Google the phrase 'Best Supplements for Muscle Growth' and you'll be hit with a myriad of companies claiming their product is exactly what you need... The truth is they're probably just bullshitting you...
And it's not just the supplement companies. The same can be sent of online websites that have poorly researched articles giving mediocre advice. Either that's just pure laziness or there's some inherent link back to a supplement company they're surreptitiously promoting.
Where does that leave you in your quest to find out what you need to be doing to optimise your training in the gym? You're putting in the hours in the Iron Paradise and you want to make sure that you can squeeze every last drop of growth from your efforts. That's totally understandable. I'm the same!
But the search for the silver bullet that's going to bring you huge gains in 2017 has the danger of leading you down totally the wrong path. Listen to the advice in the articles from those first few Google hits or the glossy marketing of supplement companies and you'll be mislead. The promise of 'packing on muscle' will never live up to the hype. The sad reality is your desire for gains is only really going to lead to gains for supplement companies. In the form of YOUR hard-earned cash lining their pockets.
What you'll be left with is a face of bemusement and frustration as you're 3-6 months down the line and wondering where all that muscle you had been promised is hiding, because it certainly isn't on your body!
How do I know this is the case? Because I've been there.
I was were you probably are right now. Eager to pack on good quality muscle and start filling those t-shirts to bursting point. I'd scour magazines (internet wasn't as popular back then) and look through the products being advertised by the latest bodybuilders. I figured that if I wanted to build muscle, I should just copy what the big guys were doing.
Surely, if I followed what they did, minus all the steroids, then I'd have the golden ticket. Woo Woo! All aboard the Gain Train. Next stop Muscle City!
After burning through what probably amounted to several thousand pounds on these types of supplements it dawned on me that they weren't actually doing any good. I definitely didn't have 24-inch pythons like Hulk Hogan. And Ron Burgundy would've probably sold more tickets to his gun show than I would have to mine.
After researching genuine scientific studies into supplements and the opinions of well-respected experts in the field, I switched everything around. I now had a philosophy of not taking a single supplement UNLESS it was clinically proven to be effective. Whether that was in building lean muscle or reducing body fat, I didn't want to spend a single penny on a product that wasn't going to deliver results.
And this is what I'll guide you through in this article. I'll unearth the truth behind 3 supplements / ingredients that are consistently touted as being some of the best products on the market for boosting testosterone (and in turn building muscle). This won't just be my opinion either. Every statement and assertion will be backed up by scientific studies that I'll provide a link to, so you can verify things for yourself.
I don't want you to make the mistakes that I did. I don't want you to hand over your money for what only amounts to the equivalent of snake oil and placebo pills.
You'll be glad to hear that there ARE some supplements you can take that will beneficial in achieving your goals. At the end of the article, I'll also tell you what you SHOULD be doing and what supplements you SHOULD be taking if building muscle is your main aim.
Think of this article as your route through the sea of information that's out there. It's your lighthouse that's steering you away from the rocks and preventing you from running aground.
So let's get you on the path to gains and let's not waste any more time, money, and effort on BS supplements.
The first place to start is answering this question, "what the hell is boosting your testosterone supposed to do for you?"
Does an increase in testosterone lead to muscle growth?
What actually is testosterone?
Examine.com sums it up nicely here:
...testosterone is the most well known androgen that mediates androgenic processes such as muscle building, fat loss... it is sought after for its muscle building potential in men.
Testosterone is certainly one of the prime drivers of muscle growth. It's commonly known that use of anabolic steroids will significantly increase testosterone levels and correlate to development of large amounts of muscle mass. The effect of these steroids will mean that the amount of muscle you will put on will far outweigh what you are capable of naturally.
Therefore, logic would assume that any increase in testosterone levels will have some effect on the lean muscle growth. If you could increase your testosterone levels without the use of steroids (albeit not to the same degree) it will have a positive benefit to your physique.
Unfortunately, I have to burst the bubble pretty early on in this post.
It's proven that testosterone fluctuations within the normal range of a natural athlete has no statistically significant impact on the development of lean muscle. That's means, if your current testosterone levels are slap bang in the middle of average and you were able to boost levels up to the high end of what was physiologically normal, you still wouldn't see a dramatic difference in the development of lean muscle.
A 2003 study at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, California showed that when testosterone levels were in the normal range of c. 280 - 1,100 ng/dl there were no significant increases in muscle growth. It was only when the tested levels exceeded the normal range that the more dramatic changes were observed. To put that into a bit more context, that's around 20-30% higher than the top-end of what's considered normal.
How does testosterone change with age?
After about the age of 30 testosterone in the average male starts to decline at roughly 1% per year. And this is where supplementation with a testosterone booster starts to become a consideration for a lot of people. They're concerned their natural testosterone levels are on the decline, which is going to impact progress in the gym and result in years of frustration. We've just proved that the loss of testosterone is likely to have little or no impact, so you don't need to worry.
Besides, unless there's an underlying issue, it's likely that you'll still be within the normal range anyway. If you do believe you have low testosterone levels, which could be evidenced by loss of sex drive, impotence, and infertility then you really need to determine if that's being caused by expected testosterone loss through ageing or via another cause. Don't look for the answer in a fitness supplement. Go see a doctor!
Overall, what I'm saying here is that, even if the natural 'testosterone boosters' I'm going to dissect shortly DID actually work (which they don't to any discernible degree), there still wouldn't be much benefit in taking them.
To me, that's the very definition of worthless. Something that doesn't do its job and even if it did, it would be pointless!
I like to think of the testosterone booster as a chocolate teapot with a whole in the bottom.
'Testosterone Boosting Supplements'
Ok, so we've established that testosterone within natural levels is not really going to bring you the stacks of lean muscle you might have expected. You might see a boost within the natural range, which could improve your sex life, but in terms of the gym you're going to be sorely disappointed.
In this next section I'm going to put a few more nails in the coffin of these supplements.
Go back to that Google search for a second and change the phrase to 'Testosterone Boosters'. Just read aloud some of the names the Google returns. It never ceases to amaze me how these companies pander to a perceived image that everyone that goes to the gym and wants to build muscle and have a great physique is a mindless, chest thumping, no-neck, King Kong wannabe. The names are clearly made to make you conjure an image and impression that these products are basically natural steroids, with the same effects but without side effects.
Here's a few of the names to illustrate what I mean:
- 19-Anabol Testo
- Ripped Freak
- Testo Extreme
- Test Punch
- Testo Fuel
- Norateen Heavyweight
Get my point?
And here are a few phrases from the various marketing blurbs to get my point across a bit more...
...extremely potent, natural Testosterone and Growth Hormone booster, expertly designed by the R&D team of scientists, to deliver optimal doses of active ingredients, proven to simulate a rise in new muscle building hormones.
...a revolutionary, exhaustively researched muscle building supplement with one very focused aim...to smash down the barriers to growth by opening your testosterone floodgates.
The last one sounds great. I think I need to hire that copywriter.
So you can see that the marketing is very tempting. Opening your 'testosterone floodgates' sounds like you'll turn into a gym savage by swallowing the first pill.
Testosterone Boosters take many different forms with various different ingredients. Examine.com lists 38 separate ingredients under the search term 'testosterone booster'. These are all ones that have been studied to varying degrees to confirm or dispel the claimed benefits. The ingredients include D-Aspartic Acid, Horny Goat Weed, Fenugreek, Holy Basil, and Velvet Deer Antler. Some weird and wonderful ingredients I think you'll agree!
Who in the world first thought of using some Deer Antler to boost male hormones? The wonders of the human mind!
If I were to go through all 38 of these ingredients in detail I'd probably never finish this article, so I'm going to look at the three most commonly used. Those being Tribulus Terrestris, ZMA, and D-Aspartic Acid.
Tribulus Terrestris (which I'm going to refer to as TT from now on to save me from typing it every time) is a creeping herb that is widespread in China and also found in India. The fruits of the plant have been extensively used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a number of different conditions, such as eye trouble, edema (swelling), and high blood pressure. The fruit and roots of the plant have also been used in Ayurveda, which is a form of medicine originating in India. This entails the oral ingestion of herbs and supplements as a means of optimising health. It's been known to be used in the treatment of lower back pain and sciatica.
The fruit and roots of TT have mainly been used in the treatment of men with low libido where there have been studies to indicate that it has been effective in these situations. It's not exactly known how TT works in these scenarios but it is believed to be improve androgen (male hormone) receptor density in the brain, which may in turn enhance libido. It is also been shown in animal studies that it has anti-stress properties.
Though TT has shown promise in these two aspects, clinical studies have yet to prove that there is a benefit to sports performance through increases in testosterone or power.
In one particular study carried out at the School of Exercise Science and Sport Management in New South Wales, Australia, scientists took 22 elite Rugby players aged 19 (+/- 3 years) and trialled the use of TT and tracked its effects. The original purpose of the test was to determine if the use of TT would cause athletes to fail drugs tests because of the supposed boost in testosterone levels.
During the study, the men were divided into 2 groups. One group were given 450mg of TT and the other a placebo on a daily basis for a total of 5 weeks.
All of the Rugby players carried out their preseason training which consisted of heavy resistance training.
After the 5 week test there was a significant increase in strength and fat free mass for both groups. And there were no differences recorded in the testosterone levels of either group. Leading to the conclusion that TT had no effect on strength, muscle gain, or testosterone levels.
In another study at the University of Nebraska, 15 resistance trained men were again split into 2 groups to test the effects of TT. One group were given 3.21 mg per kilo of body weight and the second group given a placebo at the same time. The men then completed 8 weeks of periodised resistance training, during which body weight, body composition, and maximal strength were tracked and measured. At the end of the 8 week period there were no changes observed except within muscle endurance. The placebo group actually experienced an increase in bench press and leg press, whereas the TT group saw an increase in only the leg press.
You can clearly see that despite the promise of turning you into a chest-thumping, testosterone riddled alpha male, it just simply isn't the case. Tribulus Terrestris is definitely one to cross off the shopping list.
For those of you that are interested in digging into more of the research behind Tribulus Terrestris then I'd recommend reading these two studies:
- Short term impact of Tribulus terrestris intake on doping control analysis of endogenous steroids.
- The aphrodisiac herb Tribulus terrestris does not influence the androgen production in young men.
ZMA stands for Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate. It contains Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin B6. Well shouldn't that call it ZMVB then I hear you cry. Probably, but the acronym references the two main ingredients. And the company that first released the product no doubt thought ZMA was a bit snappier and would roll off the tongue better.
Before we get started on the science part of the analysis, let's continue the theme and look at what the supplement companies are saying about ZMA and its wonder powers...
Zinc and Magnesium is one of the most widely used dual mineral supplements in sports nutrition today. This is because of its high zinc content and ability to increase t-levels in male athletes.
So if that's to be believed, by popping some ZMA pills you're going to increase your testosterone levels, which is going to result in some awesome gains in the gym. You'll be like a pro athlete in no time, right?
Well yes, and no is the real answer. Let's look at the evidence.
Zinc is one of 24 micro-nutrients the body needs to survive. These essential micro-nutrients make up about 5% of the average person's body weight. Zinc is found naturally in foods such as eggs, meat, and legumes. Interestingly, oysters are also known to be a great source of zinc, so if you boys out there feel like you need to boost your zinc levels and get a little randy on the side, you now know you need to make reservations at your nearest seafood restaurant.
ZMA products come in a few variations, but there is a patented formula that the diligent among you will have seen on product labels and website if you've ever looked into the product. This formula contains:
- Zinc Mono-L-Methionine Aspartate, 30 mg.
- Magnesium Aspartate, 450 mg.
- Vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxine HCl), 10.5 mg.
The German Research Centre of Elite Sport at the German Sport University Cologne conducted a study using 14 regularly exercising men aged 22-33 years old. The men were tested for their zinc intake prior to the study, with levels ranging from 11.9 to 23.2 mg (around 11mg per day is considered average for a man). During the study the men supplemented with ZMA and carried out their normal exercise routines. At the end of the time period there were no significant effects regarding testosterone levels. Thereby showing that where zinc is at sufficient levels through normal diet, ZMA has no effect.
The lesson here is pretty clear... Make sure your diet is set up correctly to contain good sources of high quality protein and macro-nutrients. That's the best way to avoid a zinc deficiency and it'll probably be far cheaper and also help you in many other aspects of your training and nutrition.
Having said that... Zinc is a proven testosterone booster!
"Hang on Simon, if it boosts testosterone then surely it's beneficial? What figures?"
Hold your horses there my friend, remember what I said earlier about boosting testosterone levels but staying within the normal range? Well, increases in zinc will help you boost testosterone levels if you're at the mid to low end. But we've already proven that this wouldn't be much good anyway.
There's a common study used to promote the alleged benefits of ZMA supplementation. In the year 2000, research was conducted on Western Washington University American Football players by Dr. Lorrie Brilla. In the study, 27 participants took either ZMA or a placebo. The outcome of the trial suggested a significant difference between the two groups.
The group given the ZMA supplement saw an increase in muscle gains of 11.6%, which was more than double the 4.6% gains seen by the placebo group. Further to this, testosterone levels increased by 30% compared just 10% percent in the placebo group.
That all sounds great on face value. However, there have been several studies that have been carried since, including the one I've mentioned above and this one you can also read, which have dispelled the effectiveness of ZMA and theory suggests that the athletes involved were already deficient in zinc, which thereby meant that the testosterone increases observed were merely a boost within the expected range.
What's the bottom line on ZMA?
For me, diet is king. If you have this right then you've minimised the chance that you will be zinc deficient (or any other vitamin or mineral for that matter). Follow the 7 core principles of nutrition found in my Free ebook and you will have everything set up just right to make great gains, without the need for unnecessary supplementation.
As someone that exercises regularly is doubly important that your diet is on point. During exercise minerals, such as zinc will be lost through sweat, so it's important you're eating the right foods to keep replenishing those stocks as they get depleted.
To help you make some good food choices, here are some ingredients high in zinc that you may want to put on your shopping list:
- Fresh oysters
- Grass-fed beef, lamb, chicken
- Pumpkin seeds
- Ginger root
- Pecans, Brazil nuts, peanuts, almonds, walnuts
- Split peas, lima beans
- Oats or buckwheat
You can also take a good multi-vitamin as part of your daily nutrition plan. Most good ones will contain the same ingredients as ZMA and be far more cost effective. For example, the multivit I take costs roughly 12p per tablet and contains more than enough of each ingredient to cover any potential loss through my exercise programme.
The important thing is to not blindly take this type of supplement without considering the possible side-effects. Too much zinc in your diet could lead to numerous negative effects as evidenced in this extract from an article on sfgate.com
Consuming more than the UL (Upper intake Level) of zinc may cause abdominal cramping, vomiting, diarrhoea, severe headaches, nausea and a decreased appetite. One 2007 study published in "The Journal of Urology" reported that people taking 80 milligrams of zinc daily for an average of 6 years were much more likely to develop genitourinary disorders such as urinary tract infections, renal failure and benign prostatic hyperplasia. The Office of Dietary Supplements says that taking between 150 to 450 milligrams of zinc has been linked to copper deficiency, lowered immune system function and a decrease in the level of HDL, or "good," cholesterol.
If you are at all concerned about low zinc levels you can do a simple home test. Mix 50 mg of zinc sulphate in half a glass of water. If it tastes sweet, pleasant, or like water, then your body needs some zinc. If it has a strong metallic or unpleasant taste, you don't need it and are not zinc-deficient. Simples!
Aspartic Acid is on of 11 non-essential amino acids, which basically means that our body's produce it and there is no need for us to obtain in from the human diet. D-Aspartic Acid is described on Examine.com as;
D-aspartic acid (D-AA) is one of two forms of the amino acid aspartic acid. The other form is L-aspartate... D-AA works in the central brain region to cause a release of hormones... It may also build up in the testicles, where it alleviates a rate-limiting step of Testosterone synthesis, which leads to a minor testosterone increase.
So, in a nutshell (minor testicles related pun there) D-AA stops a step in the testosterone sythesising process that limits the amount produced. Sounds good then if you want to increase testosterone levels.
There are studies that exist, which are often used to highlight the benefits of D-AA on testosterone production. But once again, things are not always as they seem on face value. Let's have a look at a few of the studies in question.
Firstly, a lot of the studies are ones that were carried out on animals as opposed to humans. Here's a few studies you can check out. I've listed them using the animals that were the subjects for each test;
Now, I'm not going to get into a debate on the use of animals in drug trials, but I will say this... Whether or not you with use of animals in medical testing, it's been shown that it's not actually a reliable way of indicated the effect on humans. This article on livescience.com talks about a study carried out by the US Federal Drug Administration in 2004 that showed 92% of all drugs that were tested on animals failed to be approved following a full clinical trial. Add to that of the remaining 8%, half would be recalled for relabelling or removed altogether due to adverse side effects.
While D-AA might not have fallen into that recall bracket, the principle still applies as to how reliable the outcomes of studies on animals are in judging the effects on humans. I for one, would be sceptical.
There are further studies that have been carried out with humans and show D-AA to have a positive effect on boosting testosterone levels. However, in a similar way to some of the research I quoted earlier in the article, the subjects used were already experiencing some form of deficiency. And therefore, in my opinion, can't be cited as slam-dunk proof that it works and consequently should be on your supplement list right now.
A study carried out at Baylor University, is for me, the most pertinent study I've come across and the one that directly relates to you and I the most. Ideally, when looking at scientific studies, the closer the subject group is to you, then the more applicable the results are likely to be. For example, if you're a 30 year old male that follows a resistance training programme. A study that looks at a specific supplements effects on 65 year old sedentary women might not be the most relevant thing you'll ever read.
The Baylor researchers supplemented the diets of resistance trained men with either 3g of D-AA or 3g of a placebo. Body composition, muscle strength, and testosterone levels were there measured over a 28 day period, during which they trained 4 times a week.
What did the results show? Well ALL subjects saw significant increases in muscular strength and improvements in body composition. Highlighting the benefits of resistance training. What is crucial to not is that the hormone levels of each group were unchanged.
The moral of the story being, stick to the weight lifting if you want to see gains and ditch the D-AA.
I know some of you out there need more convincing on some of this stuff than others, which I totally get. A lot of the beliefs and perceptions of these types of supplements have been ingrained in us for years. Hell, it's this borderline brainwashing that got me to part with my cash in the past.
For the unconvinced of you out there, here's yet another study that shows the ineffectiveness on D-AA. An interesting point to mention in this one is that the researchers used 3 different test groups. One was a placebo, the second 3g of D-AA, and the third 6g of D-AA.
So if your thought process is to neck as much of the stuff as you can then make sure you read this next paragraph first.
24 males with at least 2 years' experience in resistance training, aged c.20 - 27 years old were split into the the 3 groups and measured for testosterone levels accordingly.
The results were quite surprising.
The group taking the 6g dose of D-AA saw a significant REDUCTION in total and free testosterone (free testosterone is the type you're interested in for weight lifting gains) compared to the placebo group.
That's right. A reduction! Even more staggering when you consider the placebo group were being given 3g of flour.
It was also noted that the group receiving 3g of D-AA showed no significant difference in testosterone levels.
What have we learned here?
What we've learned is that supplementation of D-AA can improve fertility in men experiencing those types of issues.
We've also learned that animal based studies aren't the most reliable for making assertions on a drug's effectiveness in humans.
Lastly, we learned that the typical dose of 3g is ineffective in elevating testosterone levels in experienced weightlifters and higher doses may actually have a detrimental effect.
So should you supplement with D-AA?
I'm hoping you don't actually need to ask that question, as the answer should be staring you in the face. NO!!!
If Testosterone Boosters aren't worth the money, what should you do instead.
The simple answer is... EFFECTIVE TRAINING & EFFECTIVE NUTRITION!
First things first. Boosting your testosterone levels significantly above the natural levels to a point where you'll notice significant muscle growth is going to take drugs. Not the ones you can get over the counter at your local pharmacy, but the ones that the dodgy guy at the gym sells out of the boot of his car.
My recommendation. Leave well alone and let others make that mistake. It's not worth risking your health for some extra muscle.
If you want to make sure your testosterone levels are at the highest levels they can be, then here are 10 things you can do without throwing your money at a load of supplements. Further detail on the 10 points can be found here.
- Lose Weight - Shedding a bit of that unwanted blubber can help give your testosterone levels a lift.
- Intermittent Fasting - Some studies have indicated that this weight loss protocol has a positive effect on testosterone levels.
- HIIT - High Intensity Interval Training not only helps shift the fat, but you may experience a testosterone uplift at the same time.
- Consume Plenty of Zinc - We've covered this one already. Get your diet right in the first instance and only supplement if you have a proven deficiency.
- Strength Training - Heavy weights. Low reps and compound exercises are the way to go here.
- More Vitamin D - Vit D can be difficult to obtain in sufficient quantities for a lot of people. Exposure to the sun is the best way, but supplement if you have to.
- Reduce Stress - Sometimes easier said than done, but stress causes the release of cortisol which can block the effects of testosterone.
- Limit Sugar Intake - Testosterone levels decrease after you eat sugar. You don't have to worry about eliminating it altogether, just be controlled.
- Eat Healthy Fats - Again. Get the diet right and have a good balance of foods high in good fats, ie nuts, avocado, and fish.
- Get Enough BCAAs - I sound like a cracked record, but get your diet sorted and focus on high quality protein consumption. No need to reply on expensive and ineffective BCAA supplements here.
Do you want an effective training and nutrition programme for 2017?
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and found the information useful. I research and write these articles because I want to bring some honesty and transparency into the fitness industry. I want to give you solid facts, backed by real evidence that will get you results. I'm not here to promote a supplement company, I do it because it's the type of advice I would've wanted to read a few years ago.
The summary of this article is that you don't need ineffective testosterone boosters to get maximum amounts of muscle growth.
What you do need is a training programme based on heavy compound weight lifting and a nutrition plan that's going to provide you with all the nutrients you need for a healthy, well-rounded diet.
And this is where I believe I can add true value for you.
My AESTHETICS THROUGH STRENGTH training programme is designed around these core principles and has been developed from my own experiences in and out of the gym. If you've not seen my very own transformation, then scroll down and see what this approach did for me.
I started off at 73.5kg and 11.5% body fat. Not a bad starting point, but very far from the physique I was aiming for. After 9 months on the programme I'd put on 11.5kg and dropped 2% body fat. I'd also had massive increases in strength.
Fast forward another year on to the pic on the right and I'm in the best shape of my life at 78kg and 6% body fat.
I committed to my goal, put in the work, and reaped the benefit in less time than I even thought would be possible:
But I don't think I'm a special case. I truly believe similar results are possible for anyone willing to put in the work.
YOU could just as easily be the one featured in on my testimonial page in 3 months time after an amazing transformation. Sounds good, right?
If you’re ready to build YOUR best body ever...if you want 2017 to be THE year that changes everything...then I want to help make it happen.
I want to work with you to make sure that positive change actually happens for you.
Whether it's a one off training and meal plan, a full 12 week total body transformation or my dedicated one to one coaching, there really is something for everyone. Explore everything that's on offer here.
And don't forget, I back up everything I say with my no questions asked 100% money-back guarantee. I believe that with your hard work and my coaching you can achieve your fitness goals.