From scrawny to brawny, it's the skinny boys dream. Short of grunting out the heaviest lifts you can in the gym and posting #gains posts of all your meals, what else can be done to help you stack some size.
When it comes to gaining size, it's not as easy as we’re led to believe, it can take years, despite supplement companies promising to take you from zero to hero faster than Captain America. We’ve sifted through the clever marketing to separate the gains from the gimmicks. Discover what supplements actually work, why and how below, then, the rest is down to you.
The 5 best weight gaining supplements
Whey protein is the biggest contender when it comes to protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is the process needed to build new muscle, so when it comes to gaining weight, it's crucial. The reason whey is the best type of protein for this is because it is fast to digest and contains peptides which help to increase blood flow to the muscles.
When to take: Research has shown a high protein breakfast can help to maintain lean muscle, combine with your morning oats for a muscle building brekky. Whey is best for consuming post workout as this is your ‘anabolic’ window, where the protein will be used to repair the muscles used in your workout. 1-2 servings of a clean protein shake should be taken within 30 minutes of training, but whey can also be used as a snack at anytime throughout the day to keep your protein intake high.Try to buy a protein which is as organic as possible and always read the ingredients to check it has a high protein content rather than cheaper less effective mixes.
Casein Protein is a slow digesting protein ideal for bedtime use. Obviously as you sleep you're not ingesting any more food to make you gain weight (unless of course you sleep eat, but that's another story) and therefore it’s a good idea to have a casein shake before bed, as its slow digestion will keep you from going catabolic overnight. For serious gainers casein has also been proven to keep you LESS full, meaning it's easier to pack in as much as possible, remember new muscle can’t grow from nothing, you have to feed it.
When to take: Casein is best about 30 minutes before you go to bed, however some people mix it in with their regular shakes between meals.
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in meat and fish as well as being naturally produced by the body in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Creatine is converted into creatine phosphate, which we use for energy during high-intensity, short duration exercise, such as sprinting or heavy weight lifting. Creatine supplements can be bought in various forms, from flavoured powders to pills. They are taken in order to enhance the body's ability to create energy and increase muscle mass. The increased energy from creatine enables users to lift more in the gym and, therefore, create more muscle mass. Creatine also increases weight gain by drawing water into the muscles, giving the illusion of a fuller, swollen physique, this stretch on the cell encourages more long term growth.
When to take: It is recommended you take 2-5 grams of creatine immediately before workouts. This helps keep your muscles saturated with creatine and provides extra energy to perform more explosive heavy lifts. Post-workout consume another 2-5 grams as creatine will be rapidly taken up by muscle cells during this anabolic window. On rest days, it is recommended that a creatine cycle is maintained by taking 2-5 grams of creatine with a breakfast that contains carbohydrates.
BCAA, stands for branched chain amino acids. These are composed of 3 of our 9 essential amino acids, essential because our bodies do not produce them naturally and, therefore, they have to be sourced through diet. BCAA’s are made up of valine, leucine and isoleucine. Leucine is the most important of the three, as research shows that it can stimulate muscle protein synthesis on its own. Despite this, it's still best to take all three, since they work together to provide muscle growth, increased energy during workouts and decreased DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness).
When to take: Recommended doses of BCAA take servings at breakfast, pre and post workout.
(The one that makes you want to scratch your face off)
If you’ve ever taken beta alanine, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Beta alanine is an amino acid which when combined with histidine, forms carnosine. Carnosine has been shown to increase the muscle fibers ability to contract with more force, for longer without tiring. However supplementing with beta-alanine can take some getting used to. Around 15 minutes after ingestion, you may experience the itch. Typically a prickling/flushing sensation is felt on the surface of the skin, which may be uncomfortable but is harmless.The beta alanine itch is the result of nerve endings underneath the skin being stimulated and firing at a higher than normal rate. It is not a cause for concern and is experienced by the majority of beta alanine users. Research found that 3.2 grams of beta alanine supplemented on a daily basis raised intramuscular carnosine levels by around 80%, leading to increases in muscle size and strength.
How to take: Take 1 serving prior to you workout and test your sensitivity, gradually increase to 2 servings.
So those are our top 5 muscle building supplements, remember the hard work is still down to you. They say the day you started lifting, is the day you became forever small, because you will never be as big as you want to be… but they also say if you never try you’ll never know.
Good luck gainers!
Further reading on Weight Gain Supplements
It is worth noting that like with most nutritional advise it is best to either seek advise from a registered dietitian or use government websites.
Food.gov.uk is a government website run and publishing information for real case studies, research and document evidence. Typically most government websites will agree and share information with each other. The UK may say eat 5 fruit and veg a day. Australian government will recommend 7.
Ni Direct has a nice post about weight gaining consequences. Again this is a government run website and the information will be backed up with research.
For weight gain supplements and information, even the government do get it wrong. Everything used to be about low fat. Now it is low sugar. Here is a post on weight loss (and please do take it with a pinch of salt and do your own reading) on government information that may have been published and wrong.
When it comes to weight gaining in general, the more you put in your body over what you burn in a typical day will be counted as weight gain. But when you are training, you really want the weight gains to come from muscle. Not fat.
If you have some spare time there is a downloadable PDF from the food standards agency here on healthy eating.
Just make sure any plans for weigh gain and supplements for weight gain is part of a healthy, balanced diet.
If your budget can stretch to some professional one on one advise then try searching for a freelance dietitian on the Freelance Dietitians website, which is run in conjunction with the British Dietetic Association (BDA)
Registered dietitians are qualified experts in diet and nutrition. They give advice on all aspects of eating and diet. This includes special diets for medical conditions, such as a diet for someone who has coeliac disease.
The title "dietitian" is protected by law. This means you are not allowed to call yourself a dietitian unless you are properly qualified and registered with the HCPC.
If you are reading this page, think of yourself to be part of the luck few bucking the trend of being overweight. Keep up the training.
Weight Gain in Muscle for More Power
As an athlete if you add more weight in muscle (and therefore weight), you need more power to move it. If you are a cyclist who tackles steep hills for example, you probably notice the extra weight more that other athletes. Weight gain supplements can be a controlled way for you to reach your target weight while balancing your power to weight ratios. Some sports definitely benefit a higher power to weight ratio and adding weight will make your job that little bit harder. Weight management in sport requires attention to know what you are aiming for and why.