Any trainer, nutritionist, or body builder worth their salt knows one thing for sure: Building muscle takes more than just pumping iron.
Of course, you're not going to experience any serious gains in muscle strength or size if you don't exercise at least a little, but relying just on lifting heavy weights doesn't always guarantee you'll wake up looking like the Hulk.
Serious body builders know the importance of fueling muscle growth properly. Eating a high protein, clean diet full of healthy fats and veggies may help you lose fat while simultaneously giving your muscles the nutrients they need to repair and rebuild. But sometimes there's only so much muscular hypertrophy—or muscle building—one can achieve when relying on a whole-foods diet. You need a little help. That's why many gym-goers turn to supplements to help them achieve their goals, whether it be fat loss, an increase in muscle mass, or greater endurance.
But not all protein powders and pre-workout mixes are created equal. Check out our five fave natural supplements for real muscle gains.
A common amino acid found in muscle tissue, glutamine sources are depleted when muscles are worked to exhaustion. That can lead to decreased strength, endurance, and recovery. Not good if you're trying to get big! Supplementing with glutamine may increase muscle tone.
Try it: Thrive Market L-Glutamine
Already the darling of the Paleo world, dietary collagen is a building block of healthy muscle, tendons, ligaments, and fascia, making it an important supplement for recovery. Strenuous exercise like repeatedly lifting heavy weights (or any type of endurance training, for that matter) can help you build muscle. But this comes at the price of breaking down the collagen in your body, meaning those tissues can't rebuild themselves as quickly. Adding it into your diet may help tendons and ligaments. Add a scoop or two into your morning smoothie, or take it in pill form.
Try it: Vital Proteins Collagen Protein
The medium chain triglycerides that make up MCT oil deliver energy straight to the muscles you'll work in the gym. Plus, because growing muscles increases metabolic rate—which means you're burning more calories—most lifters need to increase their daily calories, too. MCTs are an easy way to get more calories per day without feeling like you're force-feeding.
Try it: Now Foods Pure MCT Oil
Organic whey protein
With 20 grams of protein per serving, whey protein is supplement of choice for most professional and new athletes alike. Not only does protein help support muscle mass, but whey protein offers branch chain amino acids, another building block of muscle. We opt for this organic version because it tastes great and doesn't have any unnecessary fillers. Plus, it's made from whey concentrate which means it's less processed, than whey isolate products.
Try it: Mattole Valley Naturals Vanilla Whey Protein Powder
Plant-based protein powder
Wanna get your daily dose of protein but find that whey gives you "bathroom problems"? First off, that's pretty normal. Because lactose and casein are two of the main components of protein in whey, they can cause some serious indigestion and bloating in those with a milk sensitivity.
Check out this raw vegan plant protein. At 30 grams of protein per serving, it outperforms its whey protein counterparts. Plus, it naturally contains probiotic powers that help keep gut bacteria healthy—which is super important if you're downing more food than usual or trying to burn fat.
Try it: Vega Sport Performance Protein
Getting into awesome shape doesn't require crazy chemical-laden powders and pills—you'll find that you can get the same results without the detrimental side effects by going clean and organic. Here's to your fittest year yet!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho