Muscles aren’t just for men, so it makes sense, then, that muscle-building supplements aren’t just for men. That said, there’s a science to figuring out how to put supplements together in a way that fuels your workouts (and your gains) without flummoxing your stomach. You need to build slowly, allowing your body to adjust before adding to your stack. For a strong foundation, start with these five basics.

#1 Protein 
Protein is absolutely crucial. Sure, you eat chicken and steak, but if you’re not supplementing with protein powder, you’re not on the fast track to muscle gain. After workouts, getting protein to your muscles as fast as possible boosts protein synthesis and, therefore, muscle growth. But which protein to use? Current research, including a study conducted at Baylor University (Waco, Texas) and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, in 2006, shows that supplementing with a combination of whey and casein proteins after working out spurs the greatest increases in lean muscle mass.

Take this: Pre-workout (30 minutes before training), take 10-15 grams of protein; post-workout (immediately after training), take 20-30 grams.

#2 Creatine
This ever popular supplement is the second most important component of your new plan. Produced naturally by muscles, creatine has been reported to promote significantly greater gains in strength, fat-free mass and performance primarily of high-intensity exercise tasks,” writes Richard Kreider, PhD, in a February 2003 study on the effects of creatine and exercise published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. It also increases endurance and helps create the pump that makes your muscles look so full at the end of a workout.

Take this: Pre-workout (30 minutes before training), take 3-5 grams of creatine; post-workout (immediately after training), take another 3-5 grams.

#3 Zinc Magnesium Aspartate (ZMA)
Wait, you might be thinking, I already get zinc and magnesium in my daily multivitamin. And you do, just not enough. The most definitive study on ZMA to date, published in the October 2000 issue of the Journal of Exercise Physiology, found that subjects who took the supplement experienced higher levels of two muscle-boosting hormones: testosterone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Zinc is also known to be involved in protein synthesis, and magnesium works on the pathways that influence muscle growth.

Take this: Before bed, take two capsules of standardized ZMA, which will deliver 20 mg of zinc and 300 mg of magnesium. [Editor’s Note: The upper limit for zinc and magnesium is 40 mg and 350 mg, respectively. Check your multivitamin, if you’re currently taking one, to make sure you don’t reach these levels.

After three months of supplementing protein, creatine and ZMA, add this to the mix.

#4 Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
This alphabet soup is three essential amino acids (those that can’t be produced by the body and, therefore, must be ingested) that have a similar molecular makeup and are taken together for optimal effect. Of the three—isoleucine, leucine and valine—leucine is the star when it comes to muscle building because it both increases production of insulin, an anabolic hormone, and boosts protein synthesis. Taking all three BCAAs together is ideal, though, because they’re easily converted to glucose, which spares muscle glycogen and amino acid stores and gives you an extra surge of energy when you’re working out.

Take this: Pre- and post-workout, start off by taking 2—3 g BCAAs per dose and slowly increase the dosage to 5 grams.

A month after that, add this last supplement.

#5 Arginine
This gas produced in the body serves to dilate blood vessels, and wider blood vessels mean more blood flow, which equates to more nutrients, supplements and other good stuff getting to the muscles. The catch is that you can’t just pop an NO pill and wait for your muscles to grow. To increase your NO levels, you have to take arginine, an amino acid that the body breaks down into another amino acid, called citrulline, and NO.

Take this: Pre- and post-workout, take 2—3 grams of arginine.