There are many supplements touted to boost hypertrophy, however, a lot of them aren’t even supported by scientific or real evidence. This article contains 13 natural anabolic supplements which have scientific and real evidence to show that they can help to grow bigger muscles.
Many of the supplements mentioned will increase muscle protein synthesis due to lowering cortisol, inflammation and myostatin, while increasing IGF-1 and thyroid function as explained in this article.
Caffeine is a well known ergogenic aid and significantly improves exercise performance. Caffeine ingestion significantly increases strength, power, and endurance during exercise (1).
Caffeine is also a nootropic and it boosts dopamine, testosterone, DHT and is anti-estrogenic. More on coffee/caffeine here.
2) Phosphatidic acid
Phosphatidic acid (PA) consists of a glycerol backbone, with, in general, a saturated fatty acid bonded to carbon-1, an unsaturated fatty acid bonded to carbon-2, and a phosphate group bonded to carbon-3.
Glycerol-3-phosphate (G3P), phosphatidylcholine (PC) and diacylglycerol (DAG) are precursors for the biosynthesis of PA.
PA is generated by itself in the body, but supplementation provides much more than the body can produce by its own.
This study (2) found that the group that supplemented 750mg PA gained more lean mass (2.4kg vs 1.2kg) and strength (52kg vs 32.5kg in leg press strength) while losing more fat (1.3kg vs 0.5kg) than the placebo group.
- Phosphatidic acid – (Amazon)
Betaine (trimethylglycine (TMG)) is an osmolyte (which ensures optimal cellular hydration). It boosts IGF-1, which is anabolic and it’s is also frequently found in pre-workouts. However, there is a lack of quality research on betaine and muscle growth during weight training, but it does seem to show some benefit, albeit rather small. More on betaine here…
Creatine is another very popular supplement on the market. This is mainly because it’s one of the few that is shown to work. Creatine is also an osmolyte and is associated with increased anabolic signaling, reduced myostatin (which is a negative regulator of muscle growth) levels, increased satellite cell activity, augmented myonuclei number and increased IGF mRNA (3).
Creatinol o phosphate, which is a creatine derivative, has been shown to activate satellite cells in skeletal muscle, theoretically increasing their capacity for muscle growth. However, to date, there is no study that shows that it boosts muscle growth, only one that shows an increase in handgrip strength (4).
Epicatechin (EP), a flavanol in cocoa, is anabolic to the muscle as it inhibits myostatin (which is a negative regulator of muscle growth) and increases follistatin (which opposes follistatin and promotes muscle growth). After 7 days of epicatechin (25mg) supplementation, there was an increase in handgrip strength, markers of muscle growth and the ratio of follistatin/myostatin increased by 49% (5).
Another study tested a dose of 1mg/kg of EP combined with resistance training, compared to just RT or just EP. The EP + RT group gained the most strength after 8 weeks. They also had the greatest decrease in myostatin and increase in follistatin and the follistatin to myostatin ratio (6). The study also found that the EP only group had a very minor decrease and increase in myostatin and follistatin respectively, indicating that long-term EP supplementation without weight training isn’t sufficient to change myostatin and follistatin.
- Epicatechin – (Amazon)
Glycine is one of my favorite amino acids for overall health, exercise performance, staying lean and building muscle. Many studies confirm that glycine is anabolic to muscle growth, as it is able to activate the mTOR receptor, lower cortisol, boost DHT and also inhibit the endotoxin receptor TLR4, thus restoring the anabolic effect of leucine to the muscle (7, 8, 9).
In this study (10), they tested a dose of 15g of bioactive collagen peptide (BCP) combined with resistance training in untrained individuals. In the BCP group, the fat free mass gain was more than doubled (2kg) than in individuals who only did the training exercise (0.99kg). In addition, the BCP group lost 3kg of fat, whereas the placebo group lost only 2kg of fat mass. Moreover, the BCP group experienced a 5.4% greater increase in muscle strength compared to the placebo treatment.
Collagen consists of about 21-22% glycine, that would give you a dose of only 3-4g of glycine. More on glycine here…
Gelatin/collagen is truly anabolic. You can read more about it here: Collagen the one more thing you need more of for muscle growth and fat loss.
Beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid (HMB) is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine and is created in our bodies. Some studies show the HMB is very potent to boost muscle growth and strength, while others show no benefit. HMB can be very useful to lower excess cortisol during a phase of excess stress or overreaching, etc., but when your life isn’t as stressed out, you aren’t training yourself into the ground, and you’re eating enough protein, there might not be any need for HMB supplementation. More on HMB here…
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a high energy molecule generated in the mitochondria of the cell. Because muscle growth is so energy intensive, the more ATP your body generates, the better your metabolism is and the greater your hypertrophy will be. Studies show that supplementation of ATP boosts muscle growth and strength gains and also aid in losing fat. Supplementation with 400mg significantly increased explosiveness, power, strength, muscle hypertrophy and fat loss after a 12 week training phase compared to the placebo group (11). Other substances that increase ATP production is thyroid hormones, pentadecanoic acid, ancient peat, succinic acid, B-vitamins, methylene blue, L-pyroglutamic acid, etc.
ATP – (Amazon)
In the 1980s the most active phytoecdysteroid, ecdysterone (beta-ecdysone, a “Russian secret”), was suspected to be used by Russian Olympic athletes. The levels of ecdysteroids in western diet are generally low (usually in the range of less than 1mg/day), while the doses used by bodybuilders are stated to be in a range of up to 1,000mg/day.
This study shows that 200mg of 20-hydroxyecdysone doesn’t improve strength or hypertrophy gains after 8 weeks (12).
The addition of ecdysterone (dose unknown), in conjunction with protein intake, resulted in a 6–7% increase in lean muscle tissue with nearly a 10% reduction in fat (13).
In an animal study ecdysterone exhibited a strong hypertrophic effect on the fiber size of rat soleus muscle that was found even stronger compared to the test compounds metandienone (dianabol), estradienedione (trenbolox), and SARM S 1, all administered in the same dose (5 mg/kg body weight, for 21 days) (14). The human equivalent dose would be 0.71mg/kg, which would give a dose of 57mg for an 80kg individual, but from the study above, even 200mg was ineffective at boosting hypertrophy.
Maybe doses of 1,000mg daily would be effective for hypertrophy, but it’s not supported by current research.
- Ecdysterone – (Amazon)
10) Arginine & Ornithine
Arginine promotes blood flow, stimulates mTOR, inhibits muscle protein breakdown, detoxes ammonia and boosts muscle protein synthesis. This study found that even 3g of arginine boosted muscle growth and fat loss, however, diet wasn’t controlled (15). More on arginine here…
A combination of 1g arginine and 1g ornithine was able to significantly increase total strength and lean mass by inhibiting muscle protein breakdown (16). This is because ornithine is potent anti-cortisol and anti-catabolic.
Read more on ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate here.
Supplementation of 300mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily resulted in a significantly greater increase in arm size (8.6 cm2 vs 5.3 cm2) and 3.3cm vs 1.4cm for chest (17). Its anabolic effect is because ashwagandha contains steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins) and saponins, which potently lowers cortisol and boosts thyroid function.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels drop with aging (by age 75 yr, the plasma DHEA(S) level is ∼80% lower than at 25 yr), elevated stress, being unhealthy, etc. DHEA increases glucose tolerance, lowers cortisol, increases DHT and IGF-1, etc. Supplementation of DHEA (50mg) boosts muscle growth and strength as well as reduces fat mass in people with low DHEA (18).
I advise using only low dose, as too high doses are able to quickly increase the aromatase and as well as estrogen. It’s best to stick to doses of 10-15mg daily.
13) Ursolic acid
Ursolic acid (UA) is an isomer of oleanolic acid and a lipophilic triterpenoid compound primarily found in apples and many herbs. UA has many benefits to the body such as losing body fat, improving insulin sensitivity, protects against muscle atrophy, is anti-cancer and has anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory effects.
A daily dose of 450mg has been shown to increase lean mass and lower fat mass in subjects undergoing weight training (19), mainly by increasing IGF-1. However, diet was not controlled.