When it comes to staying fit and healthy, exercise is absolutely essential. Having a regular exercise and fitness routine is a key part of any health plan, and even more important is actually sticking to that plan.
We spend a lot of time and energy exercising; whether our choice of activity is a weightlifting session at the gym, a run through the woods or a swim in the lake. However, there is something that is equally as important as the exercise itself, that we often don’t spend enough time thinking about or working towards.
Recovery is the time following your exercise session wherein your body must rest, recuperate and heal. Depending on the type, intensity and duration of the exercise, this can take anywhere from a few hours to several days. Post-workout recovery is not something that a lot of us pay much attention to, but it’s vitally important to our success.
During recovery, our body needs nutrients and rest. Obviously our diet provides nutrients, but often, we don’t get enough of what our bodies crave the most through our diets alone. That’s where good recovery supplements may come in handy.
Just like there are a ton of supplements designed to help boost your athletic performance during exercise, there are a ton of supplements that are designed to help boost your recovery after exercise.
What Are Recovery Supplements?
Recovery supplements are a broad category of health products that are used to aid in post-workout recovery. There are many different products that fall into this category. The best post-workout supplements aim to give your body the tools it needs to fully and completely recover.
Some examples of good recovery supplements include whey protein, which provides the much-needed protein and amino acids which help to repair damaged muscle tissue and build muscle.
Other effective recovery supplements, such as multivitamins and magnesium, aim to provide overall health support, which can help your body recover more efficiently. We’ll get into more detail about the best supplements for recovery in the guide below.
How Can Supplements Help You Recover?
Supplements can have ingredients that help your body rest and recuperate, which leads to better post-workout recovery. These ingredients may also help to reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery time, among many other benefits. One important thing to think about is that you are in control of your fitness and exercise routines.
You decide to get up and hit the gym; you decide to push yourself for that last set. But when it comes to recovery, you simply have to take a rest and let your body do its thing. With that said, there are certain things you can do to help in the process – such as resting and eating well.
Why Should You Take Them?
Here are some key reasons why you should consider taking the supplements for help with post-workout recovery:
Recovery is just as important as exercise – this may seem like a misleading statement, but it’s absolutely true: your body needs time to rest and recovery after you exercise. Budgeting for adequate recovery time is vitally important for all types of athletes.
During periods of rest and recovery is when the the real magic happens. Muscle doesn’t grow while you’re working out: it grows while you rest, after your workouts. The best post-workout supplements may help to optimize recovery time.
Your body needs extra nutrients during recovery – exercise is quite strenuous on the body, particularly if we’re talking about weightlifting and other intense forms of activity. In order to recover properly, your body needs to replenish lost nutrients.
Protein is absolutely essential, as it serves as the building blocks of new muscle and the repair of damaged muscle tissue. Various amino acids are also key, and can be consumed via protein powders, or via specialized amino acid supplements. And even normal vitamins and minerals are very important to healthy post-workout recovery.
Exercise can cause nutrient deficiencies – more accurately, sweating can cause loss of nutrients which can lead to deficiencies and other problems in the long run. Several important minerals, such as magnesium, can be lost through excessive sweating, and need to be replaced in order to maintain proper health. Some supplements may help replace these lost nutrients.
10 Products that Support Post Workout Recovery
What are BCAAs?
Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs as they are commonly referred to as, are a class of amino acid that are key for muscle repair and recovery. The class consists of three individual aminos: leucine, isoleucine and valine.
These three amino acids are vital to protein synthesis and muscle growth, and can help you achieve better results as well as avoid sore muscles. BCAAs are often considered to be the best recovery supplement out there.
How do BCAAs Help You Recover
BCAAs are amino acids, and all amino acids serve as the building blocks of proteins. And, if you remember back to your high school biology class, protein is essential for hundreds of functions with the body.
From building new muscle to repairing wounds to growing hair, protein, and therefore amino acids, are essential. BCAAs are a class of amino acid that are specifically chosen because of their beneficial muscle-building attributes.
BCAAs are primarily considered one of the best supplements for recovering from a workout because they help stimulate muscle growth by triggering muscle protein synthesis. But another key factor lies in their ability to help reduce muscle soreness.
We’ve all experienced those uncomfortable muscle aches and pains the day after a workout, and while this soreness is natural, it can be annoying, and it can keep you out of the gym longer.
How to Take BCAAs
BCAA supplements come in powdered form typically, although some brands make capsules. The powders are generally your best bet as they absorb more rapidly, and make it easier to customize your dose. It’s best to take a serving of BCAAs either during or immediately after your workout.
As for dosage, it’s best to simply follow the instructions/manufacturer recommendations.
BCAA Side Effects
Typically, people who use these supplements do not report any negative side effects. With that said, the two most commonly reported issues are loss of coordination and fatigue.
What is L-Glutamine?
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that serves several key roles in the body. It’s naturally present in our muscle tissues, and it plays an important part in how our muscles function, recover, and grow. The body actually naturally produces glutamine, and you can also get some from your diet. However, when under stress (i.e. when you exercise) the body can easily burn through its supply of glutamine, and it can take some time to restore this supply.
How to Take L-Glutamine
Glutamine supplements are available both in capsule form and in powder form. There’s no real winner between the two, as they both offer the same benefits. Capsules are a bit more convenient, but powder makes it easier to customize your dose. Speaking of dose, a typical capsule will contain 500mg-1g of glutamine, while most often the powdered versions contain 2-5g.
L-Glutamine Side Effects
Gastrointestinal side effects are possible. Interestingly, people who have sensitivity to MSG may want to avoid L-Glutamine, because the two are molecularly similar and some folks with MSG sensitivity react to L-Glutamine supplements.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a form of nearly pure protein that is made from dairy products. Whey, which is at first a clear, milky liquid, is a byproduct produced by the cheesemaking process.
Whey is then processed and dried into whey protein powder, which is typically 70-90%+ pure protein. Whey protein powder is actually one of the most popular supplements in general, and certainly an easy choice for any list of effective supplements for recovery.
How Whey May Help Recovery Efforts
Protein itself is essential to proper recovery, because protein contributes to muscle repair and growth. Whey protein is a very high quality source of protein that boasts an excellent amino acid profile. As mentioned, all types of protein are beneficial for recovery.
So why whey protein? Well, in addition to offering a great amino acid concentration, whey also digests very rapidly. Studies have shown that whey protein can hit your bloodstream within 15 minutes of consumption.
This is an important benefit of whey because the faster you can get protein in your system, the faster you can start recovering. Immediately following your workout, your muscles will be screaming out for amino acids, carbs and other nutrients; and a good whey protein shake can provide much of that, very quickly!
How to Take Whey Protein
A typical serving of whey protein will contain 15-25+ grams of pure protein. Whey protein is best taken immediately following your workout. The most popular way is to make a protein shake.
A lot of folks like to throw in other helpful ingredients and/or supplements into these shakes. There are all sorts of protein shake recipes you can follow to add variety.
Whey Protein Side Effects
Another reason that whey is a top supplement for recovery is that it does not cause many side effects. The most common issues are bloating and stomach discomfort – and most people don’t experience any side effects. Keep in mind that whey is dairy-derived, so it’s best to avoid if you’re lactose intolerant.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic acid that is found in meats, and naturally found in the body. It’s one of the most popular fitness supplements on the market today. There is some evidence to suggest that creatine may also be an effective recovery supplement.
How Creatine May Help Recovery Efforts
In the athletic community, creatine is well known for its benefits. It’s used by tons of people because it can help you lift more weight, exercise for longer, and grow more muscle.
Creatine won’t necessarily help you reduce muscle soreness or recover quicker, but it does help in a number of ways, by boosting protein synthesis, nutrient transport, etc. and supporting muscular health.
How to Take Creatine
Creatine often comes in powder form, and must be mixed into water or milk. Timing is not particularly important, although plenty of people would argue otherwise.
Creatine Side Effects
Serious side effects are often rare in healthy adults. There are, however, some minor drawbacks that are fairly common. Primarily, creatine is known to cause bloating and temporary weight gain. This can be attributed to creatine’s tendency to increase water absorption in the muscles, and is nothing to worry about.
What are Carbohydrate Supplements?
Carbohydrate supplements are powdered health products containing easily digestible carbohydrates. Common ingredients include dextrin, waxy maize, and maltodextrin.
These products are designed to deliver a rapid, easy to digest dose of carbohydrates, which are key to muscle recovery. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you may have begun to associate carbohydrates with unhealthy foods.
But, when it comes to proper post-workout recovery, carbohydrates are important.
How They Help You Recover
Your body naturally stores carbohydrates to be used throughout the day as energy. However, there is a limit to how much your body can store – think of it like a gas tank.
Your tank may be full as you begin working out, but strenuous exercise is a huge drain on energy reserves. Afterwards, you need to replenish those lost nutrients as soon as possible, and carb supplements are an easy way to do just that.
How to Take Carbohydrate Supplements
Carb supps are some of the best post-workout supplements, and are therefore best to take immediately following your workout. As for dosage, simply follow the instructions on the product you’re using.
Also, keep in mind that these supplements are not designed to be meal replacements. They are useful because they make it easy to get a boost of nutrition following a workout, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with not eating a full meal, as well. You should aim to eat a complete, balanced meal within a few hours after your workout.
Carbohydrate Supplement Side Effects
When used as directed, carb supplements do not typically cause any significant side effects. With that said, some people report bloating/cramping, which is temporary but can be uncomfortable.
What is L-Carnitine?
L-carnitine is another supplement that you can use to boost your recovery efforts after working out. It’s often called an amino acid, but technically it’s a vitamin-like substance that is created from amino acids. Regardless, L-carnitine can be found naturally in meats, as well as in cells within the human body.
How to Take L-Carnitine
Carnitine is one supplement that needs to be taken with food in order for it to be absorbed properly. Take your dose with or shortly after a meal, and preferably a meal containing a good amount of carbohydrates and protein.
L-Carnitine Side Effects
The typical user of L-Carnitine will not notice any negative side effects, however, some people have reported diarrhea and gastrointestinal issues.
What is Leucine?
Leucine is an amino acid. In fact, it’s one of the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are our #1 recommendation for the top supplements for muscle soreness.
Leucine is just one of the three BCAAs, but it packs a serious punch when it comes to post-workout recovery. It’s primarily used because it can help to activate protein synthesis.
How Leucine May Help Recovery Efforts
As we discussed in the BCAAs section, leucine is known for its ability to promote muscle protein synthesis. Essentially, when you exercise your muscles develop small microtears.
This signals the body to increase blood flow to the damaged muscle tissue, which in turn brings the necessary components of protein synthesis to those damaged areas.
This process is key to how muscles recover and grow, and leucine is one component of the process – a very important one at that.
How to Take Leucine
It can be taken with or without food. You can find leucine supplements in both capsule and powder forms.
Leucine Side Effects
Leucine side effects are typically mild. There is some evidence to suggest that supplemental leucine can contribute to B-vitamin deficiencies, which can cause some problems.
What are Multivitamins?
Multivitamins are blends of many important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They are commonly taken by people from all walks of life, and are generally considered to be the most popular supplement out there.
You may not think of multivitamins as a strong recovery supplement, and you’d be correct. Multivitamins are not going to transform or significantly improve your post-workout recovery, but they can do a lot to support your overall health.
How Multivitamins Help You Recover
Multivitamins should be thought of primarily as a nutritional support for your overall health. Their primary function is to supplement our diets and help ensure that we get adequate nutrition on a daily basis.
Nutrient deficiencies are more common than you’d think and can cause a whole host of health problems, as well as seriously impeding your ability to exercise efficiently and recover fully.
How to Take Multivitamins
Multivitamins are typically a once-a-day thing. Follow the dosing instructions on the product you’re using, and take a dose once per day, usually every day. Multivitamins will absorb better with food, so take them with a meal or shortly after.
Also, keep in mind that while multivitamins are beneficial in promoting overall health, they cannot fix a poor diet. You still need to make an effort to eat a healthy, balanced diet in order to maintain optimal health, and to be able to recover efficiently!
Multivitamin Side Effects
Multivitamin side effects are rare, but it’s always possible that you may react poorly to one of the many nutrients included in these products. To avoid stomach discomfort, take your multi with a meal.
What is Beta-Alanine?
Beta-alanine is an amino acid (technically, a modified version of the amino acid Alanine) that is useful for athletes. It’s primarily used to possibly help boost physical performance while working out. In the body, beta-alanine is converted into carnosine, which acts as an acid buffer.
How Beta-Alanine May Help Recovery Efforts
It’s also a good supplement for muscle soreness because it slows lactic acid buildup, which may help keep post-workout muscle soreness.
How to Take Beta-Alanine
It’s best to take immediately before a workout and follow the instructions on the label.
Beta-Alanine Side Effects
The most common side effect of beta-alanine is a tingling feeling under the skin. This is caused by the stimulation of nerves under the skin.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for many processes within the body. It’s found in some foods, but many people are deficient in magnesium because it can be difficult to get enough from our diets alone. Magnesium is also commonly included in multivitamins and other supplements, but often in relatively low amounts.
How Magnesium May Help Recovery Efforts
Magnesium is essential to the proper functioning of the human body. It helps keep bones strong, maintains healthy blood pressure and supports heart health – among many other things.
How to Take Magnesium
Most supplements contain 100-200mg per capsule, so it’s easy enough to customize your dose. It can be taken with or without food, but it’s best not to take it on a completely empty stomach. Timing is not too important, but for most people the best time to take magnesium is at night, an hour or two before bed.
Magnesium Side Effects
Magnesium side effects are rare, but the most commonly reported effect is diarrhea. Some people experience loose stools when they take a full 300-400mg dose of magnesium at once.