Try These Six Supplements to Optimize Your Workout Recovery
Mar 17, 2023 by Caitlyn Servitto
Is the all-too-familiar feeling of struggling to walk up the stairs or sit down at your desk after a tough workout hindering your exercise consistency? If so, you're not alone. Many others are also nodding their heads in agreement to that question.
Proper nutrition is essential when it comes to workout recovery. Making sure you are getting enough protein and carbohydrates is the first order of business. Carbohydrates help replenish your glycogen stores and provide the necessary fuel for your muscles. Meanwhile, consuming adequate protein supplies your body with essential amino acids that are responsible for building and repairing muscles.
However, if you feel like you’ve got your diet down pat and are still experiencing the following, it may be time to consider supplementation to optimize your workout recovery:
- Feeling fatigued for days after a workout
- Experiencing prolonged muscle soreness
- Struggling to make progress towards new personal records in the gym
- Desiring to reduce inflammation after a strenuous workout
- Looking to improve your muscle-building capacity
Disclaimer: It is crucial to consult with your doctor or primary care provider before incorporating any dietary supplements into your routine.
Leucine is an essential amino acid that you may want to consider incorporating into your workout recovery routine. It plays a crucial role in protein synthesis, particularly for muscle building.
The effectiveness of leucine supplementation for enhancing muscle protein synthesis has received mixed opinions. Most studies suggest that consuming leucine through supplementation or increasing your complete protein intake from whole food sources can boost muscle protein synthesis[9.10]. However, some research has yielded inconsistent results.
In many studies with inconsistent findings regarding leucine supplementation's impact on muscle protein synthesis, participants often had pre-existing conditions that could negatively affect the normal amino acid and insulin signaling pathways responsible for muscle building.
Many fitness enthusiasts carry a supplement called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which promotes workout recovery by activating the mTOR signaling pathway, which regulates protein synthesis. Leucine, a component of BCAAs, may be the primary amino acid responsible for activating mTOR. You can also find leucine and other essential BCAAs in protein powders, but their amino acid profiles can vary by source and brand, so always check the label.
Some experts argue that taking leucine alone, instead of all three BCAAs, may provide more benefits for muscle growth. Further research is needed to compare the effectiveness of taking a leucine supplement alone versus taking BCAAs. If you're unsure, consider which option is more cost-effective for you.
To get the most out of leucine supplementation, aim for the trifecta: combine resistance training with a diet rich in complete protein sources and complement it with leucine supplementation .
Here’s a list of whole food sources of complete proteins (containing all 9 essential amino acids):
- Dairy products
- Soy (edamame, tofu, and tempeh)
- Hemp seeds
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats consisting of three main types: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Foods rich in omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, sardines, oysters, shrimp, grass-fed beef, algae, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp hearts. If your diet lacks these foods, supplementation can help fill nutritional gaps.
The scientific literature contains ample evidence of the various health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, such as:
- Reduction in cardiovascular disease
- Reduction in plasma triglycerides
- Improvement in depressive symptoms
- Prevention of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders
- Improvement in and protection of skin health
In addition to these well-known benefits, omega-3 supplementation can also aid workout recovery. Omega-3s have potent anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce muscle soreness after exercise. While more research is needed to determine the optimal dosage, a study found that participants who took 2,400 mg of EPA and 1,800 mg of DHA experienced less soreness following strenuous exercise .
Beyond reducing inflammation, omega-3s may also have the potential to enhance muscle mass and function after exercise. In a small study, healthy men and women who received fish oil supplementation for six months demonstrated increases in thigh muscle volume, hand grip strength, and one-repetition maximum (1-RM) muscle strength .
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in approximately 300 enzymatic functions in the body, making it incredibly important to ensure you're getting enough of it, especially if you frequently engage in strenuous workouts at the gym or at home.
Many of these enzymatic reactions, in which magnesium acts as a cofactor, involve the synthesis of proteins (including muscle) and support the structural function of mitochondria .
Beyond its role in protein formation, magnesium can also help alleviate muscle soreness by allowing muscles to fully relax and clear lactic acid, thus enhancing workout recovery.
In a recent study, magnesium supplementation significantly reduced muscle soreness pain scale ratings compared to a placebo group which demonstrated no significant changes.
In the same study, magnesium also decreased the production of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin 6 (IL-6). Although a certain degree of inflammation, such as through IL-6 signaling, is necessary post-workout to stimulate muscle growth, magnesium helps maintain balance to prevent excessive inflammatory cytokine production.
Sleep is an essential recovery tool, and this critical mineral may also help you drift off into the abyss. Both magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate offer muscle and nervous system relaxation.
You can even experiment with a third form of magnesium known as magnesium sulfate. This form is often found in Epsom salt bath soaks.
To enjoy the benefits of magnesium supplementation for workout recovery, a daily dosage of at least 500 mg is recommended.
Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10) is abundant in almost every cell of the human body, with the highest concentrations in organ systems involved in many metabolic processes.
CoQ10 plays various roles, including energy production, immune system support, prevention of oxidative stress, insulin production, and immunoglobulin production. You could say it is a superfood for your cells.
We often see it marketed for its benefits related to cardiovascular health. Did you know this powerful antioxidant can be quite helpful in aiding workout recovery?
Like magnesium, CoQ10 works to scavenge free radicals and inflammatory cytokines produced during and after exercise. In one study, 14-day supplementation of CoQ10 resulted in decreased inflammatory blood markers, including IL-6, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-ɑ), and C-reactive protein (CRP).
CoQ10’s effects on workout recovery were observed at a dose of 5 mg a day. Because CoQ10 is a fat-soluble vitamin, it should be taken with food.
CoQ10's benefits can extend beyond workout recovery. In one study, short-term supplementation of CoQ10 increased muscle CoQ10 concentration, leading to increased time until exhaustion during strenuous exercise.
CoQ10 levels naturally decline with age so supplementation may be even more warranted in older individuals looking to improve exercise performance and recovery.
Beet Root Juice Powder
“Eat your vegetables!” says every grandma ever. Grandma’s advice to eat more plants might extend beyond your plate, all the way to the weight rack!
Grandma may not have been referring specifically to beets, but consuming these roots is actually a well-researched tool to aid in muscle performance and recovery.
Surprised? I was too.
Beetroots are rich in nitric oxide which has many effects on the body and is involved in the following:
- Blood flow
- Platelet function
- Mitochondrial function
- Oxygen and nutrient delivery
Nitric oxide’s roles in the body most likely explain beetroot’s positive effects on exercise recovery and performance. A study found that beetroot juice powder significantly improved functional recovery in sprinters. “Functional recovery” was measured using countermovement jumps (CMJ), reactive strength index (RI), and pain after muscle damage resulting from repeated sprint tests (RST).
Although beetroot juice is rich in antioxidants which are proven to protect muscle cells from oxidative stress, this is not the mechanism proven beneficial for workout recovery.
More research is needed to examine other constituents of beets and their potential role in workout recovery. Some of the constituents of beets yet to be explored include their high concentrations of vitamin C, magnesium, iron, and betalainic compounds.
Creatine is an amino acid found abundantly in the muscles and brain. Out of all the supplements mentioned, creatine may be the most extensively studied.
This ergogenic aid has proven to do the following:
- Increase lean muscle mass
- Improve strength
- Reduce muscle damage and inflammation
- Speed up recovery following strenuous exercise
- Support cellular energy production
People often pigeonhole themselves by thinking massive bodybuilders are the only ones who can benefit from creatine supplementation. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Creatine consistently demonstrates its benefits to a variety of athletes. It can be used to supplement high-intensity activities, short-burst duration exercises, resistance strength training, and endurance sports.
So, if you’re a weightlifter, powerlifter, long-distance runner, sprinter, swimmer, professional athlete, or frequent gym goer …… listen up.
There is so much scientific literature on creatine’s extensive benefits on sports performance that it deserves a separate article. So, let’s just focus on recovery.
In many studies, creatine supplementation has shown its ability to reduce the post-exercise inflammatory response and remedy symptoms of muscle damage and soreness hours and even days following exercise.
Reduced creatine kinase levels were observed in a group of test subjects with exercise-induced damage supplemented with creatine. This reduction in inflammatory markers was seen all the way from 48 hours up to 7 days following exercise.
For context, high amounts of creatine kinase are released into the blood when muscle damage is present.
Considering there is little evidence concerning side effects, trialing with creatine supplementation under professional supervision is generally safe. The standard dosage is around 5 g.
Important Takeaways: Supplements for Enhanced Workout Recovery
Fatigue and muscle soreness can impact your motivation to stay consistent in your exercise routine. Incorporating supplements to optimize workout recovery can help you reach your fitness goals.
When selecting supplements, consider your personal needs and ask yourself the following questions:
- What symptoms related to workout recovery are you dealing with?
- Which supplements are most cost-effective?
- What would be the easiest to incorporate?
- Which are the least intimidating to you?
- Which do you feel would bring the most benefit based on research?
The timing of taking certain supplements varies depending on the effect you are trying to produce. I encourage you to do your own research, read testimonials, or consult with a professional.
Remember that individual results may vary, and these supplements do not guarantee desired outcomes when it comes to workout recovery. Always consult with a licensed health professional or your primary care provider before implementing any supplements into your daily routine. If you have received approval, try starting with one supplement and observe how your body responds over time.
The right supplement could be a game-changer for your workout recovery and overall fitness journey.