09 Sep Top 6 Muscle Recovery Supplements for Peak Performance
When it comes to creating a consistent workout routine, it’s just as important to master workout recovery as it is to master your technique. If you’re plagued with constant muscle soreness, the chances of you wanting to get back to the gym before all that goes away are pretty low.
Furthermore, if you fuel your muscles properly after every workout, you’re likely to see gains more quickly. The best muscle recovery supplements provide the fuel your muscles need to heal after strenuous activity and grow over time. We’ve gathered our favorites to help you choose what’s right for you.
6 Best Supplements for Muscle Recovery
The following five muscle recovery supplements cover all your bases when it comes to working out hard with a short recovery process and minimal pain. Your body needs supplies (amino acids) to make and repair muscle, the fuel to help boost glycogen during a workout, electrolytes for hydration, and a little something extra to help with any residual discomfort so you can get back to the gym.
1. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs are the amino acids known to help speed muscle repair after a heavy lift or endurance exercise. In both cases, when you’re working hard, your muscles develop microscopic tears. This is normal. It’s in the repair of these tears that new muscle tissue is formed, leading to muscle growth over time.
The three BCAAs are isoleucine, leucine, and valine. These are three of the nine essential amino acids. Essential means your body can’t make them — you have to get them from food. What makes these three special is that they play specific roles in reducing muscle soreness and decreasing the breakdown of protein during exercise.
Ideally, you would use BCAAs before a tough workout. Although not commercially available yet, ioBCAA will be an excellent choice for this type of supplement, as it’s more readily absorbed than non-optimized BCAAs. That said, you do need all nine for muscle building, according to research, which brings us to your next supplement.
2. Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder naturally contains all nine essential amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of all the protein in your body) and works great as both a pre-workout and post-workout shake, depending on your preference. It’s been shown to be effective as a muscle recovery supplement when used immediately after a hard workout, then again at 6 hours after, and again at 24 hours.
Research that studies the use of whey only immediately prior or post-workout don’t show the same results, so it seems that whey is most effective when used over time as a regular part of your diet.
Importantly, the type of whey you choose makes a big difference when it comes to absorption and bioavailability of the amino acids therein. If you’re maximizing absorption of your muscle recovery supplement, you can grow muscle mass with the shortest recovery time possible. ioWhey Protein is an ingredient that does just that. Studies show that ioWhey is taken up by the muscles far more easily than non-optimized whey, giving you a shorter recovery period and the best chance to build muscle between workouts.
If you’re vegan or prefer not to use dairy products, ioPea Protein is the only plant-based product on the market that’s scientifically backed to be more effective than non-optimized whey when it comes to bioavailable protein.
For your muscles to function properly, they use glycogen for energy, which is glucose stored in muscle tissue. It’s when the glycogen is depleted that your muscles start to feel fatigued during your workout. In short, how much glycogen your muscles can hold will play a role in your performance for that session. Creatine helps stimulate and increase glycogen storage in your muscles, giving you more time to work hard in the gym, improving your athletic performance, helping prevent injury, and aiding in post-workout recovery.
The most commonly available and most studied form of creatine on the market is creatine monohydrate. There are also a couple of other options you can look for: buffered creatine, and creatine HCl. Both of these use additional ingredients to make the creatine more bioavailable, one of which is alkaline, the other acidic.
Your body produces creatine, but only about half of what your body needs for proper muscle contraction and strength building. The other half comes from the animal products in your diet, namely red meat, seafood, and milk in the form of creatine monohydrate. You can also supplement it as a powder and use it alongside a protein powder or on its own.
Creatine does cause your body to retain water, so it could lead to weight gain (but not fat gain). Your body excretes excess creatine through urine, so taking it as a supplement doesn’t cause any buildup or overload of a healthy renal system.
Another amino acid, L-glutamine is not one of the nine essential amino acids. Rather, it’s considered conditionally essential in the event that you’re ill or overly stressed and unable to make it. It’s known in sports nutrition for its ability to reduce fatigue during hard workouts, support a healthy immune system and gut, and aid your muscle’s ability to take in carbohydrates post-workout. You can take L-Glutamine in capsules or as a powder to add to water or a smoothie. It’s also available in many collagen formulas.
Electrolytes are trace minerals that help your body maintain proper hydration and aid your body in performing vital functions. If you’ve ever felt muscle cramps during a hard workout, your body has likely built up lactic acid, which needs to be flushed with hydrating electrolytes. One study showed that, while dehydration played a role in exercise-related muscle cramping, it’s not the only factor.
The minerals your body needs for hydration and proper function include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The primary way your body loses these electrolytes is through sweat. If you’re sweating a lot, cutting carbs, or exercising in particularly hot climates, you need to make sure you’re supplementing with electrolytes to avoid muscle cramping related to potassium deficiency.
You can find electrolytes in sports drinks, but they often contain more sugar than is necessary after a workout. Alternatives (especially ideal for leaving in your gym bag) include powder packets and fizzy tablets that you can drop into water.
Interestingly, there’s also decent evidence to support drinking chocolate milk instead of a sports drink as a pre- or post-workout supplement. Twelve small studies assessing the effects of chocolate milk on post-exercise recovery compared it to a placebo and a sports drink. Chocolate milk out-performed all of them. More evidence is needed, but “Chocolate milk contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, flavonoids, electrolytes, and some vitamins, which make this drink a good choice for recovery in athletes,” according to the senior study author Dr. Amin Salehi-Abargouei.
6. Natural Anti-Inflammatories
Curcumin (combined with black pepper) and fish oil are both natural anti-inflammatories you might consider taking to avoid overly inflaming your muscles. While they work very differently, both offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects without posing a risk to your digestive system the way that NSAIDs do over time.
Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) is difficult for the body to absorb on its own, but by adding piperine (a component of black pepper), curcumin becomes an incredibly useful functional food. Interestingly, both of these ingredients are included in Indian curry and other Asian cuisines.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which offer anti-inflammatory benefits as well as cardiovascular health benefits. Most health professionals recommend supplementation or eating wild-caught fish in order to attempt to balance out all of the pro-inflammatory foods found in the western diet. By taking one or both of these high-quality, natural anti-inflammatory supplements, you’re helping throw cold water on the inflammation that can take place in your muscles after a high-intensity workout, and you’re aiding in pain relief in the event of accidental muscle damage.
Muscle Recovery Supplements for Top Performance
Your ability to make gains at the gym is dependent on your ability to nourish your body pre- and post-workout, in addition to getting a good night’s sleep. You need to be able to provide your muscle with the building blocks it needs to rebuild after the natural muscle breakdown that occurs when you push yourself. This includes a variety of amino acids and fast-absorbing protein supplements to help your body rebuild.
You also need to remain hydrated during and after the workout with adequate electrolytes — whether you choose a low-sugar mix or want to try chocolate milk. You also need natural anti-inflammatories in your system to help keep inflammation down as you push yourself to gain muscle strength. Learn more about how to continue improving your performance, regardless of age.