Ranking the best bulking stacks of 2020

Ranking the best bulking stacks of 2020

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Bulking stacks are supplement combinations that are designed to increase your body’s ability to gain mass as quickly as possible. Ideally, the majority of this mass will be muscle mass as opposed to fat.

Modeled after the bulking and cutting stacks created using anabolic steroids, a bulking stack supplement fits well into a classic bodybuilding training plan that involves cycling between phases of bulking up and cutting down.

Bulking stacks also find broad use among athletes in sports where gaining mass is an important priority, such as football and in athletes trying to move up to a higher weight class in combat sports like boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts.

Our research team tracked down the best bulking stack supplements for serious athletes looking to gain strength, power, and size as quickly and as effectively as possible. 

Rankings

1. CrazyBulk Bulking Stack

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CrazyBulk makes a great four-part bulking stack supplement. Though the names of the supplements included (D-Bal, Testo-Max, DecaDuro, and Trenorol) are suggestive of steroids, have no fear—these are all-natural steroid alternatives.

Each supplement includes herbal extracts and biologically active compounds designed with a specific purpose in mind. For example, Decaduro includes ginseng, wild yeam, and tribulus terrestris to support high levels of anabolic hormones, while D-Bal includes whey protein, leucine, isoleucine, and valine (the three essential branched chain amino acids), which support synthesis of new muscle tissue.

CrazyBulk’s ability to address all of the important components of supporting a proper bulking cycle are what land it in the number one position. 

2. Crazy Muscle Bulking Stack

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Crazy Muscle offers a four-part stack of supplements that does a great job covering all of your bases for bulking up. For supporting muscle mass and muscle repair, it offers a blend of branched chain amino acids as well as a three-part creatine supplement.

You’ll also get glutamine, which aids muscle repair, and hormone supporting compounds like milk thistle, zinc, tribulus terrestris, and saw palmetto.

These help sustain a strong anabolic environment in your body, while encouraging maximum muscle growth with minimal fat gain. The well-balanced all-around approach of Crazy Muscle is why it ended up near the top of our rankings. 

3. Redcon1 Moab Muscle Builder

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Redcon1 Moab is a bulking supplement that has several of the latest cutting-edge supplements for both anabolic support and muscle protein synthesis.

It features HMB, HICA, epicatechin from green tea extract, panax ginseng, and astragalus, alongside a strong dose of vitamin D3. These ingredients provide a different approach than the usual strategy of using amino acids plus creatine for muscle strength and various herbal extracts for testosterone and growth hormone support. It’s definitely worth a shot if you want to try out the next generation of bulking stack supplements. 

4. Genius Muscle Builder

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Genius Brand makes a name for itself by pushing the limits with new, cutting-edge supplements. Its bulking stack makes extensive use of medicinal mushrooms, including cordyceps, reishi, turkey tail, and lion’s mane mushrooms.

On top of that, you get HMB to directly support muscle synthesis. To top it off, it also includes a high dose of vitamin D to support healthy hormone levels. If other bulking stacks aren’t doing the trick, give Genius Muscle Builder a try—its sophisticated ingredients could be what you need to boost your gains during a bulking cycle

5. MuscleTech Clear Muscle Next Gen

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If run of the mill bulking stacks aren’t doing the trick for you, MuscleTech Clear Muscle Next Gen might be worth a shot. It provides a combination of HMB and betaine, which are relatively new compounds which are thought to support both muscle synthesis and an anabolic hormone environment.

Though this bulking supplement doesn’t conform to the usual distinctions between supporting muscle synthesis, an anabolic hormone environment, and augmented muscle power production, it might be worth a shot given the promising scientific research on its individual ingredients (especially HMB).

6. Vintage Build

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Vintage Build borrows heavily from post-workout supplement formulations, using leucine, isoleucine, and valine (the branched chain amino acids) as well as glutamine and creatine monohydrate to support muscle synthesis and recovery following punishing workouts.

As a bulking stack, Vintage Build works best when combined with another bulking supplement that specifically targets anabolic hormone levels to optimize muscle mass gain and minimize fat gain.

7. Build-XT

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Build-XT uses many of the same medicinal mushroom ingredients found in Genius Muscle, alongside a combination of astragalus root and ginseng root plus peat and apple fruit extracts, both of which are designed to boost energy levels.

The workout and hormone benefits are solid, though this supplement could use a bit more in the way of compounds that directly support muscle tissue synthesis. Fortunately, this is easy to correct by adding something like a BCAA capsule to your supplemental regimen alongside Build-XT.

8. MuscleTech MyoBuild Amino-BCAA

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MuscleTech makes a bulking supplement that borrows heavily from research on using amino acids for muscle repair and muscle synthesis. It includes all three branched chain amino acids, plus betaine, taurine, tart cherry, and coconut water powder for augmenting muscle recovery.

Like many of the other products on the market that focus on muscle repair and synthesis, it’s lacking a bit when it comes to ingredients to support high levels of testosterone and human growth hormone, which knocks it down a few places in the rankings. Other than that area of weakness, though, it’s a supplement for bulking cycles.

9. Jacked Factory Growth Surge

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Jacked Factory Growth Surge combines the utility of a post-workout supplement with the benefits of a bulking stack supplement. This powder-form supplement gives you a hefty dose of creatine for muscle mass and muscle power, plus betaine and L-carnitine for direct improvements in muscle repair and muscle power production.

To top it off, it uses black pepper extract to improve the bioavailability of the supplemental ingredients. Though it is lacking when it comes to ingredients to support high levels of anabolic hormones, it excels at providing the necessary building blocks for muscle tissue.

10. Pride Nutrition Muscle Stack

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Pride Nutrition provides a bulking stack that includes a testosterone-supporting capsule with ingredients like longjack fruit, maca root, and magnesium, as well as a liquid amino acid supplement which provides branched chain amino acids for supporting muscle protein synthesis.

While it has solid coverage of the different aspects of bulking it, it doesn’t have quite the same dosage and breadth of ingredients as some of its other competitors, which results in Pride Nutrition Elevate being further down in the rankings. 

Who should buy a bulking stack?

Bulking stacks are designed for serious athletes who want to add substantial amounts of muscle mass. They are designed to elevate your levels of natural anabolic hormones, and provide your body with the precursors it needs to synthesize new muscle tissue, repair damage to your muscle fibers, and control levels of hormones that inhibit muscle growth, like estrogen and cortisol.

All of these factors help increase your body’s ability to add muscle mass and encourage muscle growth. Bulking also entails putting on some fat, but a bulking stack is also designed to minimize the amount of body fat you gain, without inhibiting your overall muscle mass improvements.

This last goal is a point of distinction between a bulking stack and a mass gainer—the latter category of supplement is designed with increases in pure body mass as the primary goal, versus increases in muscle mass specifically.

Mass gainers can be used in conjunction with bulking stacks, but they’re primarily sources of macros (often, protein and carbs) as opposed to a source of supplements for sustaining an optimal hormonal profile for adding muscle mass. 

The primary users of bulking stacks are serious athletes, including bodybuilders, wrestlers, football players, and powerlifters. Bulking stacks are best used by people training for sports that involve adding muscle mass, with less focus on power-to-weight ratio, or by people who intend to bulk for several weeks to add muscle mass, then do a cutting phase to shave off excess body weight. 

Bulking stacks are less well-suited for casual fitness enthusiasts who are just looking to improve their strength a bit, or who don’t have a regimented bulking and cutting cycle laid out already.

Bulking stacks also may not be the best choice if your sport depends strongly on your muscular power relative to your overall body weight, such as in running or cycling. Bulking stacks do find use among athletes in sports with weight classes (including many combat sports), though they are typically only used when an athlete is trying to bulk up to move up to a larger weight category.

This is decidedly less common than using a cutting stack to drop weight and move to a lower weight category, since some of the advantages associated with weight have more to do with your body structure than your body composition.

Even when combat sports or bodybuilding competitors use bulking stacks to move up to a higher weight class, they’ll typically intentionally overshoot, then cut off fat to drop down to their target weight. 

In sum, bulking stacks are best utilized by athletes with specific, laid-out training goals that involve or require putting on a substantial amount of muscle mass. Further, you should be okay with gaining a bit of body fat while doing so—this is a necessary part of adding substantial amounts of muscle mass, since it generally isn’t possible to put on a significant amount of muscle with no gains in body fat. 

How we ranked

When we formulated our rankings of the best bulking stacks on the market, we looked at three primary criteria. First among these was the ability of a bulking stack supplement to directly support synthesis of new muscle.

This meant including ingredients like branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, which are the building blocks for muscle fibers, as well as other useful precursors like whey protein (which also contains BCAAs) or creatine, which aids with improving muscle size and muscle power at the same time. 

Next, we considered the extent to which each bulking stack supported high levels of testosterone and human growth hormone. Keeping these hormone levels high is essential for gaining muscle mass, since they are such a major influence on the anabolic state of your body.

Ingredients to boost testosterone and growth hormone, from simple compounds like zinc and magnesium to more advanced herbal extracts like tribulus terrestris ginseng, and fenugreek seed, might give your body the extra boost it needs to maintain high levels of testosterone and HGH synthesis. These hormones are important not just because they support increased muscle synthesis, but also because they discourage the accumulation of body fat. 

Third, we examined whether each supplement had additional compounds that would boost the power and strength of the muscles you already have. That includes creatine (it does double-duty, supporting muscle gains and power increases), beta-alanine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and other supplements that can boost muscular power output.

While these don’t directly contribute to gaining muscle mass, they do increase your workout performance, which indirectly leads to increased bulk by permitting higher-caliber training sessions. 

We steered clear of anything that was too close to being a pure mass gainer. While mass gainers have their place as supplements, they don’t accomplish quite the same thing as a bulking stack.

Mass gainers tend to bulk you up with more fat than would be ideal if bulking and cutting cycles are your goal. Some of the products that made our rankings did include high calorie ingredients, but all of these also had strong benefits beyond just their caloric content. Simple mass gainers that had nothing but starch and protein powder were dropped from further consideration. 

Among the bulking stack supplements that provided at least one of the three criteria above, we rank-ordered the remaining products according to the number of different potential benefits they provided, as well as their overall purity and supplement design.

Products with a lot of artificial colorings and flavoring agents, or binders and stabilizers, got moved down in the rankings or dropped completely. The top remaining products made our list of the best bulking stack supplements available right now. 

Benefits

Bulking stacks with BCAAs and other amino acid sources can help you improve muscle gains. It should be no surprise to anyone considering a bulking stack supplement that your caloric intake, and particularly your protein intake, need to be high during a bulking phase—that’s a given, and not something you should be relying on a bulking stack to provide (instead, use a mass gainer and protein powder if you need supplemental caloric intake).

However, a bulking stack can provide a few key ingredients that can accelerate your body’s ability to repair damage to muscle fibers. Chief among these potential ingredients are branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs.

According to a scientific research paper published in 2006 in the Journal of Nutrition by a team of researchers in Japan, branched chain amino acid supplementation can boost muscle repair, reducing muscle soreness and decrements in performance after difficult lifting workouts (1).

While BCAAs at the level delivered in a bulking stack aren’t going to contribute much to large increases in body mass directly (since that requires a lot of calories), they do contribute indirectly to mass gain by allowing you to perform more intense workouts and recover better afterwards.

Since muscle gains are directly related to the intensity of your workouts, a bulking stack that contains BCAAs or other amino acid sources allows you to create a greater stimulus for muscle gains. Just make sure you’re still getting raw calories and raw protein from other sources as well.

Bulking stacks that include anabolic hormone-boosting supplements will help sustain muscle growth and discourage fat accumulation. Bulking stacks and cutting stacks have nearly opposite goals, but one area where their ingredients overlap is in the inclusion of supplemental compounds that are designed to boost levels of human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone.

That’s because these anabolic (muscle-building) hormones are essential both for building and maintaining muscle mass. Testosterone in particular has the added benefit of discouraging the accumulation of body fat. According to a scientific paper published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, there is strong evidence that changes in body composition are moderated by testosterone levels (2).

For example, as men get older, their testosterone levels tend to decline, and their body fat percentage tends to increase. More conclusive evidence comes from studies where older men are given supplemental testosterone—their lean body mass increases and their body fat content decreases.

Results from studies like these give strong evidence that sustaining high testosterone levels can not just encourage muscle growth and maintenance, but discourage fat accumulation, which is an important goal during bulking. To that end, supplements that support high testosterone levels should be an integral part of a bulking stack. 

Power-boosting compounds like beta-alanine, creatine, and others can indirectly lead to greater muscle mass. As discussed earlier, while raw increases in muscle mass come from converting calories (and more specifically, protein) in your diet into muscle tissue, supplemental ingredients that boost your ability to perform during and recover after your workouts have the ability to indirectly influence your muscle mass gains while bulking.

In addition to BCAAs, bulking stack ingredients like beta-alanine, glutamine, and creatine can boost your muscular power production or improve your recovery capacity. Either of these outcomes will increase the training stimulus on your body or its adaptive response, leading to greater muscle mass gains.

Creatine is a particularly interesting example, because it supports muscular power as well as directly supporting mass gains. According to a review article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, creatine supplementation (usually in the form of creatine monohydrate) supports strength and size increases in two ways (3).

First, it leads to direct increases in muscle mass and size, but second, and equally importantly, it leads to increased muscular power production due to enhancements of the creatine phosphate energy system.

These enhancements permit higher-caliber workouts, which in turn generate a greater training stimulus for the body. While they aren’t the most important ingredients in a bulking stack, they can nevertheless be useful when it comes to squeezing out maximal gains during your bulking phase.

Side effects

Compared to cutting stacks, which often feature powerful stimulants to burn off fat quickly, bulking stacks tend to have a milder side effect profile. Supplemental ingredients like creatine and BCAAs have excellent safety profiles; that is also the case for run of the mill vitamins and minerals to support a healthy hormonal profile, like zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D.

Even some of the newer bulking stack supplements which feature HMB appear to have pretty good safety profiles, based on clinical trials on HMB showing no significant adverse effects at doses used in research.

The area where bulking stacks may run into issues with side effects is in some of the herbal extracts that support high testosterone levels, like tribulus terrestris, longjack, or fenugreek seed extracts.

There tends to be less research on the efficacy and safety of these herbal ingredients, and some of them have been associated with gastrointestinal problems. 

Recommended dosage

For basic bulking stack supplement ingredients like creatine and BCAAs, dosing recommendations are fairly well-researched and well-documented. For creatine, a dose of three grams per day (possibly after a few days or a week of a “loading” phase with higher doses of 15-20 grams of creatine per day) appears to be enough to generate optimal strength and mass gains from a creatine supplement (4).

This is pretty typical of the amount of creatine you’d get in a bulking stack that chooses to include creatine monohydrate as one of its core ingredients. BCAAs, similarly, don’t require massive doses to be effective: a dose of three to six grams is thought to be effective for boosting muscle recovery and limiting soreness and fatigue. 

As for ingredients that sustain an anabolic hormone environment, the research is less clear. For compounds like tribulus terrestris, horny goat weed, longjack, ginseng, and other androgen supporting ingredients in a bulking stack, you’ll generally have to trust the nutritionists that formulate the product in question.

One good indicator of quality is listing ingredients separately, as opposed to grouping all of the herbal extracts into a single proprietary blend. Separate ingredient listings in a bulking stack allow you to directly evaluate the contents of a specific ingredient and compare them with other bulking products.

FAQ

Q: How does a bulking stack work? 

A: Bulking stacks intent to support your body’s ability to pack on extra muscle mass through three main mechanisms. First among these is directly supplying your body with precursors for muscle tissue.

Usually, this means including branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) or creatine in a bulking stack supplement. These ingredients are well-known to be direct precursors for muscle synthesis.

Of course, they aren’t the primary contributors to raw increases in body mass; this can only come from the protein and calories in your diet. However, they do provide key building blocks for new muscle tissue.

The second mechanism that bulking stacks target is maintaining high levels of testosterone and human growth hormone throughout your bulking phase. These hormones encourage muscle growth and discourage the deposition of additional body fat. Thus, high levels of these anabolic hormones encourages a good bulking phase that packs on a lot of muscle and minimal fat.

Finally, bulking stacks can indirectly support greater muscle mass gains by improving your workout performance through compounds like beta-alanine, glutamine, and creatine (which has a dual function as a direct precursor for muscle mass). 

Q: How is a bulking stack different from a cutting stack? 

A: In short, bulking stacks are designed for putting on muscle mass, while minimizing body fat gain. In contrast, a cutting stack is designed for decreasing body fat, while minimizing loss of muscle mass.

Many of the ingredients used in bulking stacks are not found in cutting stacks, since their goals are quite opposite, but one exception is with compounds designed to boost testosterone and human growth hormone levels. Interestingly, these anabolic hormones support the goals of both bulking and cutting.

The direct connection with bulking is obvious, but high levels of anabolic hormones can minimize muscle loss during cutting, and even encourage burning off body fat. This feature is beneficial during cutting, since burning fat is a primary objective, but is also useful during bulking because it minimizes body fat gains through a mechanism that does not affect overall metabolism (which could interfere with bulking). 

Q: What kind of protein is best for bulking? 

A: For bulking, you want a protein powder that has a complete amino acid profile. If you have no dietary restrictions, one of the best candidates is whey protein: it’s been proven to be effective in many different studies, it has a complete amino acid profile, and seems to confer a small but significant advantage over other forms of supplemental protein.

However, the specific type of protein you consume takes a back seat to the overall quantity of protein. It’s far better to get adequate protein intake, even if it’s from suboptimal sources, than to get less protein than is desirable, no matter how high-quality the source.

The situation is a little different for cutting, since you are intentionally trying to limit your caloric intake in that situation but for bulking, where excess calorie consumption is the goal, the purity and protein content by weight is less of an issue than during a cutting cycle. 

Q: What supplements should you take when bulking on a keto diet? 

A: Bulking on the keto diet can be tricky, because keeping a high protein intake while staying in ketosis can be tricky. Supplements that can help include BCAAs and creatine, which are very low in non-fat calories but support muscle protein synthesis.

You may also benefit from an exogenous ketone supplement, which can keep you in ketosis even if your protein or carbohydrate is a bit beyond what is normally necessary for staying in a state of ketosis.

One type of supplement you should definitely steer clear of is traditional mass gainers—these tend to be packed with carbs, and will rapidly pull you out of ketosis and put your body back into a state with a lot of glucose in your blood.

Q: Do bulking stacks boost your testosterone levels? 

A: Boosting or at least maintaining testosterone levels is one of the primary goals of a bulking stack supplement. Ingredients like tribulus terrestris, horny goat weed, ginseng, and fenugreek seed extract all aim to boost testosterone levels, and are commonly found in bulking stacks.

Even simple mineral ingredients like zinc and magnesium find their way into bulking stacks, thanks to research indicating that lower levels of these minerals are associated with lower levels of testosterone.

While the changes in testosterone levels that are attainable from a bulking stack aren’t going to be anywhere near what you’d get with testosterone cream or testosterone injections, they are legal and available without a prescription. To the extent that higher levels of testosterone boost muscle mass gains and limit body fat accumulation, they are very helpful in the context of a bulking cycle. 

Q: What supplements can help you increase muscle density without bulking up? 

A: If you are specifically looking to avoid bulking up, a good strategy is to support muscle protein synthesis while avoiding the state of excess caloric energy availability that characterizes a typical bulking phase.

The only way your body can bulk up is if you provide it with calories in excess of what you burn off in a typical day, and if this caloric excess is maintained for several weeks. By keeping a fairly strict diet, but also providing your body with BCAAs, creatine, or controlled amounts of a high quality protein like hydrolyzed whey protein, you can encourage muscle repair and synthesis without large increases in your body mass.

Of course, you won’t get the same benefits in strength that you would get if you were bulking—the whole rationale behind alternating cycles of bulking and cutting is that it has been found to be the most effective way to increase strength and maintain a lean physique—boost strength and muscle mass first, then burn off excess body fat. 

Q: Is glutamine supplementation helpful while bulking? 

A: Glutamine is a supplement that is often found in pre-workout supplements, and has multiple benefits during bulking. It’s a type of amino acid that helps boost muscle recovery, but it also helps increase human growth hormone levels. It can even reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles during intense workouts.

It should be pretty clear to see why these kinds of benefits are useful for bulking. Many bulking stack supplements do in fact include glutamine, including several of the top-ranked bulking stacks in our rankings.

Often, glutamine is found alongside other supplements that increase muscle recovery and improve muscle performance, like branched chain amino acids and creatine. 

Q: How long should a bulking stack last? 

A: Most bodybuilding experts suggest spending at least four to six weeks on a bulking cycle, during which you’d take a bulking stack. This lines up with most research on resistance training and supplementation, which usually involves studies with a duration of at least eight to twelve weeks.

It takes several weeks to get real gains in muscle mass, and the process of muscle accumulation is relatively slow. So, you need to sustain an anabolic hormonal state and have protein available for muscle synthesis for a long time (on the order of several weeks) if you are going to encourage your body to substantially increase its muscle mass.

Bulking cycles are sometimes set not for a specific period of time, but for a specific amount of weight (e.g. adding 15 pounds). This strategy is more common among athletes in sports with specific weight categories, like bodybuilding and mixed martial arts. Usually these plans also involve cutting to a specified weight after the bulking cycle ends. 

Related articles

Recap

For serious athletes looking to add muscle mass as quickly as possible, a bulking stack supplement can help you optimize your bulking phase.

By providing your body with compounds that increase muscle power and recovery, assist with synthesis of new muscle tissue, and support an anabolic hormonal profile in your body, bulking stack supplements aim to provide your body with the compounds it needs for maximal muscle mass gain and minimal body fat increases.

Of course, bulking stacks are meant to be used alongside a rigorous training program to increase your muscle mass, plus a diet regimen that’s replete with enough calories and protein content to support the raw increase in mass that you’re looking for. When used alongside a well planned bulking cycle, a bulking stack might be just what you need for maximum gains.

For BodyNutrition‘s #1 bulking stack recommendation, click here.



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