Supplements with purported effects on muscle mass and strength

  • Pedro L. Valenzuela
  • Javier S. Morales
  • Enzo Emanuele
  • Helios Pareja-GaleanoEmail author
  • Alejandro Lucia



Several supplements are purported to promote muscle hypertrophy and strength gains in healthy subjects, or to prevent muscle wasting in atrophying situations (e.g., ageing or disuse periods). However, their effectiveness remains unclear.


This review summarizes the available evidence on the beneficial impacts of several popular supplements on muscle mass or strength.


Among the supplements tested, nitrate and caffeine returned sufficient evidence supporting their acute beneficial effects on muscle strength, whereas the long-term consumption of creatine, protein and polyunsaturated fatty acids seems to consistently increase or preserve muscle mass and strength (evidence level A). On the other hand, mixed or unclear evidence was found for several popular supplements including branched-chain amino acids, adenosine triphosphate, citrulline, β-Hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate, minerals, most vitamins, phosphatidic acid or arginine (evidence level B), weak or scarce evidence was found for conjugated linoleic acid, glutamine, resveratrol, tribulus terrestris or ursolic acid (evidence level C), and no evidence was found for other supplements such as ornithine or α-ketoglutarate (evidence D). Of note, although most supplements appear to be safe when consumed at typical doses, some adverse events have been reported for some of them (e.g., caffeine, vitamins, α-ketoglutarate, tribulus terrestris, arginine) after large intakes, and there is insufficient evidence to determine the safety of many frequently used supplements (e.g., ornithine, conjugated linoleic acid, ursolic acid).


 In summary, despite their popularity, there is little evidence supporting the use of most supplements, and some of them have been even proven ineffective or potentially associated with adverse effects.


Hypertrophy Ergogenic aid Skeletal muscle Protein supplementation Prevention of atrophy Sarcopenia 



PLV is supported by University of Alcalá (FPI2016); JSM is supported by Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (FPU14/03435); HPG is supported by Universidad Europea de Madrid (2017/UEM05) and Cátedra Real Madrid–Universidad Europea (2017/RM03); AL is supported by Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and Fondos FEDER (PI15/00558).

Author contributions

All authors have contributed significantly to the work: HPG and EE conceived the original idea; JSM and PLV wrote the initial draft; HP-G, EE and AL reviewed the draft and contributed to the final version of the manuscript. All authors (PLV, JSM, EE, HP-G and AL) have read and approved the final version of the manuscript, and agree with the order of presentation of the authors.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sport and HealthSpanish Agency for Health Protection in Sport (AEPSAD)MadridSpain
  2. 2.Physiology Unit. Systems Biology DepartmentUniversity of AlcaláMadridSpain
  3. 3.Faculty of Sport SciencesUniversidad Europea De Madrid, Villaviciosa De OdónMadridSpain
  4. 4.2E ScienceRobbioItaly
  5. 5.Research Institute of the Hospital 12 De Octubre (i+12)MadridSpain

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