Supplements for Lean Muscles

 October 18, 2019|  Lauren

Most people think they need to eat like powerlifters in order to gain muscle and increase their strength. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Changing up exercises from isolation to heavy compound lifts, reversing exercise sequence and using lower volume rep ranges can all lead to gains in strength over an extended period of time. There is another way to increase strength that is quicker, doesn’t require added calories and can help drive even greater results when combined with a proper strength-building workout program and proper nutrition plan.   Supplementing for strength and muscle gains is a complementary approach that can augment not just strength, but also your power, reaction time, endurance, lean muscle mass, and energy levels. There are many supplements on the market today that offer up improvements in strength, but few that actually deliver.  This post reviews five of the top supplements.



What Is it?

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that can be used to increase intramuscular concentrations of carnosine. Carnosine is a dipeptide that is made up of beta-alanine and histidine and has been shown to buffer pH in the muscle. Carnosine cannot be supplemented alone because it is broken down by the body. Histidine, on the other hand, is abundantly available in the body, but its presence does not influence carnosine levels. Beta-alanine is the rate-limiting step, ingestion influences intramuscular carnosine the most.

How Does It Work?

By buffering pH in the muscle cells, it allows for greater aerobic and anaerobic capacity. It has been shown in research to support increases in strength, power, training volume, and has been shown to reduce fatigue and increase energy and endurance levels. Beta-alanine has also shown even greater benefits when combined with another product on this list— creatine. When supplemented together, they showed increases in strength, lean muscle mass and decreases in body fat!

How Do You Dose It?

Try using 3.2 grams per day. Beta-alanine can produce a “tingle” and “flush” effect similar to niacin, which can be unpleasant for some athletes but can subside with continued use.


What Is It?

By far, creatine is the most popular strength supplement on the market today, and for good reason. It is the gold standard by which all other nutritional supplements for strength and power are compared. According to a position stand published by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training. There are many different forms of creatine available but by far the most researched form is still the traditional creatine monohydrate.

How Does It Work?

Creatine acts as a donor to adenosine diphosphate or ADP, providing a phosphate group to produce adenosine triphosphate or ATP, our muscles’ primary energy source. Supplementing with creatine increases the availability of creatine phosphate, which means there are more phosphates available for ATP re-synthesis and therefore more energy to force more reps and push up more weights, for a longer duration. It can improve many aspects of anaerobic exercise performance, including strength, power, sprint performance and maximize muscle contractions. Currently, there are several hundred peer-reviewed research studies that have been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of creatine supplementation, and of these studies, nearly 70 percent have reported a significant improvement in exercise capacity! You can expect to experience strength gains, but also gains in lean mass. Typically, first-time users experience an 8 to 10-pound increase in lean mass after an eight-week cycle!

How Do You Dose It?

Traditionally, the supplement dosing protocol for creatine is completed in two phases: a loading phase and a maintenance phase. A typical loading phase consists of ingesting 20 grams of creatine in four equal doses throughout the day for five days. Following the loading phase, a maintenance dose of 5 grams per day can help maintain intramuscular creatine. By up-front loading it can result in a greater rate of intramuscular creatine saturation. However, it has been shown in recent studies that a dose of just 5 grams per day for an extended period of four weeks can increase intramuscular creatine to the same level as a loading phase. Whichever dosing protocol you use, be sure to supplement for at least eight weeks. This will ensure maximum results!


What is it?

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) provide a convenient and easy way to ensure you have a positive nitrogen balance in the muscles, which can assist in building muscle and gaining strength. BCAAs consist of isoleucine, valine and the most important, leucine. Leucine stimulates the muscle-building processes when present in muscle cells.

How Does it Work?

BCAAs play a role in protein synthesis, increasing lean muscle mass, and muscular strength. By providing the body with a steady supply of BCAAs, it ensures muscles remain in a positive nitrogen balance, whereby the rate of muscle breakdown is balanced out by the rate of muscle building or protein synthesis. In order for muscles to grow, there must be a positive protein balance. It has been shown that the ingestion of BCAAs can peak plasma levels of amino acids in muscles, increasing anabolic response to exercise. The result? Increases in muscle building improved strength and decreased recovery time!

How Do You Dose It?

BCAAs can be taken prior to, during and after your workout to ensure there is an adequate supply of amino acids available to keep muscles in a positive state of nitrogen balance, and enable muscle building and recovery, while also allowing energy for workouts. BCAAs should be consumed in a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to valine and isoleucine, at a total dose of 10 grams.


What is it?

Caffeine is the mostly commonly used energy booster available. Most people have used caffeine for its energizing effect, whether by consuming your morning coffee or perhaps from a pre-workout supplement jolt. Caffeine’s long-term use as an energy booster is due to its ability to stimulate the nervous system, which can translate into more than just simply a boost of energy!

How Does it Work?

It is a potent central nervous system stimulant, but it’s also highly involved in increasing fat mobilization from fat cells into the blood where it can be used as energy. Caffeine’s stimulant properties have also been shown to boost muscular endurance and strength, delay the onset of muscle soreness during exercise and improve focus and concentration. It can also help boost metabolism and reduce hunger.

Caffeine increases the mobilization of fat cells for use as fuel, and can also increase the effectiveness of other stimulant-based supplements by blocking a key enzyme involved in degradation, allowing them to stay active for longer periods of time. This can result in prolonged energy and increased fat burning.

How Do You Dose it?

Intake of caffeine is partly dependent on your threshold and sensitivity. Typical dose of 200 to 400 mg before a workout will help to increase focus, endurance during workouts and help improve strength.  The exact dose is dependent on your tolerance and sensitivity to caffeine.  



What is it?

Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid that plays many vital roles when it comes to maximizing your workouts. Supplementation with citrulline can increase levels of other key muscle-building and strength-gaining nutrients, including creatine.

How Does it Work?

Citrulline can assist in the elimination of byproducts of protein metabolism, reduce the negative effects of ammonia, and can help eliminate the lactic acid burn experienced during workouts, reducing muscle soreness and fatigue. Citrulline can also increase anaerobic energy production, resulting in an increased number of reps per set. Lastly, it can increase aerobic energy production by increasing the rate of muscle energy or ATP production during exercise.

How Do You Dose It?

Citrulline should be taken along with the other strength-gaining nutrients on this list, approximately 30 minutes prior to your workout. A dose of 1 to 3 grams is recommended.



Artjoli GG, Gualano B, Smith A, Stout J, Lancha A. (2010). Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosineand exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 42(6): 1162-73.

Bendahan D, Mattei J, Ghattas B, Confort-Gouny S, Le Guern M, Cozzone P. (2002). Citrulline malate promotes aerobic energy production in human exercising muscle. Br J Sports Med. 36(4): 282-9.

Hoffman J, Ratamess N, Faigenbaum A, Ross R, Kang J, Stout J, Wise J. (2008). Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players. NutrRes. 28(1): 31-5.

Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, Bell PG, French DN. (2012). Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J IntSoc Sports Nutr. May 8;9(1):20

Janeira MA, Maia JR, Santos PJ. (1998). Citrulline malate effects on the aerobic-anaerobic threshold and in post-exercise blood lactate recovery. Med Sci Sports Exer. 30(5): 880s.

Kilduff LP, Vidakovic P, et al. (2002). Effects of creatine on isometric bench press performance in resistance-trained humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 34(7): 1176-83.

Kreider, R., Ferreira, M., Wilson, M., Grindstaff, P., Plisk, S., & Reinhardy, J. et al. (1998). Effects of creatinesupplementation on body composition, strength and sprint performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc, 30, 73–82.

Norton & Layman. (2006). Leucine regulates translation initiation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after exercise. J. Nutr. 136:533S-537S

Pasiakos SM, McClung HL, McClung JP, Margolis LM, Andersen NE, Cloutier GJ, Pikosky MA, Rood JC, Fielding RA, Young AJ. (2011). Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances post exercise muscle protein synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. Sep;94(3):809-18.

Perez-Guisado J, Jakeman P. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 24(5): 1215-22.

Spriet LL. 1995. Caffeine and Performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition. 5S: S84-99.

Tarnopolsky MA. 1994. Caffeine and endurance performance. Sports Med. 18(2): 109-25.

Volek JS, Rawson ES. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. 17(4): 822-31.

 October 18, 2019 | Lauren

About the Author

Lauren Jacobsen is the Director of Nutrition for Kcal Brands and the Head of Fuel Up. Lauren has over 15 years of experience in nutrition and supplementation focused on physique athlete development. Lauren is also a former IFBB competitive figure athlete, and long time contributor to fitness magazines worldwide.

Leave a reply

Don't waste time prepping food

Get fresh healthy meals delivered to your door and tailored to your specific nutritional needs

Order Fuel Now

Follow us on Instagram


Clean, healthy eating.
Zero prep time.

Order Fuel