Post-Workout Supplements: Is Your Recovery Covered?

Posted on: September 6th 2015

To wrap up our supplement series, let’s talk about what you should be taking after you wrap up your training sessions – Post-Workout Recovery Supplements! What should you be looking for to maximize all of your hard work?  What sort of supplements will ensure that you’re making mad gainz?  

What they are: Just like pre-workouts, recovery supplement formulas can vary greatly. Generally, recovery formulas contain some combination of:

  • Protein to rebuild and repair the muscle damage that training stress is meant to create
  • Easily Digested Carbs to refuel your muscles and rebuild your glycogen stores (think of it like refilling your gas tank after a long drive – without doing it, you’re not going to get very far the next time you start up the engine)
  • BCAAs to build muscle and repair damaged tissue
  • Creatine for strength and power gains
  • Beta-Alanine to help rebuild muscle and enhance muscular endurance
  • L-Carnitine to help oxygenate muscle tissue, boosting your recovery
  • Glutamine to boost recovery and improve immune system
  • Glutathione, an antioxidant
  • Betaine Anhydrous to improve strength output and aid lean muscle growth
  • Vitamins C & B to help with metabolic stress, reduce inflammation, help produce energy, reduce the likelihood of getting sick

What they claim:

Just as with pre-workout energizers, post-workout recovery blends can make ALL sorts of claims. Depending on their make-up, most will claim:

  • A decrease in muscle soreness and injury
  • Gains in muscle growth, strength and/or power
  • Improved body composition
  • Better energy levels for your next training session

Do they work?

Yep. And so would a well-rounded meal of lean proteins, easily digested carbs, and maybe some BCAAs on the side.

Basically, when you finish training, your body is stressed and your muscles are damaged – they crave fuel so that they can rebuild and repair. Following a tough training session with the right mix of nutrients might just be the difference in good performance and great performance the next time you hit the gym or the track.

Protein supplementation post-workout will help to boost your protein synthesis (building bigger, stronger muscles and repairing damage). Whey spikes the process, and casein builds slower and longer. Many post-workouts will have a protein blend that contains both types for maximum effect.

Quick-digesting carbs will help to replenish your energy stores for your next training session, and research supports that during the 45-minute window post-training when you are the most insulin sensitive is the best time to fill up those reserves. Carbs also boost your creatine uptake, and creatine can help increase muscle mass, as well as strength gains.  

Science is also pretty positive about the effect that BCAAs have on muscle recovery. Many studies have subjects self-reporting decreased muscle soreness when using them. For WAY more information about creatine and BCAAs, check out our previous post.

Should I take them?

Are you actually eating a meal 45 minutes after you train?  Is it balanced and composed of quality whole foods?  If not, a recovery shake might be a good plan.

Choose your recovery formula based on your personal goals. Some will focus more on body composition effects – ie. gains in mass, some on strength gains, some on improved recovery – pick what’s right for you.  Read your ingredients well, and make sure that whatever is in your post-workout supplement is something you actually want/need, and in the right amount.  Some commonly used recovery supplements, like L-Carnitine, Creatine and Betaine should be used daily to be most effective.  Same goes for your vitamins – if you already take a multi in the morning, make sure you need the ones that are in your workout supplement.

Carbs, Protein and BCAAs are going to be your most common components in a recovery formula, and the amount of each that you want per serving will depend on your goals and body composition.

Other weird stuff that might help you recover:

Tart Cherry – Endurance athletes are using the phytochemical properties of tart cherry (and other dark fruits like blueberries and grapes) as potential pain-killers and anti-inflammatories. Studies are just starting around this supplement, but expect to see it touted as a superfood in the near future. Also, be wary of superfoods.

Curcumin – We looked at curcumin in a previous post. It has promising effects as a pain-killer, anti-oxidant and recovery aid. While you won’t find it in many post-workout formulas, you can definitely supplement it on its own.

Rest – In generous doses. Fully backed by science. Recommend highly.

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