If you listen to my podcast Mind Pump, it won’t take you long to hear me talking about the things that really annoy me about the fitness industry. I can literally talk about how it has misled people for HOURS. The worst lies revolve around supplements and how impactful or important they are for gaining muscle and burning body fat.
The first time I picked up a weight it was in the summer 1993. I started lifting because I was a rail thin kid. A classic hardgainer ectomorph body type. All I wanted to do was build muscle and be stronger and all I knew at this point was that the most muscular people I knew about at the time (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone) lifted weights. I loved weights right away, but I was also impatient. I wanted to build huge muscles NOW.
Early on I also bought the popular muscle magazines of the day and I read them cover to cover. I remember the first one I got, it was FLEX Magazine and it had a picture of the now deceased body builder Mike Matarazzo on the cover. As I opened the magazine and read through it I was bombarded with advertisements of supplements. There were before and after pictures showing crazy transformations. I had no idea that these ads were completely bogus..
One of the advertisements struck me the most. I won’t name the supplement company (they don’t deserve any kind of a mention) but it showed a skinny guy who gained something like 25lbs of muscle in 60 days and the product came with something like 5 bottles of pills. I thought FOR SURE that taking that many pills would pack muscle on my skinny body. I mean, it worked for the guy in the ad like magic!! The only problem was the kit cost well over $150 dollars which was my entire savings, but I REALLY wanted to build muscle so I ordered it. I thought the key to getting a muscular physique was all about taking some special supplement pills and powders.
I got the kit and all the pills and I took them religiously. I mean I took them EXACTLY when the kit told me I was supposed to. I had pills for the morning. Pills for between meals. Pills for before training and after training. After 60 days of training and taking all these pills I gained almost NO MUSCLE whatsoever. That was my first taste of false promises in fitness. Of course, I tried over and over again with every supplement imaginable and each time I was extremely disappointed. Eventually I learned what was truly impactful to building muscle, and it had nothing to do with supplements. It was all about training and diet (DUH). It still is.
Here is the deal, NOTHING will put muscle on your body (not even steroids) if you don’t send the right muscle building adaptation signal from training, and if you don’t fuel your body with the right amount of quality calories. If your body doesn’t have a reason to build muscle then it won’t. It’s a simple as that. Proper training is the REASON. Supplements are not. If you don’t provide your body with the building blocks required to build and fuel muscle then your body will not build muscle. Proper nutrition PROVIDES THIS. Supplements do not. Before you say “yea what about protein powder, its protein which is needed to build muscle” consider that protein powder IS FOOD albeit an EXTREMELY processed and terrible replacement for real food.
If we were to make you take all of the things that were within your control that could impact how much muscle you built and how fast you could build it and give them a value, diet, exercise, sleep and lifestyle would make up 98-99% of your progress. Supplements would not only make up only 1-2% of your success they would also HEAVILY depend on everything else. I am not saying that supplements are a complete waste of money, but if you only had $200 and wanted to spend it on something that would help you build muscle, you would be far better off either hiring a muscle building coach for 1-2 sessions, investing in an online muscle building routine like MAPS, or buying quality food than you would be if you bought supplements.
If you are struggling with muscle gain and consider yourself a hardgainer (like I am) then place your focus on training, diet and lifestyle. Lift heavy and often but also lift appropriately for your fitness level and recovery ability. Eat a LOT of high-quality healthy food. Get good sleep. Just do those three things consistently and your body WILL respond.