The Essential Muscle Building Supplement Guide

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Last updated on May 22, 2023

The nutritional supplement industry is big business. Unfortunately, a lot of those dollars are being made on the back of ignorance, false advertising, and people’s obsession with finding the ‘secret’ to fast fat loss and massive muscle gain. What’s needed is a common sense, science-based guide to the supplements that you REALLY need to support your body transformation goals. That is precisely what this guide intends to be.

Do You Really Need Supplements?

The answer is yes, but with a qualification. Supplements are by their very definition intended to be an adjunct to a healthy diet. Unless you are covering all of your nutritional bases with a macronutrient-balanced diet that delivers the protein you need for muscle gain, the carbs for training energy, and the healthy fats that promote fat loss, you will be simply wasting your money on supplements. So, get your nutritional basics sorted out before you start spending money on supplements.

Working out places a lot of stress on the body. In order to meet those demands and undertake the bodily repair and recovery that is needed, exercisers need more nutrients than sedentary people. Even when you are following a healthy, balanced diet, there are a number of nutrients that you probably won’t be getting in sufficient quantity to meet your body’s needs.

Two Supplementary Essentials

There are literally hundreds of supplements that are being marketed as essential for resistance trainers. However, we’ve pared it down to two essentials that every serious trainer should be taking on a daily basis. Let’s drill down on them:


There are 21 micronutrients that have been identified as being essential for health. The Standard American Diet doesn’t meet the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) on any of them! Even if you are eating much better than the Standard American Diet (which you definitely need to be doing!), you still won’t be getting the required amounts of these essential micronutrients. That’s because the intensive farming practices of the past century have drastically depleted the mineral content of the soil that our foods are grown in. Throw on top of that the herbicides and pesticides that are used on crops and it becomes virtually impossible to get your vitamin and mineral requirements from whole foods.

Another factor that dramatically increases our multivitamin needs is the use of prescription drugs. Many drugs severely deplete our nutrient levels. So does chronic stress.

When selecting a multivitamin look for a product that binds the minerals with amino acids rather than mineral salts. These are more readily absorbed into the body.

Fish Oil

Fish Oil has been recognized as among the most important supplements of all. In fact, most nutritionists agree that if you could only take one supplement, this one would be it. Fish Oil provides you with an excellent source of the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These two fatty acids boost the cell signaling that allows for enhanced fat burning for energy.

The high thermic effect of fish oil increases the body’s calorie burn. It also increases insulin sensitivity. There are also a host of cognitive benefits that derive from increased fish oil consumption. Sixty percent of the brain is made up of fatty tissue, much of it being omega 3 fatty acids. Fish oil has also been shown to support heart health, improve eyesight and reduce inflammation.

We recommend taking a fish oil supplement that provides you with 300 mg of EPA and DHA daily.

Why You Need A Pre-Workout Supplement

To allow your body to perform at its best, you have simply got to provide it with the right fuel to do the work. The hour before your training session is the critical period to get the nutrients into your system. The prime requirement is energy. And that means carbohydrates. The carbs that you consume, though, must be those that are able to be used as an immediate fuel source for your workout. To achieve that, you need to plan your carb intake smartly.

Start with a Whole Food Meal

Your first pre workout meal should be consumed about two hours before the workout. Plan to take in approximately half the number of calories that you’ll be burning during the upcoming workout. About 60% of those calories should come from a complex carb, such as oatmeal. These carbs will release energy slowly over the next couple of hours to provide the power base for your workout energy.

Get Stacked

About 30 minutes prior to your workout, you should have a second meal. This is where you should be taking a pre-workout stack. This will, in effect, be a shake that contains a number of key components to fuel you through the best training session of your life. It should contain fast-digesting, high glycemic index carbohydrates to provide immediate energy release. But that’s just the start. A great pre-workout stack needs to include several other key nutrients.

The Strength & Power Boosters


During your workout, when insulin levels are high, beta-alanine rushes into the muscle fiber where it combines with the amino acid histidine to form carnosine. Carnosine helps buffer the acidity level inside muscle fibers so they can contract with more strength for longer periods.[1]

Research shows that supplementing with beta-alanine increases muscle strength, power and endurance.[2]

Ideal Dosage – 2-4 g


Betaine is a modified amino acid that is derived from beetroot. Clinical studies have shown that it helps to boost power and strength when resistance training.[3]

Ideal Dosage – 1500-3000 mg


Creatine has been proven in hundreds of studies to improve power and strength when resistance training. It delivers the extra phosphocreatine that your body needs to restore its ATP (adenosine triphosphate) stores. ATP is the body’s main energy source. Yet, after around 10 seconds of intense exercise, your body will exhaust its ATP supplies. Creatine will provide the boost you need to complete those last couple of muscle-stimulating reps.[4]

Many guys choose to take their creatine separately from their pre-workout.

Ideal Dosage – 3-5 g

The Energy Boosters

The following are non-stimulant energy boosters. They enhance endurance without stimulating the central nervous system.


The amino acid tyrosine has been clinically proven to increase training endurance without any jittery side effects. It also improves stamina and focus. It is used by the body as a precursor to the key neurotransmitters epinephrine and dopamine.

Ideal Dosage – 1-3 g

B Vitamins

The B-Complex vitamins, especially B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin), are vital for the body’s production of energy. Their main job is to convert food into energy. Other B Complex vitamins to look out for are thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and folate (B9).[5]

Ideal Dosage: B6 – 50-100 mg; B12 – 50-400 mcg (micrograms)

The Stimulants

Stimulants will give you a buzz but this will be short lived. Always check off the strength and energy boosting ingredients before looking for stims.


We all know that caffeine is a powerful central nervous system booster. However, the voluminous research done on the world’s most popular stimulant has also been shown to be a powerful strength and muscle builder as well as blunter of muscle pain. Look for the anhydrous form of caffeine which has been shown to be the most effective. Be sure to stay under the maximum recommended dosage to avoid a dramatic energy crash and jittery reaction.[6]

Ideal Dosage – 200-400 mg

Yerba Mate

 Yerba Mate is a plant, the leaves of which contain a blend of xanthine alkaloids which work together to provide an energy kick to ramp up your training intensity. There is no post high crash or jittery reaction with this ingredient. For people who are sensitive to caffeine, this is the way to go.[7]

Ideal Dosage – 500-1000 mg

Pump Providers

In order to achieve a pump in the gym you need to boost your nitric oxide (NO) levels. NO is a vasodilator which expands the blood vessels to allow more blood to surge into the muscle.


The body takes citrulline and converts it into arginine. It then becomes nitric oxide. Taking citrulline before arginine will boost the body’s blood levels of arginine. Arginine taken directly will see a lot of it taken up by the intestines.[8]

Ideal Dosage – 3-6 g


Arginine converts directly to nitric oxide in the bloodstream. To get as much arginine as possible to do that, look for such alternatives to l–arginine as arginine-AKG or arginine-HCL.[9]

Ideal Dosage – 3-5 g

 Wrap Up

A quality pre-workout, taken 30 minutes before you head to the gym, will allow you to train harder for longer. When assessing a pre-workout, rather than being swayed by the marketing hype, go directly to the ingredient list and check it off against the essential list and dosages we’ve provided here. Ideally, it should contain at least four of those ingredients. Remember, though, that a pre-workout is not a magic bullet. It is a supplement to proper nutrition and intense, focused training. Get those elements on point, and your pre-workout will provide that extra edge to fuel a killer workout.

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Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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