Think of all the foods you eat on a given day. Be it a piece of toast with breakfast or a burger at lunch, the foods we consume provide our body with nutrients, energy, and more. As a result of this reality, it’s paramount that we monitor the foods we eat to ensure we’re eating well. After all, chowing on a burger at lunch may be the food your body craves, but it may not be the food your body needs.
Just as important as the foods we eat, however, is the time when we choose to eat them. For instance, research has often suggested that snacking late into the night is unhealthy. So too is drinking large amounts of caffeine just before bed.
Yet only within the past few decades have we come to understand what our body craves when we complete a strenuous workout. This pivotal moment is characterized by sore muscles, sweating, heavy breathing, muscle repair, and more. It is during this time that we should pay attention to both what we eat and how long we wait before we eat it. While chugging a glass of chocolate milk may seem like a tempting option, we can now make use of recovery supplements to aid in the recovery process.
Yet the world of recovery supplements can be a confusing and daunting one. After all, how can we even be expected to understand the difference between a supplement and a multivitamin? Let’s take some time to examine the world of recovery supplements in more detail. After doing so, we’ll discuss the best post-workout supplements that offer recovery assistance in the form of muscle repair, muscle growth, and more.
Your Body Post-Workout
Before we can discuss the importance of workout recovery supplements, we must first look at the human body once it has finished a workout. To do this, let’s imagine examining the many muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nutrients that work together in harmony during exercise.
After a workout, you may notice microtears throughout the muscle tissue that contribute to muscle soreness and inflammation. Though these tears can be a painful sight, in reality they are normal and lead to muscle growth as they continue to heal.
You may also notice a depletion of specific nutrients such as glycogen and triglyceride (sugars and fats), both of which provide energy during a workout but are exhausted over time. And even important electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium will be used up by the body, thus causing an electrolyte imbalance. Lactic acid, on the other hand, will have built up in the muscles and plays a major role in soreness and fatigue, but this will decline as your body continues to recover.
As we can see, numerous biological processes are taking place when a workout concludes. We’re tired and sore and depleted and fatigued — all at once. But this is where those workout recovery supplements come to the rescue, ready to defeat fatigue and make our body stronger than ever before.
What Are Recovery Supplements?
Now that we have a basic understanding of our body post-exercise, it’s time to discuss the simple but important role that recovery supplements play in the workout recovery process.
While pre-workout supplements aim to provide us with a boost of energy and help with endurance to make a workout last longer, post workout supplements aid in muscle recovery and muscle building. They provide many anti-inflammatory benefits as well.
The various brands that offer some form of recovery supplement number in the hundreds, but most will use the same specific ingredients. These ingredients include creatine, whey protein, glutamine, casein protein, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and others that we’ll dissect in further detail below.
At the end of the day, the supplements you choose to include in your recovery routine should be approved by medical professionals and make a positive impact on your body.
The Best Recovery Supplements for Your Body
The best recovery supplements utilize specific ingredients that play a pivotal role in workout recovery. Below you’ll find the best supplements on the market, and information on why they’ve become staples amongst bodybuilding, weightlifting, and endurance athletes alike.
Creatine is a fundamental workout recovery supplement that’s become a staple of most any recovery regimen since it’s meteoric rise in the 1990s. Also referred to as creatine monohydrate, it is thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help muscles recover more quickly during exercise.
Like most supplements, creatine serves many benefits as we seek to build muscles over time. Though any athlete that uses creatine will benefit from it’s potential, often athletes who participate in high-intensity activities like sprinting or weight lifting will benefit the most. Endurance athletes will see fewer gains because creatine is used by the body during bouts of explosive energy, rather than prolonged periods of less intense exercise.
Though creatine is a natural substance, it should only be consumed in moderation based on measurement guidelines provided by the manufacturer. And because supplements aren’t held to the same standards by the FDA as medications are, ensuring you know what’s in your supplement is always important.
Whey protein is another natural substance derived from the watery portion of milk that separates from the curds when making cheese. Much like creatine, research suggests whey protein has the ability to increase lean muscle mass, strength, and muscle size in healthy adults.
Consuming whey protein powder could also improve running speed and recovery from exercise in untrained adults. With that said, similar proteins can be found in high quality meats and whole foods such as chicken, beef, or soy.
Though safe for both children and adults to consume, excess consumption of whey protein may cause nausea, increased bowel movements, cramps, bloating, reduced appetite, and headaches. As with most post-workout recovery supplements, it pays to consume whey protein in moderation and only when necessary.
Glutamine is an amino acid that plays many different roles throughout the body, but it’s main purpose is to serve as a building block for protein synthesis. Like most amino acids, glutamine comes in two distinct forms: L-glutamine and D-glutamine. The form of glutamine found in foods is L-glutamine, and this is the version you should look for in your supplements. It’s also available in a vegan supplement form.
Unlike creatine and whey protein, the impact that L-glutamine can have on the body post-workout isn’t quite as clear. Some research suggests L-glutamine can improve muscle gain and exercise performance. Other research suggests L-glutamine may decrease muscle soreness and improve recovery after strenuous exercise. And other research still reports that L-glutamine has no impact on muscle mass or performance whatsoever.
Because of such varied conclusions, the impact of taking glutamine supplements post-workout may be lower when compared to other options on the list.
Casein is a dairy protein that offers recovery and reduced muscle breakdown during sleep after exercise has occurred. Much like whey protein, casein is derived from milk and is considered a complete protein source, which means it provides all the essential amino acids your body requires for recovery and repair.
But unlike whey protein, which is digested rather quickly, casein is instead digested rather slowly and is therefore perfect for consumption just before bed. As your body rests and repairs after the day’s exercise, casein protein will provide your body with nutrients to avoid any potential breakdown of muscle as the body looks to feed itself.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential proteins found in food. The three amino acids that comprise BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine, and valine (the term “branched-chain” refers to their chemical structure). Muscles burn these proteins for energy, and they are therefore used to prevent muscle breakdown during exercise. Rather than allowing the body to burn muscles for energy, it can instead burn BCAAs for fuel.
L-carnitine is a substance produced by the body that helps turn fat into energy. Research shows that L-carnitine levels are reduced in the body after exercise, so consuming L-carnitine is could increase these depleted levels.
With that said, very little research has provided a link between L-carnitine supplementation and athletic performance. Some studies show a performance increase after L-carnitine has been consumed, whereas others show no change in performance at all. As a result, it may be best to utilize other recovery supplements that have a proven track record of aiding one’s workout recovery.
Though the supplements listed above comprise a large portion of recovery supplement options, still others provide benefits in countless ways. Fish oil, for instance, contains Omega–3 fatty acid and is capable of improving recovery time after working out. And glycine, mostly known as a natural sleep aid, can ensure a good night’s rest so your body can recover.
Exploring sports nutrition options with the help of a licensed personal trainer or primary care physician will ensure your needs are met, no matter what they may be.
Which Recovery Supplements Are Right for You?
Each of us chooses to engage in bouts of physical activity for various reasons. Some do so for weight loss and others for competition. At the end of the day, recovery supplements comprise but a small portion of a larger healthy lifestyle picture.
These supplements illustrate the importance of what you put into your body, and the importance of when you do so. Take ample time to research supplement options (there are many), and find the ones that work for you.