Are supplements necessary to build muscle?

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Are supplements necessary to build muscle?

Supplements are becoming more and more popular in the fitness industry. Many supplements are targeted at improving performance, increasing muscle mass and strength gain. Although these supplements can make it a lot easier to gain muscle, they aren’t necessary and lean mass can be gained without supplementing. In this article we are going to be going over the effectiveness of supplements and if they are worth taking to gain muscle. 

Nutrition

Supplements are exactly that, they are used to supplement things we could get from other sources. For example, protein supplements contain many amino acids that are present in food, although these foods may not be as protein dense and contain other nutrients, they still contain the essential amino acids needed to gain muscle. So, if you were to stop the supplements its important that you alter your diet to still reach your daily goals. Although its better to eat whole foods rather than take supplements it can be harder to eat the nutrients as food.
Although nutrition wise supplements are not needed as the nutrients can come from other sources, they do make life a lot easier. The first obstacle could be your dietary choice as some eating habits or diets can make it harder to reach our daily goals. For example, a vegan diet could make it harder to get your daily amount of protein as you would have to eat a higher volume of food which can be challenging to some. Supplements are also a lot easier and some are quick adsorbing, this means its easier to time when you give your body nutrients so you could hit crucial moments to get the most out of them (e.g. consuming protein after a workout to increase rates of protein synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown). 

Recovery 

Now supplements can play a key part in recovery, they can decrease recovery time and reduce soreness. Although supplements can help with recovery its not a deal breaker when it comes to your muscles fully recovering. Having a balanced diet and getting plenty of rest are the main essentials for your muscles to recover. It’s also important to stay hydrated as when training you lose body fluid that must be replaced, fluids are important to deliver nutrients to tissue and organs. Muscles recover through a process called protein synthesis, there was a study done that compared the rates of protein synthesis before and after training and they concluded that protein synthesis rates go up by 50% four hours after a resistance training session. 
So, supplements are not essential for muscle recovery they can speed up the process and make it more bearable. Many supplements contain a high amount off essential amino acids that are utilised in recovery to increase rates of synthesis and reduce muscle break down. Another good thing about supplements is that they are quick and easy, so you are able to consume them pretty much wherever you want, and this could allow us to get nutrients at times when food is not accessible for example hitting the “anabolic window” after a workout. 

Performance 

There are many workout supplements today that claim to improve performance and focus during a workout. Examples of these include pre workout which contain things like caffeine, creatine and amino acids. These substances are known to increase energy and focus for example caffeine is very popular to increase energy. Although these are good to increase performance, we can get a similar effect naturally without supplementing. Foods like bananas are starchy and can provide your body with energy throughout your workout. There are also many other foods like energy bars and also protein like fish, meat and eggs.  
Although supplements that increase performance and focus may seem great, they can be addictive, and you can build up a dependency on them. If you take pre workout every day, not using it will make you feel sluggish and tired and will make the gym a less enjoyable place. Although there is the danger of this dependency these supplements can also be very useful. One positive is that they are quick and easy and contain a lot of other good substances like creatine and amino acids, these are known to promote protein synthesis and muscle growth. They are also very quick and easy, to get the same thing from a pre workout meal will take roughly 30 minutes to prepare and eat whereas with the supplements it is seconds and very little equipment is needed.

Gaining muscle

You have probably heard that things like protein powder and mass gainers are crucial to building muscle. However, this is not the case, but they do make it a lot easier. These supplements contain nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, creatine and can be high in calories. Its well known that protein is crucial to muscle growth and high calories promote growth. Although these are great, you could get the same effect by eating more calorie dense and protein dense foods. Again, foods take a lot longer to prepare than a shake, but you will feel fuller with the foods and gain a lot of other nutrients along the way. 
Although supplements like whey protein are great to increase your daily protein intake, there are some possible side effects associated with taking these kinds of supplements. Whey is known to cause digestive distress and mass gainers can lead to gaining more body fat. There is also a chance that these supplements can contain contaminants like heavy metal and pesticides which are known to cause cancer and other health issues. To read more about the possible side effects of protein powder check out this article by Harvard medical school. Overall, supplements that promote muscle growth are good for increasing protein intake and to get your daily calories up, although they must not replace food (e.g. skipping meals and having a shake), as food is the best thing you could be putting into your body. 
To answer the question “are supplements needed to gain muscle and strength?”, I would say it matters. Many supplements are great at increasing recovery and performance but there are also other food alternatives. Not to say supplements are bad as they do allow us to get easy nutrients and one shake could provide many substances known to promote muscle growth and recovery. Its recommended that supplement intake is monitored and regulated to avoid taking it too frequently and risk facing some of the side effects.