There are countless people who are jacked as a result of taking steroids. However, there only a few natural bodybuilders who are genuinely swole.
Thus, if you can get ripped as a natural, it’s a much better achievement than reaching your goals with the assistance of anabolic steroids; whilst having that monkey on your back for the rest of your life.
Natural bodybuilding is a difficult road, thus every trick in the book must be utilized to hit the roof on your genetic limits (and beyond).
Smart supplementation has the ability to give someone that ‘edge’ when trying to build muscle naturally.
Note: Natural bodybuilding supplements aren’t 100% required to build an impressive physique. This can be done via genetics, training or/and diet. However, taking powerful natural supplements does increase a person’s muscle-building potential.
- 1 My Experience With Natural Bodybuilding Supplements
- 2 1. Testosterone Boosters
- 3 2. Creatine Monohydrate
- 4 3. Fat Burners
- 5 4. HGH Boosters
- 6 5. Weight Gainers
- 7 Other Supplements
- 8 Summary
My Experience With Natural Bodybuilding Supplements
Supplements have played a role in my transformation (above).
At times they have helped me pack on more size, or help me shred more fat.
However, in the past I’ve also spent up to $150 a month on supplements and remained looking like Justin Bieber.
Equally, I’ve also spent $0 on supplements, and I’ve made great gains. So much so, people would be forgiven for mistaking me for Thor.
Therefore, it’s important to spend your money wisely on supplements, as many do not work.
In this article I will recommend the supplements which have given me gains, whilst exposing the ones which didn’t. This will hopefully help you learn from my experience, getting you more bang for your buck.
Another important piece of advice is:
Supplements should only ‘supplement’ your diet.
If a person’s diet is off, this will blunt the effects of certain supplements.
For example, if a person takes a powerful fat burner to lose weight, yet carries on overeating or skips cardio sessions; they may not be happy with the end-result. Supplements are not magic pills that can transform your body overnight, however when combined with hard training and strict dieting, they can take your physique to the next level.
Thus, for maximum gains, your diet and training should remain as your #1 focus.
Below is my list of top natural bodybuilding supplements (as a result of me taking almost every supplement under the sun).
1. Testosterone Boosters
Testosterone boosters, in my experience, are the most powerful natural bodybuilding supplements on the market.
Some think test boosters are bunk, whilst others report them working amazingly well.
How a person responds to testosterone boosters is often genetic.
I personally have tried several testosterone boosters, and I’ve experienced steroid-like gains on some of them.
My strength typically goes through the roof and my muscles blow up dramatically. I have gained 10-15lbs of muscle in just 4 weeks, solely from using a test booster, which is similar to what you’d gain on anabolic steroids.
I’ve also experienced some side effects as well, such as: increased heart rate, insomnia and low mood from using some of them.
The testosterone booster which I recommend for amazing gains, without noticeable side effects is – Testogen.
How Do Testosterone Boosters Work?
Testosterone is the male hormone, which is responsible for muscular strength and size. The more free testosterone a male naturally produces, the more muscle mass he will have.
Females also have testosterone, but in smaller quantities. This is why they are naturally weaker and less muscular than men.
Thus, bodybuilders with amazing genetics often have higher levels of free testosterone, which is especially the case in black men, who have 13-21% higher levels of free testosterone compared to white men (1).
Anabolic steroids are essentially forms of artificial testosterone, which skyrockets free testosterone to unnaturally high levels. The body then reacts to this, by shutting down natural testosterone production, causing low testosterone and potential infertility (from damage to the sperm).
Testosterone boosters, are made up of ingredients, provided by nature itself.
Thus, it isn’t artificial testosterone made in a lab. However, similar process occur within the body and the end result is still effectively the same, an increase in free testosterone. Generally, testosterone boosters’ effects are mild compared to anabolic steroids, however some studies have shown dramatic results even from natural herbs.
Some of the most notable testosterone-boosting ingredients are:
- D-aspartic acid
- Tribulus terrestris
Several studies have shown that boron to significantly increase testosterone levels.
It is believed that boron’s effective at increasing testosterone levels by reducing the conversion from testosterone into estrogen. It also spikes free testosterone, with it binding less to SHBG (sex hormone–binding globulin). SHBG is a protein in the blood, and is responsible for decreasing the bio-availability of testosterone (4).
Studies have shown that 6mg and 10mg doses are successful for increasing testosterone levels, whereas small doses of 2.5mg are unsuccessful (5). Testogen contains 20mg of boron, thus making for a very effective dose.
D-aspartic acid works by stimulating the leydig cells in the testes, consequently increasing LH and testosterone levels.
The science regarding D-AA in regards to increasing testosterone is mixed. Some studies suggest it is a great testosterone booster, with it increase T levels by 42% (6) and 60% (7). However, other studies suggest it isn’t effective vs placebo (8).
Thus, as mentioned before, D-AA spiking testosterone levels in men, may be determined by the person’s genetics.
Tribulus terrestris works by stimulating the pituitary gland in the brain, thus causing a surge in LH and testosterone levels. It was first used by Bulgarian weightlifters, who experienced increased muscle size and strength from using a product of tribulus terrestris called Tribestan (9).
A study done in Lithuania, showed that tribulus spiked testosterone levels significantly in just the first 10 days of supplementation (10).
Tribulus terrestris also has the potential to spike DHT levels, which in another study increased by 25% (11). DHT (Dihydrotestosterone) is a precursor of testosterone, however it’s 10x more powerful and extremely anabolic.
In other studies, tribulus showed no effect on testosterone production (12). Tribulus the herb, contains natural steroidal saponins. In different supplements, the content of saponins can range from 45-95%, which may affect results in users. The higher the % of steroidal saponins, the more strength and muscle gains users may experience.
Tribulus is somewhat of a hit and miss testosterone booster. Some believe it works very well for increasing testosterone and have experienced obvious muscle gains (including myself). Other people however notice nothing, reporting zero gains or side effects.
ZMA is a patented formula, that combines zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 together. Some research shows ZMA to significantly increase testosterone and growth hormone levels. A double-anabolic whammy. However, the study was somewhat dubious as the man behind the ZMA patent, funded the study (13).
However, other research shows the main ingredient in ZMA, zinc, to be effective at increasing testosterone levels when taking 30mg per day (14). Whilst in another study zinc did not increase testosterone levels (15). Again, these are contradictory results when taken by different groups of men.
Here’s a full view of TestoGen’s ingredients:
Amount per serving:
Magnesium (from Magnesium Citrate) 200mg, Vitamin B6 (from Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate) 20mg, Zinc (from Zinc Citrate Dihydrate)10mg, Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) 50mcg, Vitamin K1 (from Phytonadione) 20mcg, D-Aspartic Acid 2352mg, Nettle Leaf Extract 4:1 40mg, Red Ginseng Extract 4:1 40mg, Fenugreek Extract 4:1 40mg, Boron (from Boron Citrate) 20mg, Bioperine 95% Piperine 5mg
2. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine is undoubtedly one of the best natural bodybuilding supplements around.
Creatine monohydrate is an amino acid naturally found inside the muscle cells. It’s also present in certain foods in small quantities, such as chicken and steak.
In small amounts creatine isn’t thought to have a noticeable significant impact on muscular strength or size. However, when taken in higher doses (in supplement form), it’s very effective.
In natural bodybuilders, creatine has shown to double strength and muscle gains, when compared to training alone (16).
How Does Creatine Work?
Creatine monohydrate is the most popular form of creatine, which is taken in powder form. It’s often mixed with a sugary drink (for better absorption), which causes the muscles to be saturated with the amino acid.
The body consequently retains a lot more water, some of which shifts inside the muscles as intracellular fluid. ATP, an energy molecule, production also increases; causing increased muscular strength and endurance.
Once a person stops taking creatine they will lose this water weight inside the muscles. However, due to creatine effectively ‘shocking the muscles’ i.e. enabling users to lift heavier weights and perform more reps, muscle gains are likely to be permanent.
Creatine also has the ability to increase DHT by 56% in the first 7 days after a loading dose of 25 grams per day (17). With DHT being 10x more potent than testosterone, this is a powerful hormone to elevate, when trying to create a muscle-building environment.
Creatine also has been shown to inhibit myostatin (18), which is a protein that prevents muscle growth.
Thus, when myostatin levels decrease, muscle growth occurs. Some of the most muscular bodybuilders in the world are born with myostatin deficiencies, explaining their freakish size.
In one creatine study, experienced weight trainers gained in 2.6kg (5.7lbs) of muscle over a 6 week period (19). One rep maxes also increased significantly, with 11kg added to the bicep curl and 32kg to the leg press.
Creatine also appears to be a powerful fat burner, despite the initial gain in water weight, with research showing an average loss of 3% body fat in users (20). This could be attributed to more intense workouts, an increase in DHT and the myostatin-blocking effect.
Research has shown creatine to be safe in healthy individuals. However, some creatine users have reported high blood pressure symptoms after using this supplement, such as flushed skin, headaches and shortness of breath.
Although, there’s no link currently established between creatine and blood pressure (in research), the possibility of there being a connection could exist. This is due to creatine increasing water retention. Thus, with higher levels of water in the blood stream, blood viscosity is likely to increase.
When the blood becomes viscous, it becomes increasingly difficult for it circulate around the body; causing the heart to beat harder (and blood pressure to rise).
Creatine is not recommended for people with kidney problems. Coincidentally, high blood pressure is the number 2 cause of kidney failure (21).
Therefore take caution when taking creatine, getting regular check ups with your doctor.
How to Take Creatine
A typical protocol when taking creatine is to utilize a loading and maintenance phase.
A loading phase requires a higher dose to quickly saturate the muscles with creatine, then a maintenance dose simply sustains this effect for the rest of the cycle.
20-25 grams per day is a typical loading dose, lasting 5-7 days.
Then 5 grams of creatine is then consumed for another 3-4 weeks.
It’s also recommended to mix your creatine with a sugary drink, to spike insulin levels. This increases absorption and shuttles the creatine inside the muscle cells faster. Creatine and grape juice is my favourite combination.
If you do decide to use creatine, most brands of monohydrate powder should be effective.
3. Fat Burners
There are several different types of natural fat burners, being:
- Stimulant blends (containing caffeine)
- Raspberry Ketones
- T3 supplements
Caffeine (or stimulant-based) fat burners, can kick start your metabolism, enabling the body to burn more calories each day. This will help bodybuilders get even leaner, towards the end of their cut, when their metabolism might be slowing down.
However, there’s no need to use fat burners towards the start of your cut, as eating in a calorie deficit should be relatively straightforward at this point.
Note: Caffeine-based fat burners do not burn fat directly, but merely increase the body’s BMR (basil metabolic rate).
Therefore, if someone took a powerful natural fat burner, yet continued to overeat, it would be a waste of money.
Side Effects: Fat burners containing caffeine or other natural stimulants, can result in low mood, anxiety or insomnia, due to their stimulative effect on the central nervous system. Such adverse effects may only be applicable to individuals sensitive to stimulants.
T3 fat burners are my second recommendation, and they work differently to stimulant-based fat burners
T3 (triiodothyronine), otherwise known as cytomel, is a medication used to treat hypothyroidism. This is a condition where thyroid activity is low, causing fat storage in individuals (even if they eat lower calories).
When T3 levels rise, lipolysis increases, enhancing the stimulation of fat stores.
Bodybuilders often take T3 (cytomel), along with other fat-burning steroids (such as anavar), before a competition. This enhances fat loss and helping them to get even more shredded. Thus, T3 is a very powerful hormone for fat loss.
Cytomel is the medication prescribed to patients suffering from low levels of T3.
T3 (cytomel) is not a natural supplement. However, there are natural T3 supplements, which mimic the same fat-burning effects in the body.
T3 levels naturally decrease when cutting, making it increasingly difficult to lose fat the longer they diet. However, with the addition of T3 supplements this can potentially reverse this effect. There’s also evidence to suggest, higher T3 levels have muscle-sparing effects.
Two natural ingredients that may increase T3 levels are:
- Gum Guggul Extract
Gum guggul, a tree in India, has shown to increase the conversion of T4 to T3 (22).
This is thought to occur, due to enhancing the absorption of iodine (23).
Iodine deficiencies are associated with hypothyroidism (24).
Research has shown that deficiencies in L-Tyrosine, a natural amino acid, are a culprit for hypothyroidism (25). L-tyrosine plays a key role in the production of T3 in the body, thus (theoretically) higher levels of this amino acid may spike fat loss.
4. HGH Boosters
Human growth hormone (HGH) is often taken in exogenous form by bodybuilders, looking to add muscle and burn fat.
Consequently, natural supplement manufacturers have been trying to emulate such effects with FDA-approved ingredients.
There are several natural ingredients which have proven to spike HGH levels.
In real-life settings, natural HGH supplements don’t produce any noticeable muscle gains, however they can accelerate fat loss.
One of the best supplements for increasing growth hormone is GABA. Research has shown that Gaba can increase HGH levels by up to 400% when taking 2 grams per day (26).
It is thought that Gaba increases HGH through promoting deeper, more restful sleep.
75% of HGH is secreted via the pituitary gland throughout the night, thus improved sleep quality may be the reason for an elevation in this hormone.
The following natural supplements have also shown to increase HGH:
- Beta-alanine (27).
- Glutamine (+78%), with a dose of 2g per day (28).
- L-ornithine – a significant increase when taken 30 minutes after exercise (29).
- Velvet bean (30).
5. Weight Gainers
Sometimes ectomorph’s (like myself), need to eat big to get big.
High calorie diets are extremely anabolic.
However, sometimes it’s difficult to consume enough calories in order to grow. This is because healthy foods can often leave you feeling full, curbing your appetite. Thus, instead of turning to junk foods (or doing dirty bulks) to bump up your calories, one diligent alternative is to buy a weight gainer supplement.
I have used brands like Optimum Nutrition’s Serious Mass before, and had some of the best gains of my life in conjunction with eating 6,000+ calories per day.
In each serving of Serious Mass contains a whopping 1,250 calories per serving. Add 2 shakes a day on top of your existing diet, and you’re consuming 2.5k of additional muscle-building calories.
Note: If you use the Serious Mass weight gainer, be sure to clean your shaker straight away, as it may otherwise (seemingly) turn to cement.
Weight gainers certainly aren’t compulsory for natural bodybuilders trying to pack on mass, as food can be taken alone. However, if someone is unable to hit their high calorie goals through food alone, weight gainers can correct this, causing a big increase muscle and strength gains in the off-season.
I have tried many other supplements, such as:
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
- Pre Workouts
- Omega 3’s
However, none of these supplements made any noticeable impact to my physique.
Whey Protein & BCAAs
At one stage I was consuming 200+ grams of protein per day, gulping down whey and casein protein shakes at various times throughout the day.
Then as a test, I removed all protein shakes from my diet, and I noticed zero difference.
I also did the same for BCAA’s, with the same results. Thus, from my personal experience I know that protein supplements and BCAAs are massively overhyped. The best outcome from taking such ‘staple’ supplements is – an improvement in muscle recovery in-between workouts.
However, I couldn’t say I noticed improved recovery even when on these BCAAs/protein shakes. I noticed no difference, so I cut them out and saved money. Personal trainers and other gurus may tell you that protein shakes and BCAAs are essential for making gains as a natural bodybuilder, however my advice would be to test going without and see if it makes a difference. You’ll be surprised with the results.
Note: Whey protein has only been popular among bodybuilders during the last 50 years. Before this time some of the greatest physiques to this day were sculpted without such protein powders.
Some legendary names that didn’t have access to whey and casein powder supplements were: Reg Park (below) and Steve Reeves.
No2 supplements are somewhat good for motivation, as they can aid in bigger pumps. Thus, they are quite an exciting supplement, however in terms of added muscle or fat loss; they don’t produce enough to warrant spending your regular hard-earned money on them.
Pre workouts can be advantageous when trying increase the intensity of your workouts, or smash a strength plateau. However, they should only be used sparingly, due to your body building up a tolerance to them overtime. Over the long-term this can result in lethargic workouts and can becoming dependent on strong stimulants to get you through your workout.
Also pre workouts can cause several side effects, such as: increased blood pressure, insomnia and anxiety. This is due to their strong effects on the nervous system and adrenaline output.
There is nothing wrong with supplementing with omega 3 capsules, as they can contribute to good health. However, most natural bodybuilders desperately covet muscle gains that can help them turn heads. Therefore, I wanted the supplements listen in this article to have the potential to add several pounds of muscle to your physique. Omega 3’s won’t do that (the same with multivitamins).
I’ve spent thousands of dollars on natural bodybuilding supplements, since I started lifting weights 12 years ago. Many of them made little to no difference, despite supplement companies convincing the masses that their products are crucial at certain times of the day i.e. the post-workout anabolic window.
However, there a couple of supplements which did give me good results. In particular, testosterone boosters which really took my gains to a whole new level, giving me steroid-like results.
Which supplements people respond to is often genetic, as two people can take the same supplement; yet one grows significantly and the other stays the same.
Therefore it’s certainly worth testing the different supplements listed in this article to see which ones work for you and which don’t. However, no natural bodybuilding supplement is going to work miracles if your workouts lack intensity or your diet is off.
PS. If I could recommend just one natural bodybuilding supplement, it would be TestoGen (a powerful testosterone booster).