitness and physique development run deeper than being able to lift heavy objects or wear a swimsuit in public without getting red in the face. You know as well as we do that endeavoring to build our bodies is really an exercise in building our lives—in becoming stronger, in every sense of the word.
The link between a powerful body and mind has been recognized for ages. Thousands of years ago, the Greeks understood the importance of physical fitness to intellectual development. Plato himself was quite the exercise enthusiast, noting that wrestling helped him stay of sound body and mind.
What a feeling to know that as we toil away in the gym and resist the temptation to engage in carefree eating, we move ever closer to unlocking our full potential. And how fascinating to know that legitimate scientific research shows certain performance-nutrition supplements may help accelerate this pursuit.
Of course, not all supplements work, with most, we’d endeavor to say, bulking nothing but our credit card statement. Which ones do work? For many consumers, finding an honest answer to that question is like winning at roulette — spin the enormous supplement wheel and hope for the best.
At the end of the day, it’s you, the consumer, who gets screwed. There’s really no truly objective source for straight facts about sports supplements. Thus, the purpose of this article.
A little about us: We at the Sports Nutrition Journal have spent the better part of 10 years studying the effects of dietary supplements on body composition and performance. We don’t own a supplement company. We don’t publish any fitness magazines, which are dependent on advertising from supplement manufacturers and thus print biased reviews. We don’t get paid thousands of dollars to carry out “research” for supplement companies. There’s nothing “in it” for us to spin you a yarn about certain supplements. We’re just an organization comprised of people who, like you, is looking for safe and effective supplements that can give us an “extra edge” from the time we invest in eating right and exercising and who, like you, has had it with all the lies and deceit.
Of course, there are literally thousands of sports supplements on the market and writing a comprehensive review of each one would fill a book the size of the Oxford Dictionary. Busy lifters like yourself don’t have time for that. Thus, the purpose of this short report. We narrowed the thousands of bodybuilding supplements down to our Top 5, based on benefits, scientific research, ingredients, quality and verified consumer reviews.
Monster Mix is a complete post-workout muscle-building shake fortified with ion-exchanged whey protein isolate and concentrate, 5 grams of creatine monohydrate, 5 grams of glutamine, as well as a dozen more key ingredients, including Tongkat Ali, Siberian Rhodiola Rosea, Deer Antler Velvet, 5-Methyl-7-Methoxy-Isoflavone, and ZMA — all in clinically recommended doses. This is the best all-around formula to help you recover from your workouts, increase protein synthesis, optimize testosterone levels, increase sports performance and last but not least increase lean muscle mass.
This was one of only two products that was third-party tested and had no hidden additives or artificial ingredients.
Additionally, their return policy was topnotch—a comprehensive 60-day, risk-free, money-back guarantee, illustrating the company stands behind its products.
C9-T11 is another product from TeamANR, a Silicon Valley sports nutrition startup that specializes in supplements with ingredients made and manufactured in the United States. Absolutely no ingredient imports from China, which are used in 99.9% of the sports supplements you’ll find in GNC and online. Ingredients from China can be low quality and not always pure because China doesn’t have the same GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) the United States has.
C9-T11 is a potent anti-cortisol supplement that increases muscle size and strength by effectively suppressing this catabolic hormone in much the same way anabolic steroids do … only much more safely.
Cortisol is the reason why many athletes like yourself have a hard time gaining muscle … when you train intensely enough to stimulate growth, you’re also saturating your system with this muscle-eating hormone. It literally prevents rapid growth from happening after you train.
C9-T11, studies show, suppresses cortisol, disarming the catabolic bomb and supercharging the anabolic, hypertrophic response mechanisms … allowing you to break through old genetic-cortisol limitations and unleash your mass potential. Two recent studies confirm this:
9-FOLD INCREASE IN ARM GIRTH OVER PLACEBO: In a recent placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24 male novice bodybuilders were supplemented with C9-T11 isomers or a vegetable oil placebo while completing 6 weeks of bodybuilding exercises.1 Arm circumference and skin-fold measurements showed arm girth increased 9-fold in C9-T11 group compared with the placebo.
30-POUND STRENGTH INCREASE: A separate double-blind, placebo-controlled human study with similar design showed that after 28 days of supplementation, the C9-T11 group increased their strength by almost 30 pounds in lifts compared to only 9.5 lbs in the placebo group.2,3 Blood urea nitrogen levels were lower in men supplemented with C9-T11, suggesting an anabolic effect.
Creatine is known as one of the most effective supplements for gaining muscle mass and supporting muscle fiber growth. Creatine boosts the body’s protein synthesis within the muscle fibers, which can improve your muscle mass. Triggering muscles to grow occurs when they are overloaded under intense exercise. Creatine enables you to push harder and heavier to naturally trigger bigger, better muscle gains.
What’s more, creatine is one of the most researched supplements to boost strength and power by increasing phosphocreatine levels, which in turn boosts ATP energy production. The higher stored ATP can be converted into more energy and muscle power. Creatine supplements can increase the total creatine content of muscle on average of 20-30%, providing the fuel to take your training to a new level.
Creatine 5000 from EvLution is one of the more popular creatine products available at GNC and on Amazon and is a solid choice for its quality and purity (no added sugars or stimulants). The downside, however, is this product is not micronized, causing the creatine to clump and not dissolve fully in cold water.
C4 Pre-Workout Powder from Cellucor is GNC’s number 1 selling pre-workout supplement and has been around since 2011. The product is certified free of banned substances, making it a popular choice for professional athletes.
A big plus of C4 is the addition of CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine, a premium clinically studied beta-alanine, which has been shown to support muscular endurance and fight fatigue and may cause a harmless tingling sensation. However, CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine isn’t exclusive to C4. You can find this trademarked brand of beta-alanine in most popular pre-workout powders these days.
The knock on C4 is its archaic use of “proprietary blends,” a common practice of supplement companies who want to hide the exact amounts of ingredients in their products. Many supplement companies will sprinkle in low amounts of a certain ingredient, a practice called “pixie dusting,” and then include it among a host of other vitamins, minerals and ineffective ingredients so they can list a relatively high propriety-blend dosage.
Another common complaint is C4 tends to clump in cold water and may cause stomach upset in some people.
Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard 100% Casein is a pure, clean, quality slow-digesting protein and would be rated higher if not for its exorbitant price point: nearly $90 per 55 servings. That amounts to over $1.50 per 1-scoop serving.
Casein is often overlooked and underappreciated by bodybuilders and athletes in favor of faster-digesting whey protein, which is optimal immediately post workout.
Slow digestion and absorption, which casein provides, may be more beneficial at other times including bedtime when your body typically goes for hours without food. It’s like “timed-release” amino acids for your hungry muscles.
Optimum Nutrition has a history of setting one of the high standards for quality. Each casein shake mixes up effortlessly using just a glass and spoon, and tastes consistently good shake after shake. Again, the only issue is the extremely high price point. But it’s a quality choice if you can afford it.
- Lowery, L.M., et al. Med. Sci Sports Exerc. 30, S182.
- Ferreira, et all., J. Strength Cond. Res. 11.4:280.
- The Complete Guide to Strength Training, Anita Bean
- Sports Nutrition: Fats and Proteins, Edited by Judy Anne Driskell
- Macaluso, F., et al. J. Strength Cond. Res. Jun;26(6):1667-74.