If you’re a hardgainer, you’ve probably become familiar with the hard truth that sometimes working hard just isn’t enough. Despite all the lip service paid to hard work in magazines and on posters, t-shirts and websites, if you’re a hardgainer, you also have to work smart. Working smart means supplementation, but there’s not a lot of information about the right supplements to take if you’re a hardgainer. There are a few supplements that, when used with the right diet and workout routine, can help you achieve faster gains of hard muscle.
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements for building muscle mass. There are a ton of different competing creatine supplements on the market, so it’s fairly easy to find one that is effective and fits your budget. The most recommended supplement, creatine monohydrate, has a lot of clinical research evidence backing it up as one of the most effective supplements at increasing strength and size.
In addition to helping your muscles grow and repair more quickly and effectively, creatine also allows you to extend your workout for a longer period of time by slowing down lactic acid buildup in your muscle tissue, preventing muscle fatigue and pain. This lets you push yourself just a little harder for a few more reps. A few more reps each time you work out actually adds up at the end of the month.
When to take it: Taking creatine about an hour before your workout provides you with an energy boost to push yourself harder, while taking it immediately after your workout as part of your post-workout supplementation improves muscle growth and repair.
Loading up on protein is necessary to pack on muscle. Whey protein is the best protein source for muscle building, since it is quickly absorbed and has more branched-chain amino acids than other natural protein sources. The quick absorption means that it is more readily taken up and used by your muscles to build and repair tissue, and the amino acids help jump-start new muscle tissue formation.
When to take it: Whey protein taken immediately after waking up provides protein and amino acids after the long period of fasting your body undergoes when you sleep. Post-workout whey protein is quickly absorbed and supplies your muscles with the protein and amino acids they need to repair and grow. Protein should ideally be taken throughout the day to leave plenty of bioavailable material for your muscles to use.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acid supplements contain leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids are essential amino acids that your body cannot produce by itself. Non-bodybuilders typically get enough of these amino acids in the food they eat, but people trying to gain muscle need much more than typical people. Leucine seems to be especially critical to protein synthesis, and keeping your body supplied with enough of it can make a huge difference in your gains.
When to take it: Take BCAAs immediately after waking up to replenish your body’s supplies following the fasting period during sleep. Taking some up to an hour before beginning your workout will provide you with a readily available source of energy while you exercise and delay catabolism. Since BCAAs are bioavailable and easily taken up by your muscles, taking them after your workout can quicken recovery time and encourages growth.
Glutamine is an amino acid that is naturally present in the body. Although your body can make its own glutamine, supplementation is a good idea for bodybuilders because glutamine levels are drastically decreased during exercise. Glutamine is responsible for a lot of muscle growth and repair, and if your body uses up too much glutamine it may enter a state of catabolism.
When to take it: Taking glutamine immediately after your workout can help speed up recovery.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids are necessary for muscle healing and growth. Keeping your EFA levels high can improve your stamina and lead to greater gains in muscle mass by preventing fatigue and allowing your body to recover more quickly. In addition to the benefits to your muscles, EFAs are essential to heart and immune health and can also improve your sleep.
When to take it: Space your EFA intake evenly throughout the day.
Layla Alexandar lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has had a passion for volleyball and weight training since she was a teenager. She attends the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and blogs at FitnessInsane.com.