When it comes to sculpting your muscles, calories aren’t the only things that count, especially not when you’re depriving yourself of some of the most important nutrients your body needs. Turns out, exercise is only half the process of attaining your dream bod. The rest boils down to what you eat.

Every curl, bench press and squat causes millions of microscopic tears in your muscles, which are then rebuilt and strengthened when you rest. Unless you happen to be a mutant with indestructible claws, chances are it’s going to take a lot of recovery.

The right nutrients can speed up the process. As foods these days become increasingly processed and sugars more refined, getting these vitamins and minerals in their unadulterated form is looking to be a real challenge, which is why we’ve broken down the essential supplements you need to start looking ripped. 

If popping pills aren’t your thing, adding colour to your plate is the simplest way of keeping your muscles in top form. Usually loaded with antioxidants and vitamins, vibrantly-hued fruits and vegetables fight inflammation and help with muscle development and repair, so you’ll see results faster. 

Hit the list below to see exactly what supplements you need for a more defined physique, and why.

(Featured images: Tenzo Tea, Bradley Simmonds)

1
Calcium

We all know calcium’s great for the bones, but it also does wonders for muscle growth and definition. Every exercise move you make causes your muscles to contract. Calcium not only assists in these contractions but also regulates the rate at which your cardiac muscles contract, enabling more efficient growth in the long run. A deficiency in blood calcium would cause the body to retrieve the mineral from your bones instead. 

2
Fish oil

The benefits of  omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have been raved about endlessly by cardiologists and neuroscientists. Now, they’re also gaining attention for being an essential supplement for looking lean. Its highly anti-inflammatory properties enhance the effects of weight training by amping up blood flow to the muscles while reducing muscle protein breakdown. The golden combination of more effective muscle growth and decreased inflammation means you’ll see results much sooner too. 

3
Green tea extract

Catechins are but one of the many antioxidants that’re packed into green tea, and they do more than prevent cancer and lower cholesterol. The phenol works with the caffeine naturally present to boost metabolism and burn fat, allowing for more defined muscles within a shorter period of time.  

(Image: Tenzo tea)

4
B vitamins

Most commonly found in nuts, leafy greens, whole grains, and fortified cereals, B vitamins such as biotin, thiamin and riboflavin are essential for overall health, but especially so when you’re trying to develop muscle. Besides producing energy and maintaining a healthy nervous system, they also play a role in protein metabolism and the breaking down of fat and carbs, which gives you a leaner physique over time. While most people get their daily doses just fine, vegans and vegetarians might need a supplement that provides B12, as it is only found in animal sources naturally. 

(Image: Rosette Jordaan)

5
Vitamin D

Here’s another reason to soak up the sun: the mood and immunity booster is also vital part of muscular contraction, function, and growth, after studies have shown that people who had a higher lean mass and muscle mass also had higher levels of active vitamin D. It also promotes bone growth and strength, giving you a stronger base to work with. You’ll get adequate vitamin D from sun exposure, but if you’re a pseudo-vampire who’s paranoid about skin cancer, a supplement of 4,000 international units of D3 daily will do the trick. 

 

6
Vitamin E

We’ve talked about how avocados make fantastic snacks post-workout because of their high protein, fibre, and healthy fat content, but they’re also a great source of vitamin E. The antioxidant speeds up recovery from oxidative stress like exercise, which in turn accelerates muscle development. Stick to a religious intake of nuts and seeds, and you won’t need supplements for this.

(Image: Toma Evsiukova)

Shatricia Nair
Deputy Editor
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.