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Building Muscle: Do You Need Supplements?

By dietitian Clare Wood

There are many components to gaining muscle mass; a good training program, the right nutrition, adequate energy and protein intake, genetics, and patience! These factors will all influence your size and shape. Whether you want to bulk up to look good, to increase strength, or improve your sporting performance … here are some important tips that will help you achieve your goals in the most sensible way.

bodybuilder posingsupplements can help build muscle

Let's start with Nutrition and Protein

Protein is an essential nutrient to gain muscle mass, but not the only nutrient needed! Enough total energy in the diet is more important. Energy comes from protein, carbohydrate and fats. Having enough food day-in and day-out is essential and can be tricky especially when you're active and busy. You may need extra energy every day to lay down muscle, and the quantity needs to align with your training goals.

It is important for athletes trying to gain muscle mass to meet increased protein needs, but huge protein intakes are not required. The amount you need is related to the stage of training, age and fitness level.

Get the basics right first then look for the extras!

Protein can be found in every day foods you eat, as well as in powdered and solid-food supplements. Nutrition is the best way to get your protein and energy requirements, due to the added benefits of antioxidants and fibre, but supplements can help to 'supplement' your needs.

Are You Meeting Your Nutrition Needs?

Energy requirements vary depending on size and activity level. Protein recommendations for strength training are 1-1.5g per kilogram per day. They may be more than this if you have just started doing a training program or have increased your exercise level from previously. Adolescents, 12-18y/o's who are growing rapidly, also need some additional protein. Animal proteins are particularly good at stimulating muscle growth.


the building blocks to lay down muscle


the fuel for the muscle to do the work required to stimulate growth.

Main meals should include a protein source like; Meat, Chicken, Fish, Eggs, Cheese, Yoghurt, Nuts and Legumes.

Also have high energy snacks throughout the day. Great high protein snack options include:

These options all contain around 10g of protein and 30-40g of carbohydrate, and are excellent for before exercise or for recovery to help build muscle during and after exercise.

Including carbohydrate with protein enhances muscle growth due to the insulin response.

It's all about the Timing:

Stimulating muscle growth is best when protein is eaten regularly across the whole day, and especially including pre-exercise and recovery snacks that include protein.

The post-training 'Window of Opportunity' for more rapid recovery of muscles is about 30-60 minutes.

Try and eat as soon as you can after exercise to help stimulate muscle growth!

What About Supplements?

Athletes should be able to get all the protein and energy they need from their diet. "Boring" I hear you say! It can be difficult to always eat the right amount of food and energy every day to achieve your body weight goals. If you're super organized, you can get adequate protein and energy from the diet. But there are times where supplements can be useful:

Which types should you choose?

Supplements come in many forms including bars, powders, drinks and tablets. They can be thrown in your bag and convenient for on-the-go eating. A suitable supplement should provide both protein and carbohydrate; a liquid meal replacement is a better option rather than a protein powder. Check the label of anything you think might be suitable.

Other things to consider:

There are real risks related to muscle growth supplements;

If you get 'drug tested' in your particular sport or at your level you need to be very careful what goes into your mouth! If you feel you need to take something, you must weigh up the RISK versus the BENEFIT, and seek advice.

The Key Strategies to Optimize Your Hard Work

If you want a more detailed plan, or advice about specific supplements, seek advice from professional sports dietitian.

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Sports Nutrition Extra

Athlete nutrition isn't just about weight loss. It is important to fuel the body optimally before, during and after exercise, as well as to stay hydrated. Supplements may also be required.

Weight Loss Extra

There are no simple answers. You should keep a healthy weight, consider one of these diets, though exercise is also important.

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