Why We Take Supplements, Even Though We Eat Healthy

What are Muscle Building Supplements?

Muscle building supplements, also known as bodybuilding supplements, are a dietary aide commonly used by athletes and those interested in bodybuilding and working out. These supplements are often used as a way to replace meals to keep weight down, there also used to gain weight, lose weight and improve performance athletically.

Among the most widely used types of supplements include testosterone boosters, weight loss supplements, creatine, essential fatty acids, branched chain amino acids, vitamins, glutamine, meal replacers and protein to name just a few.

Supplements are sold a few different ways. You can buy them as a single supplement with one ingredient, or you can buy them in the form of stacks, which is a proprietary blend of different supplements that offer advantages and work synergistically. Many members of the general public will consume bodybuilding supplements, but depending on the bodybuilder, the frequency of use will vary.

Muscle Building Supplements Categories

Muscle building supplements in the modern world are often specifically marketed as a way to promote certain desirable effects in the body, including improving nutrition, improved weightlifting performance and body composition enhancement. The supplements for weightlifting are typically categorized by the way that they are marketed.

Some of the supplement categories are based on biochemical or physiological processes, and in these instances their use in the bodybuilding world is typically colored by marketing terms and bodybuilding lore. This often requires companies to considerably deviate from the real scientific usages of the supplement terms.

Protein Shakes

A common bodybuilding supplement that is often used by weightlifters is the protein milkshake. It is a combination of milk and protein powder, and body builders will often take it right before or after exercising. It’s also used to replace meals.

Some styles of protein shakes are to be taken right before a workout. Other types should be taken immediately after a workout. And then there are other types of protein shakes that work best when taken before going to sleep.

In theory, bodybuilders take muscle building supplements because they are working out so hard that they need the added boost of protein in order to provide the maximum muscle growth.

For men and women, the recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.80 g per kilogram of body weight. Nitrogen balance studies have carefully analyzed the information to come to this conclusion.

“In view of a lack of compelling evidence to the contrary, no additional dietary protein is suggested for healthy adults undertaking resistance or endurance exercise.”

At this time, we have not reached a consensus as to whether or not people performing bodybuilding training will benefit from amino acids or protein supplements.

Protein supplements come in a number of different types: bars, oats, bites, gels, powders and ready to drink protein shakes. Protein powders are also available in a number of different flavors.

  • Whey protein – this ingredient contains a potent amount of branched chain amino acids and essential amino acids. It also contains the highest level amounts of cysteine, which helps to aid in the biosynthesis of glutione. Whey protein helps to aid muscle recovery for bodybuilders because of the amino acids. This substance is derived from the process of using milk to make cheese. And whey protein comes in three different types: whey hydrolysate, whey isolate and whey concentrate.
  • Casein protein – this substance, also known as milk protein, contains casomorphin and glutamine.
  • Soy protein – this protein is derived from soybeans and it contains isoflavones which is a type ofphytoestrogen.
  • Egg white protein – this protein is dairy and lactose-free.
  • Hemp seed – this protein is high in essential fatty acids and it contains hemp oil as well as a highly digestible protein.
  • Rice protein – this complete protein, when made from the whole-grain, is an excellent source of allergen free and highly digestible protein. Rice protein has a low amount of the amino acid lysine, so when combined with pea protein powder, it is typically looked at as a superior product with an excellent amino acid profile.
  • Pea protein powder – this protein has a light texture and is hypoallergenic. The amino acid profile is very similar to soy, but it does not generate concerns for the potential effects of phytoestrogen. It is a less allergenic supplement than soy as well.

For the most part, athletes as well as bodybuilders believe that they need to have an increased intake of protein in order to enhance their workouts. But at this time, there is no exact amount specific for the population. Remember, each bodybuilder has a highly individualized system, they work out at their own pace and duration and each person has their own physiological makeup.

Body size, gender and age can also play a role as to the amount of protein needed. Some experts believe that taking protein shakes is unnecessary. They say that most of the shake users already get enough of this substance throughout their regular diet. On the other hand, there is evidence to support that protein shakes are the superior option to whole food as far as enhancing muscle mass in the one hour window after an intense workout.

Dietitians have suggested that vegetarians, low-calorie dieters and haphazard eaters could experience benefits from protein supplements as they train. On the contrary, with those following vegetarian diets, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies says: “available evidence does not support recommending a separate protein requirement for vegetarians who consume complementary mixtures of plant proteins.”

If one was to overdose on protein they could experience a loss of appetite, and for dieters this might be useful. Nutritionists also say that osteoporosis is brought about by excessive protein intake because protein puts added pressure on the kidneys. It could also lead to bone loss because of calcium leaching.

But there is new research that casts a shadow of a doubt over these claims. This research suggests that higher calcium excretion could possibly be due to increase calcium absorption in the intestines because of the protein intake. It is well-known that dietary protein is important for bone growth. There are certain studies that have even found the increased formation of bones when exchanging dietary carbohydrate for protein.

In 1998, Tarnopolsky et al performed the research that showed that individuals into bodybuilding could benefit from 0.96 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day and said this is the recommended amount. For endurance athletes, they typically require 1.34 g per kilogram of body weight per day.

According to these findings, it indicates that the need for protein is actually lower than someone might expect. And based on this research, they tell us that protein supplements are not nearly as effective as everybody wants to believe.

Please also note that both levels are much higher than recommended for the general population which is 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

This study came to the conclusion that “bodybuilders during habitual training require a daily protein intake only slightly greater than that for sedentary individuals in the maintenance of lean body mass and that endurance athletes require daily protein intakes greater than either bodybuilders or sedentary individuals to meet the needs of protein catabolism during exercise.”

Branched Chain Amino Acids

As we know, amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein. When the body breaks down protein it turns it into amino acids in the intestines and stomach. These acids are classified as essential, nonessential and conditionally essential. Branched chain amino acids come in three forms: valine, isoleucine and leucine. Every one of the branched chain amino acids are also essential amino acids. They have a number of different benefits on biological processes within the body. BCAA‘s have an anti-catabolic/anabolic effect and are metabolized within the muscle.


As far as the human muscle is concerned, glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found within it. It’s also commonly found in many muscle building supplements as a soluble powder. The reason they are in supplements is because manufacturers say that the natural glutamine stores in the body are depleted during exercise. Some studies show that this is not necessarily true.

Essential Fatty Acids

The essential fatty acids, also known as linoleic acid and alpha linoleic acid, are an important bodybuilding supplement that is not readily made in the body. These fatty acids are essential for certain bodily functions to take place.

Fatty fish are particularly abundant in essential fatty acids, including trout and salmon, and many people take fish oils in supplement form in order to get their essential fatty acid intake.

A more natural way to get EFA’s is through flaxseed oil. This oil is an abundant source of alpha linoleic acid. You can also find alpha linoleic acid in pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

Meal Replacement Products

These products are typically prepackaged powder drinks or edible bars and they are usually low in fat and high in protein. Typically they have a low to moderate amount of carbohydrates, and they often have lots of vitamins and minerals. Many meal replacement products contain soy protein, calcium caseinate, whey protein, maltodextrin, brown rice, wheat flour, flax oil, protein, oat fiber and egg albumin. Some other popular ingredients are creatine, glutamine peptides, L glutamine, conjugated linoleic acid and medium chain triglycerides to name a few.


These precursors to hormones are typically sold in bodybuilding products. They are the natural hormone testosterone precursor. Some side effects include extra estrogen and DHT. Many supplements contain DHT blockers, aromatase inhibitors and more.

Testosterone Boosters

  • Creatine – this organic acid occurs naturally within the body and it supplies energy to the muscle cells. Many scientific studies show us that creatine can improve muscle mass, recovery times, energy and strength.
  • Thermogenic Products – this term is very broad for a supplement, but the manufacturer will typically claim that this type of supplement can cause thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is an increase in body temperature. Until the year 2004, just about every product with thermogenic properties was made of the ECA stack, which is a combination of ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin. The FDA banned the sale of ephedra and ephedrine on February 6, 2004 so manufacturers were forced to replace the ephedra component. They now use bitter orange and citrus aurantium to replace ephedrine.

Known Side Effects of Muscle Building Supplements

The Food and Drug Administration, otherwise known as the FDA, has reported that each year there are more than 50,000 health problems that arise due to dietary supplements. Many of these health issues are caused because of bodybuilding supplements. This is a serious problem and it needs to be looked at as such. Supplements are not bad but certain manufacturers abuse the system and put products into their supplements that really do not belong.

As a prime example, the supplement “Craze,” which was considered to be a natural bestseller and listed as the New Supplement of the Year in 2012 by bodybuilding.com and sold at major retailers including Amazon and Walmart, contained an undisclosed amphetamine like compound. Obviously amphetamine is not a natural supplement, so the company is creating a product under false pretenses.

Matt Cahill, the creator of “Craze” and many other products, was known to use dangerous substances that cause liver damage and blindness in his other products as well. This is a shady industry in many instances, and Cahill is considered emblematic for the entire industry.

Liver Damage

Throughout the years, the occurrence of liver damage created by dietary supplements has tripled in more than a decade. Many of the supplements causing unnecessary liver damage was from the muscle building supplements that were bodybuilding related. In some cases, people suffering from these problems required a liver transplant in order to stay alive. Unfortunately, many of the individuals that experienced liver problems often died.

In many cases, roughly 1/3 of the supplements involved in the liver damage cases contain steroids that were not listed. This is an alarming problem to say the least. The chairman of the hepatology division at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, Dr. Victor Navarro, says that “while liver injuries linked to supplements were alarming, he believed that a majority of supplements were generally safe. Most of the liver injuries tracked by a network of medical officials are caused by prescription drugs used to treat things like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”

About Molly Bright

As a fitness fanatic, Molly Bright knows a thing or three about the subject. She’s the proud owner of some second-hand gym equipment that she uses religiously. At least she does when she’s not researching, and penning, great health and fitness articles!