If you are into weight training, seriously into weight training, you have probably been inundated with millions of different supplements, all promising to increase your performance by ridiculous amounts, pack on pounds of lean mass, and melt fat away. As you can guess, the vast majority of these are unproven, and give a placebo effect at best. In this list, you will discover 9 of the best supplements for weight training, backed up with research data.
However, believe it or not, there are actually a some supplements that are proven to be beneficial to the various goals of weight training. Whether it’s performance enhancement, size increase, fatigue reduction, inflammation elimintation, etc.
We have put together a list of 09 of the best supplements for weight training. This is NOT a sales pitch page – you will find no mentions of stores or brands or stores here. Only pure supplements which you can find anywhere. This also isn’t the type of fluff piece you’d find on a site like livestrong or men’s health. This is a real list, with real research to back it up. Check them out if you like! We link to everything.
Keep in mind that these are supplements. If your diet and training (especially diet) are no good, no amount of supplements will help you reach your perceived ‘plateau’. If you think you hit a plateau, but can’t deadlift more than 2.5x your bodyweight, eat more food.
So with that out of the way, take a look at our list of the best supplements for weight training. Consult a doctor before taking anything.
The Best Supplements for Weight Training
01) Creatine Monohydrate
This is probably the most obvious one – everyone knows that creatine just works. It has been around for a long time now, and it is proven to increase strength for resistance training (weightlifting) as well as anaerobic training (sprints) . It works by storing high energy phosphate groups in your muscle. During times of stress, the phosphate groups are broken, allowing the muscles to work at a higher rate before fatiguing.
We are talking about normal creatine monohydrate here. There are plenty of whacky forms out there that promise to be better in different ways – lower dosage (yet it’s more expensive per dose so what’s the point?) higher absorbability, etc. But these aren’t proven like monohydrate.
How to take Creatine Monohydrate: Take 5g per day, with food. Creatine is water soluble, but it is ‘heavy’ on the gut, so taking too much at once by itself can cause diarrhea. Make sure your water intake is good, because it will draw water from your other organs to the muscle. Many people like to load it at 25g a day for a week first, to make sure the body is fully saturated. This is safe, but for many people causes too much problems with upset stomach.
02) Beta Alanine
Some call this “Creatine 2.0″ more in reference to its noticeable effects than how it works. What beta alanine does is increase the levels of the amino acid carnosine in the muscle. Carnosine is an acidic molecule which is released in response to drops in pH. This has the effect of buffering lactic acid during prolonged periods of stress.
Essentially, where creatine is useful for short bursts of high strength (think of doing weights in the 5-6 rep max range, or sprints) (1, 2, 3) beta alanine is useful for endurance training (doing weights in the 12 rep max range, or doing interval training). (1, 2)
For people who do circuit training with short breaks in between exercise (under 1 minute), beta alanine will be extremely useful. Same goes for those doing HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). If this sounds like the type of training you do, stop now, go buy some beta alanine, and take it immediately. You can thank me later!
If you are the type who does super heavy weights with huge breaks in between, you probably won’t benefit from it. Most lifters will see a huge benefit from taking beta alanine and creatine monohydrate together.
How to take Beta Alanine: People who weigh around 200 lbs will need to take at least 6-8g a day for it to be effective, and it takes a few weeks to build up. There are plenty of lame proprietary blends that include beta alanine in low doses, but as you can see, the proven dose is quite a bit higher. Take a 100% pure form of the product, and split the dose by 2-3x per day. As you can guess, since it has a similar effect to creatine, but works through different mechanisms, it is highly synergistic with creatine. So by all means, take both.
Keep in mind that beta alanine has an interesting acute effect when ingested – it makes your face tingle. This isn’t dangerous, but some find it uncomfortable. If you find this to be the case, split it into more doses and/or take it with food. Once your body is loaded with beta alanine, I find that this effect becomes much less noticeable.
03) Whey Protein
This may be another one you’ve already heard of, but remember, this is a list of supplements that WORK. Assuming your training is being properly done, with either the weight or reps going up every time you repeat an exercise, your diet is just as important. To be able to reach your goals, protein intake needs to be increased pretty significantly. As a general guideline, studies show that 0.8 – 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight are effective. I recommend trying to stay on the high side of that, so if you weigh 200 lbs and are trying to gain mass, look to get at least 200-300g of protein per day.
I personally consider whey protein to be sort of between a food and a supplement. It is technically food, but its main goal is to supplement daily intake of protein. If you eat as much ‘normal’ food as possible, but still can’t hit your target, that is where whey protein comes in. Find one you like, and take enough to reach or exceed your target.
How to take whey protein: As mentioned, it is a food, so you can take it any time. A great time to take it is right after a workout, since that is shown to increase protein synthesis compared to taking it without exercise.
04) Fish Oil
If there was one supplement I think everyone should take, regardless of fitness goals, it’s fish oil. Fish oil has many benefits directly related to people who weight train: it lowers inflammation (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), which is extremely important, since you don’t want to be slowed down by sore joints. It is associated with improved body composition (lower body fat, and higher lean mass) (1, 2, 3). It is also good for your heart and blood (1, 2, 3), and can be an anxiolytic.
How to take fish oil: Anti-inflammatory effects seem to occur with around 1.6-2g of Omega-3 per day. In a typical supplement, this would be about 4-5 1g capsules per day. There are super concentrated forms which would require lower capsules per day, but the omega 3 dose would be the same.
05) Vitamin D
Like Fish Oil, there is SO much that vitamin D does for us. The problem is, our main source of vitamin D is the sun, and if you think about your daily life, you will probably realize that unless you live at the beach, you probably aren’t getting enough sun each day throughout the year.
Vitamin D has plenty of benefits, most importantly cancer prevention (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). This is possibly why, although the usage of sunblock has been increasing for the last 50 years, skin cancer rates have been increasing as well.
But I digress. Our main concern with vitamin D is with weight training, and its effects on regulating testosterone and other hormones (1, 2, 3, 4), and absorption of calcium (1, 2) (a very important mineral, but one that doesn’t need supplementation if you are eating enough. And if you are weight training, you should be eating more than enough).
How to take Vitamin D – The best way is to find out what your current serum levels are, and supplement until you reach at least 75nmo/L. You can buy test kits, but this might be a hassle for many people. A better guide is to base dosage on how much sun you get.
Here is a general guideline, based on a body weight of 200 lbs:
- During the summer (when the UV rating is at least 3): 1800-3600 iu per day
- During the winter (when the UV rating is under 3, or you don’t get any sun at all): 3600-7200 iu per day
Take with breakfast, or when you take your fish oil.
If you have tried creatine and beta alanine, and want to try something different, the next most useful performance enhancer is citrulline. Once it passes through the liver and digestive tract, it converts to Arginine before being absorbed by the muscle. Supplemental arginine exists, but the body absorbs citrulline much more readily. Any benefits found from Arginine can be attributed to Citrulline. Citrulline and Arginine are two of the three amino acids in the urea cycle, and has the effect of detoxifying the ammonia that is produced by using ATP (the ‘fuel’ of muscles during metabolism). Like beta alanine, it lowers pH, and limits lactic acid production. It is proven to improve performance in exercise (1, 2, 3, 4)
Its main selling point is usually as an ingredient in pre-workout ‘pump’ products. Indeed they stimulate nitric oxide, which is a potent vasodilator. Citrulline supplementation therefore does result in a ‘pump’ although the pump itself is not what makes it useful as a muscle builder or performance enhancer.
How to take Citrulline: Most performance enhancing benefits are found at the 8g point, taken before exercise.
Caffeine is easily the most popular drug used by people around the world. It has many health benefits, both acute and chronic, and some detriments as well, when dosage is not taken into consideration. We’ll only be considering it for workout purposes however, and for that, it has several key effects.
First, it has been shown to increase power output (1, 2, 3) especially when training in the 6-8 rep max range (1, 2). It can also help with cardio (short sprints) (1, 2, 3, 4) and is even more effective with endurance training (1, 2, 3, 4).
On top of all that, most people are familiar with the mood (1, 2) and stimulatory (1) effects. Supplementing caffeine can give you a ‘kick in the ass’ to get to the gym and work hard, which is why it’s the main component in every pre-workout supplement out there.
How to take caffeine: The thing about caffeine is that it is very highly adapted. If you take it regularly, chances are, many of its benefits will not be seen. Most of these studies were done on people who aren’t regular caffeine consumers. So if you do consume it regularly, cut back to the point where you are under 300mg a day or “two cups of coffee” a day. When dosing acutely, the most effective doses are in the 360-450 mg range. This is quite high, so be aware of your tolerance. Caffeine can lead to anxiety and panic attacks, so tread carefully.
As mentioned when we were talking about Fish Oil, an athlete’s worst enemy is inflammation. Actually this pertains to health in general – chronic inflammation leads to cardiac disease and cancer, so it is being studied extensively to prevent both. For us though, we just need to keep the chronic inflammation down in order to work out regularly and increase our performance. Fish oil is one way to help, the other is circumin (1, 2, 3, 4). It also has other benefits such as blood profile improvement (1, 2) (again, goes great with fish oil), and preventing/treating diabetes (1, 2).
Circumin is just one of those “take every day” supplements that everyone should consider, but it is especially useful for those suffering from inflammation or diabetes.
How to take circumin: Circumin is actually quite poorly absorbed by the body, as it barely makes it past the liver and intestinal tract. Therefore, it needs to be combined with a potentiating supplement, the most common one being piperine. Take 500mg circumin twice a day, and make sure to get a supplement that contains some piperine.
09) Branched-Chain Amino Acids
This one barely made it to the list, because honestly, it’s hard to come up with more than eight supplements for working out that are proven to work (but not illegal). Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are highly beneficial, but only really in specific circumstances – particularly fasted training. The reason for this is that if you are eating 1 – 1.5g of protein per lb of bodyweight, you are already taking BCAA’s in abundance. For instance, whey isolate, which we talked about earlier, contains about 7g per 25g scoop. The bottom line is, if you are eating a lot of protein, you are already getting a lot of BCAA’s.
The one time you will want to make sure to take BCAA’s is if you are into fasted training. In my opinion, fasted training is the only way to do it, but that is a topic for another time.
How to take BCAA’s: If you train fasted, take at least 10-15g before and during your workout. A warning – these taste awful, so you will want to take a flavoured BCAA drink mix. To keep costs down, you can add some pure powder to your mix, otherwise the cost will start to get up there.