Bodybuilding without supplements is totally possible as long as you follow a proper nutrition plan, get enough sleep and train hard enough.
Most want to believe that it’s impossible to build aesthetic physic without the added assistance of supplements.
The truth is that proper diet, recovery and diet regime are the cornerstones that will help you achieve 95% of the results.
Therefore, it makes sense to use certain supplements but that last bit of progress, but they aren’t vital.
So, in this article, I will answer the question of “whether bodybuilding can be done without supplements,” from many different angles.
Here’s what you will learn:
- What Exactly Are Bodybuilding Supplements
- Can You Do Bodybuilding Without Supplements?
- Challenges in Bodybuilding Without Supplements
- When to Start Using Supplements
- Pros and Cons of Supplements
- Which Supplements Are Worth Buying
- Which Supplements Are Not Worth Buying
- How to Substitute Supplements
What Exactly Are Bodybuilding Supplements
First of all, you must fully understand the term “bodybuilding supplement”.
While some people who don’t want to call steroids by their actual name may refer to those substances as “supplements”.
In this article, I refer to supplements as dietary supplements – the addition to an already healthy diet.
These supplements may include products that could help you reach your daily nutritional needs, decrease nutrient deficiencies, improve athletic performance and help achieve fitness goals.
Can You Do Bodybuilding Without Supplements?
In short – YES!
You can definitely build great physic without taking any supplements whatsoever.
It’s possible, as long as you follow a proper diet, training and recovery plan.
In some cases, it makes a lot of sense to use certain bodybuilding supplements. Especially, if your goal is to compete at a high level.
More so, supplements help you overcome various challenges, common among those looking to build as much muscle as possible while being a “natural” athlete.
Challenges in Bodybuilding Without Supplements
These are the most common challenges when doing bodybuilding with no supplements (in no particular order).
Eating enough protein throughout the day is a common challenge for many who are looking to build muscle.
That’s why protein powder is one of the most common bodybuilding supplements.
Without protein powder, you will have to find other ways to increase protein in your diet.
For example, if you require around 150g of protein per day, just like me, you would need to eat 3 large chicken breasts, not taking into count protein from other foods.
That could be a lot of cooking and it’s also quite expensive to buy so much meat.
Performance and Strength
Another downside to bodybuilding without any supplementation is a drop in performance.
Creatine monohydrate can help you avoid that. It is one of the most researched and effective bodybuilding supplements out there.
Studies show, that creatine monohydrate provides many benefits. The main ones being an increase in strength and power, as well as enhanced anaerobic and cognitive performance.
It’s also super cheap!
Creatine monohydrate can also be found in different foods such as red meat, poultry and fish but in very small quantities.
Vitamins and Minerals
Getting an adequate amount of every single vitamin and mineral our bodies need, from food alone, is incredibly challenging.
Especially getting enough vitamin D during the wintertime. It is far more efficient to take vitamin D, as a supplement than spending time outside, catching the sunlight and eating specific foods, rich in vitamin D.
By combining some of the aforementioned supplements, specifically protein powder and creatine monohydrate you can recover faster.
This means that you can minimize, the level of sourness the day or two after tough training. By recovering faster and being able to train harder you will be able to build more muscle over a long period of time.
All of us had days when we felt low on energy before going to the gym.
In these cases, a pre-workout supplement can help. It can provide a much-needed energy boost to help you power through the workout session.
Plus, it tends to make you feel “unstoppable” and probably adds a bit to the total level of power you can output during that session.
Focus and Motivation
There’s probably no scientific explanation to this, apart from my anecdotal, but trying out new supplements, tends to make you feel more focused and keeps you motivated.
I am sure, I am not the only one who thinks like that.
Maybe because you spend your hard-earned money on it and expect it to work?!
When to Start Using Supplements
As I mentioned previously, you should start using supplements for bodybuilding only when you have optimized all the other cornerstones in fitness, which account for the majority of your progress.
Before you consider taking any supplements, make sure to:
- Eat the right number of calories according to your goal
- Have adequate macronutrient distribution ranges
- Train hard enough, and track the progress of every workout using, for example, my google sheets workout template
- Get enough sleep of about 7 – 9 hours a day
Pros and Cons of Supplements
As with anything, there are also both pros and cons to taking supplements.
In my opinion, these are the main ones.
- Convenience – it’s far more convenient to use certain supplements such as protein powder and creatine monohydrate than eating whole food, to reach daily targets of protein and creatine, respectively.
- Effectiveness – some supplements, but not all, have been proven to be highly effective, for example, creatine monohydrate.
- Less expensive – some supplements such as protein powder and creatine monohydrate are less expensive in comparison to whole foods.
- Ineffectiveness – the majority of bodybuilding supplements hardly provide any benefit.
- Expensive – apart from the before-mentioned protein, creatine, as well as some vitamin and mineral supplements, most supplements can be very costly.
- Highly processes – most supplements are ultra-processed and much lower in nutrients in comparison to whole foods.
Which Supplements Are Worth Buying
Throughout my fitness journey so far, I have read numerous articles and reviews, watched hundreds of videos about the best supplements for bodybuilding.
I also have tried different supplements myself and have managed to get a good idea of which supplements are worth buying and which are a complete waste of money.
Examine is a great resource, full of reviews of supplements backed with references to scientific papers. So, go there if you want to see whether or not a specific supplement actually works.
However, in the next section, I will discuss supplements that are useful, that you should consider implementing into your diet, as a bodybuilder.
There are different kinds of protein powders on the market – whey, casein, vegan blends containing peas, soya, rice and other ingredients.
The most popular one is whey protein.
If you are struggling to consume enough protein throughout the day from food, then consider supplementing your diet with some protein powder.
Moreover, if you are on a lean bulk diet, and find it hard to consume enough calories, you can add a source of carbohydrates such as oats or a carb blend into your regular protein shake and make it significantly higher in calories.
Lastly, protein powder can be a less expensive way of reaching your daily protein targets in comparison to whole foods.’
As I mentioned previously, creatine monohydrate is one of the most studies supplements and is proven to be effective in many ways.
It is also very inexpensive and it’s hard to intake in effective doses solely from whole foods.
That’s why I would recommend seriously considering supplementing with creatine monohydrate if you are serious about getting stronger and building muscle mass.
Whether or not pre-workout supplements are a waste of money is a controversial topic.
There’s no denying that a good pre-workout supplement with effective doses of each ingredient – works.
The problem can arise once you start analyzing the ingredient panel. Specifically doses of each ingredient and the price you pay for each serving.
The most effective ingredient in a pre-workout supplement is caffeine, so make sure the pre-workout you choose contains at least 200mg of caffeine per serving.
Or you can easily substitute it with caffeine tablets or coffee.
Other effective ingredients to keep in mind when picking a pre-workout supplement are citrulline malate and beta-alanine. Their standard daily doses for enhancing sports performance are 6 – 8g for citrulline malate and 2 – 5 g for beta-alanine.
Vitamins and Omega
Lastly, if you are training frequently, with high intensity, taking some sort of a multivitamin, again with effective dosages is a good idea. Especially if you are in a calorie deficit.
Furthermore, supplementing with omega-3 is of high importance for bodybuilders. Particularly, if you don’t consume fatty fish on a regular basis.
Which Supplements Are Not Worth Buying
The supplements I mention in this section are highly overrated in the bodybuilding community. They sure do provide some effect but in comparison to their price, they are a waste of money.
Most fat burners are supplements with high doses of caffeine and other stimulants that increase your heart rate and make you sweat more.
This makes you “feel” like you are burning more fat. But that isn’t necessarily the case, and the effect is minuscule.
Some use fat burners as a pre-workout supplement since it makes you more energized during the training. But if you are already taking caffeine, then there is no need for a fat burner.
Sure, there are some (illegal) fat burners that are effective when it comes to burning fat, but that isn’t within the scope of this article.
Similarly, some testosterone boosters might be effective for a short period of time if you have very low levels of testosterone.
Although the best way to boost your testosterone is simply by:
- Minimizing stress
- Getting enough sleep
- Not being in a calorie deficit for a long period of time
- Eating whole foods
- Strength training
Therefore, I think most of them are a complete waste of money.
BCAAs can help you feel less fatigued during the workout, and help recover faster.
But only if you don’t consume protein during the day.
If you are hitting your daily protein targets then there is no benefit that BCAAs can provide you apart from nice tasting water. A waste of money.
Mass Gainer Shakes
Shakes that are meant for gaining mass are nothing more than protein powder combined with a carbohydrate blend.
You easily make your own mass gainer shake without wasting money.
Make your protein shake and add oats, carb blend, banana or honey and you have your own gainer shake, simple as that.
How to Substitute Supplements
Most supplements on the market can be categorized into three groups – protein, pre-workout, vitamin and mineral supplements.
Let me give you examples of how you could substitute supplements from each group with whole, unprocessed foods.
Protein Supplement Substitutes
You can reduce the need for protein supplements just by optimizing your current diet and making sure you consume enough protein daily.
Focus on increasing the amount of protein you consume in every meal.
Try to include a serving of protein in every meal that you eat.
Here is a list of minimally processed foods, high in protein:
- Meat – beef, lamb, pork, veal
- Poultry – chicken, turkey, duck, goose
- Fish & seafood – fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops
- Eggs – whole eggs, egg whites
- Dairy – milk, greek yoghurt, cheese
- Nuts & seeds – almonds, macadamias, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds
- Legumes & beans – various beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Meat substitutes – quorn, tempeh, tofu
Recommended Reading: What Is Protein? – Sources, Benefits & Requirements
As I mentioned before, the most effective ingredient in pre-workout is caffeine.
So you can easily substitute it by drinking a cup of coffee 40 – 60 minutes before your workout.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to have a pre-workout meal, 1 – 2 hours before going to the gym.
A typical pre-workout meal should be high in protein and carbohydrates with a mix of fast and slow-digesting carbs such as fruit or honey and oats, respectively.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Without a multi-vitamin, you will have to get all your micronutrients from whole foods such as vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, berries, meat, seafood, grains, etc.
Make sure to consume a variety of whole foods to assure that you get all the needed vitamins and minerals.
This is extremely important when following a cutting diet while being in a caloric deficit for a long period of time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bodybuilsing Without Supplements
Can I Get Big Without Supplements?
It’s entirely possible to get big without taking any supplements. When packing on as much muscle as possible, it’s important to be in a caloric surplus and consume enough protein. You can save yourself time and money by simply eating a balanced diet to reach your fitness goals.
Are Supplements Necessary for Bodybuilding?
While supplements such as protein powder can help you consume the protein necessary for consistent muscle growth, it is not a requirement. It’s possible to reach your daily protein target (about one gram per pound) by eating whole, minimally processed foods.
Can I Build Muscle Without Supplements?
If you want to build muscle without taking supplements, you should ensure that you consume enough protein throughout the day. It is the primary macronutrient responsible for forming new muscle tissue. Protein powder is one of the most popular bodybuilding supplements and helps you hit your daily protein targets.
Sure, you can build muscle and have great looking physic without taking any supplements.
But why should you?!
As discussed in the article, there are some very useful and effective supplements, as well as some that are a complete waste of money.
Before you even think about supplementation, make sure that you have a proper workout program, nutrition plan and adequate recovery in between your workouts.
These cornerstones contribute to the majority of progress.
Then, feel free to take a look at my recommended supplements and consider trying some out.