Quite often, the technical staff here at Mr Supplement get asked questions like “which is the best testosterone/growth hormone booster?”. It is by no means a silly question, because it is understandable that people want to make the most of their training and see the best possible gains in the shortest amount of time. However, what is of concern is that when asked “what else do you use?” the answer is sometimes “nothing”. Essentially, what is happening here is, these individuals have skipped the foundational supplements completely, and have opted for the top tier supplements. Unfortunately, that’s not how things work. In order to experience any benefit from the top tier supplements, one must have a strong foundation. Otherwise, you will simply be wasting your money. There is an order in which you should follow when stacking supplements, and this article will give you a guide.
Here is a rough guide, in order from the most basic (ie, get these first), to the most advanced (ie, get these last) supplements. Keep in mind though, that this is merely a guide, and is by no means comprehensive or completely fixed. Be sure to tweak it here and there to suit your personal needs.
I don’t think it gets any more basic than this, and there is probably going to be very little argument about protein. When it comes to building muscle, protein is one of the most, if not, the most important supplement. The reason for this is simple. Muscle is made up of protein, and in order to provide the building blocks for muscle, one must consume enough protein. For an idea of how much protein you need, refer to our “Recommended Protein Intake per Day” article.
Unfortunately, from here things get more difficult, because there are so many different types of proteins. The specific type of protein you pick depends on factors such as preference, budget, and goals. For example, if your aim is to gain weight, get a weight gainer. If you wish to start cutting, use a fat loss protein. For more information on protein, check out our “Choosing the Best Protein Supplement” article.
Although a lot of people place a heavy emphasis on protein, many overlook the importance of carbohydrates. There is definitely merit to limiting your carbohydrate intake if you are cutting or are on a strict diet, but for the best gains and optimal performance, consuming plenty of carbs has many benefits. Complex carbs such as waxy maize starch and long chain maltodextrin are an excellent fuel source during the day. These can spare protein from being burn as energy, so they can be used to build muscle instead. Simple and fast digesting carbs immediately after training can help to very quickly replace muscle glycogen and cause an insulin spike which promotes anabolism.
Carbohydrates therefore, can be combined very effectively with protein to form a potent supplement for muscle gains. This is the reason why weight gainer powders are so effective. They are essentially blends of protein together with carbohydrates. For more information on how to pick the best weight gainer, please refer to our “Best Weight Gainer” article.
Creatine is arguably one of the most well researched supplements for increasing strength and muscle mass. It does this by increasing the body’s ability to regenerate ATP (the universal energy currency), so you are able to squeeze out those extra reps and lift that little bit of extra weight. Not only is it effective, but it is also very safe. If you ever feel like you need a boost to your performance, or if you have hit a plateau, creatine could be what you need. There are also plenty of other potentially effective plateau busting supplements, but creatine is much higher on the list because of the sheer amount of positive research behind this product. Creatine supplements come in many different forms. Many companies have made modifications to the structure of creatine, and have attempted to improve them by binding them to other molecules. Although there is great potential for some forms, creatine monohydrate remains the daddy and “go to” form of creatine.
Creatine is best absorbed by muscles in the presence of insulin. Combining creatine with a simple carbohydrate and/or protein is very effective. Therefore, it is common to be able to find very effective creatine supplements already containing high levels of sugar. This can essentially be used as a two in one creatine/carbohydrate supplements. For more information on how to choose the right creatine supplemenct, check out our "Best Creatine" article.
BCAAs or branched chain amino acids are essential amino acids that, as the name suggests, have branching side chains. The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Over the recent years, there has been much progress in BCAA research, showing the positive benefits of these compounds. Leucine in particular has been highlighted as the star BCAA, being able to do anything from reducing muscle soreness, to speeding up recovery, and prevent muscle catabolism. BCAAs in di and tri-peptide form in particular have been shown to be hugely anabolic. However, because the research regarding BCAAs is still in its infancy compared to creatine, and it is a relatively expensive compound, especially in peptide form, means that it needs to settle for 4th place on our list.
A pre workout supplement is taken before a workout, and can help you immediately perform better at the gym. Using such a product can help you lift more and lift longer, which may result in fast gains and more rewarding gym sessions. Although they can be very effective, they are nothing without a good stack of foundational supplements/food such as protein and carbohydrates to fuel your growing muscles. Beginners in particular often fall into the trap of focusing far too much on the pre workout, and not enough on post workout nutrition. So yes, take a pre workout if you wish, but make sure you follow up with some good quality protein and carbs.
The term “pre workout supplement” may be a little vague for the purpose of this article, because pre workout supplements are almost always a combination of multiple ingredients. There’s really no limit to the number and type of ingredient you can find in a pre workout supplement, and it may include those already mentioned above. However, they can also include a variety of other potentially beneficial ingredients such as beta-alanine, citrulline, and caffeine. For information regarding the best pre workout supplement for your needs, please refer to our "Best Pre Workout Supplments" article.
6. Fat Burners
Fat burners are designed to do exactly as their name suggests, to burn fat. They can work through a combination of different mechanisms including increasing thermogenesis, central nervous stimulation, fat metabolism, and carb/fat blocking. Again, much like pre workouts, many beginners expect fat burners to be a miracle product that can do all the work for them. This is far from the truth. Although fat burners can have a range of potent and well researched ingredients, they are only effective when combined with appropriate diet and exercise. They can be used as a weight loss aid and supporting tool, but they cannot make up the foundation of your weight loss program.
Another reason why fat burners are relatively low on this list is because they are not a supplement that is to be used all year round. Whether or not you ever decide to use a fat burner is highly goal dependant. Obviously, if you are trying to bulk, a fat burner would be way down your list. However, if fat loss is your primary concern, it may well be much higher, perhaps even as your number 2.
Multivitamins are supplements that contain a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to assist in maintaining overall health. Many people place this type of supplement much higher on the list. Though personally, I feel there should not be such a heavy reliance on multivitamins. All vitamins and minerals are needed by the body and any form of deficiency will significantly impede your gains. Though, in most cases consuming vitamins and minerals above your requirements are unlikely to result in additional benefits. A good balanced diet should already contain all the vitamins and minerals you need, and this really should be the primary way in which you obtain your micronutrients. Multivitamins are therefore only an insurance policy to guard against deficiency. This may be important for very serious athletes that have a higher demand for micronutrients.
Essential fatty acids include omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. They are responsible for the production of a whole host of hormones, including those responsible for inflammation. Recently, omega 3s have even shown potential as an anabolic agent and may assist in lean gains. However, research in this field is less well established than some of the supplements from further up in the list. Of course, essential fatty acids also have many general health benefits, but just like with multivitamins, whole foods are the best source of essential fatty acids. Those that will benefit most from essential fatty acid supplements are those with restricted diets.
Joints are very important for mobility and damaged joints could seriously affect your ability to lift. There are therefore a wide range of joint support supplements available. These are generally made up of a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or omega 3 fatty acids, which can work synergistically to alleviate and potentially even repair damaged cartilage. For an individual with healthy joints, it is important to maintain them with appropriate training techniques. Using a joint support supplement while joints are healthy may provide some protection, but it will not directly improve your gains or performance, which is why it’s this far down the list. However, if you do suffer from joint pains, joint support can be hugely beneficial, and for those people, they would be much higher up the list.
Testosterone is one of the most anabolic hormones. Simply put, higher testosterone levels will lead to bigger and faster gains. Testosterone boosters are legal and can be effective in helping to elevate the body’s natural levels of testosterone production. Even the youngest and most inexperienced lifters know this. However, what they don’t know is that the effect these products have is low compared to the gains achievable through appropriate training and good nutrition. This is especially true for younger individuals, who are already producing very high levels of testosterone. Testosterone boosters work best for older gentlemen who have decreased levels of testosterone as a result of age-related declines. For this group, a testosterone booster can be used to help them train and feel like their younger counterparts. However, even in this situation, they must have a strong set of foundational supplements. The reason for this is simple, even if you have testosterone coming out of your ears, inadequate protein and calories would mean that you have no building blocks to support any growth.
Just like testosterone, growth hormone can be anabolic and growth hormone boosters can help to naturally increase growth hormone production. Typically, this is done through a specific blend and well-timed administration of amino acids. However, everything that has been said about testosterone boosters can also be said about growth hormone boosters. In short, these may be very helpful for more senior trainers in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise, but it will have negligible effects for a young male with little to no understanding of exercise nutrition.
Now that you are armed with all this knowledge, be sure to build your stack appropriately. Do not miss any steps, and be sure to know what is most important. Train safe and supplement smart. Otherwise you will just be wasting your time and money.