Expert Advice: Muscle-Building Supplements

Our expert weighs in on how to get the most out of your supplements

Expert Advice: Muscle-Building Supplements

You hit the gym religiously, pushing yourself to train harder, longer and heavier than the last time, because that’s the price of progress. Skipping a single second of cardio is a sin, so instead of whining you just do it. The payoff for your sacrifice and dedication? A big, ripped physique. But (and this is a huge but), that's only if your meal and supplementation plan is on point. Without the right nutrients, most of your gym efforts will be wasted.

So what are the key nutrients? How much do you need and when is the best time to take them? You asked the questions and FLEX Senior Science Editor Jim Stoppani answered, giving you advice on how to get the most out of your training. We’ll cover a lot of territory, but if we miss something that you absolutely need to know, it’s as easy as dropping the Doc a line at

Q: I was wondering if you had any tips for bulking up on a budget. What supplements, besides creatine, are absolutely necessary but won’t break the bank? How necessary are supplements that claim huge gains and how safe are they? Also, do the long-term effects outweigh (no pun intended) the short-term gains that they provide?

A: Supplements are very effective for promoting muscle gains. The most critical would be: 1) Whey protein: Since it is so fast-digesting it aids muscle growth around workouts, which whole foods will not do as effectively; 2) A multivitamin: This will help you to cover all your micronutrient bases; 3) Creatine: This is fairly cheap and very effective; and 4) Branched-chain amino acids: These definitely will help promote muscle growth.

Q: Should I be cycling my supplements? If I am on them for an extended period of time, will they stop being as effective? If so, what would be a good cycle?

A: There really is no need to cycle supplements. They are nutrients that are found in the food we eat, so you wouldn’t be able to truly cycle
off of them anyway. There was once
 a belief that the receptors in muscle cells would “burn out” and not be as effective at taking nutrients into the muscle. This is more hyperbole than fact. That said, you certainly can cycle off of these supplements for financial reasons if you want to give your wallet a break. One study found that men taking creatine who stopped for four weeks lost no muscle mass or strength. So it is possible to stop some supplements for a while with little detriment to your physique or your performance and then go back on. Just limit the “off” cycle to four weeks or less.