You may think your work is done once you leave the gym. But for your muscles, the job is only half finished. Now begins the task of repairing all the damage you did during your workout so that your muscles come back bigger and stronger. The process requires solid nutrition, sleep, and time—but a number of tried-and-true sports supplements may lighten your load. If you want to maximize muscle recovery post-workout, consider the following supplements your new best friends.
Glutamine is one of 20 amino acids (which are the building blocks for protein, the all-star muscle repair macronutrient) found in your body. Interestingly, glutamine just so happens to be the most bountiful and versatile of these building blocks, according to a 2018 paper published in Nutrients.
You can score glutamine through eggs, meat, dairy, and plant foods—and when taken as a supplement, it may help delay fatigue during exercise and lessen muscle damage. According to a 2019 paper published in Nutrients, it works by boosting muscle glycogen synthesis, the process of creating glycogen, which is the stored form of carbohydrates that supplies your body with energy.
Research suggests that glutamine also helps increase muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of using protein to build muscle tissue. This may speed muscle recovery after exercise. In fact, a 2015 study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that glutamine decreased muscle soreness over a 72-hour recovery period.
How to incorporate it
Though a standard daily dose of glutamine for maximum muscle recovery hasn’t been set, studies suggest that up to 14 grams per day is likely safe. “Glutamine is typically available in powdered form and can be mixed into a post-workout beverage, such as a protein smoothie,” suggests board-certified sports dietitian Mary Wirtz, R.D., C.S.S.D., of Mom Loves Best. BodyTech Glutamine Powder offers 4.5 grams of the powerhouse amino acid.
2. Creatine monohydrate
Creatine is an amino acid-like compound that’s stored in your muscles, where it’s used for energy. “Creatine is an essential part of the energy system required during high-intensity activity, such as weightlifting,” says Hillary Ake, R.D., C.S.S.D., a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. Your body relies on creatine to power the first six to eight seconds of any intense exercise.
Creatine is found naturally in seafood and red meat, but you can also get it from supplements. In fact, creatine is one of the most popular performance-enhancing supplements on the market, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).
Creatine supplements are typically used to maximize workout performance and help muscles recover in order to boost strength and muscle mass. By topping off your creatine stores, your body can make more fuel for high-intensity exercise and have plenty to spare. “This would reduce recovery time between each bout of exercise and enhance recovery after a workout by replenishing the compounds needed to make energy the next day,” Ake says.
Get this: One study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reveals that men who supplemented with creatine had significantly greater strength after a hardcore workout than those who didn’t.
How to incorporate it
Creatine is best supplemented with in doses of three to five grams per day, Wirtz says. You can split the dosage, taking half before your workout and half after. That said, Ake is personally a fan of taking it before a workout, “as it can help sustain performance over multiple bouts of intermittent activity.” Mix powdered creatine monohydrate (the most-studied form of creatine) with any sports beverage or even water. You’ll score five grams of creatine monohydrate in every scoop of fruit punch-flavored BodyTech Creatine Monohydrate powder.
3. Branched-chain amino acids
Nine out of the 20 amino acids in your body are considered essential amino acids, meaning you can’t produce them yourself and have to get them through food. Of these nine essential amino acids, three are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
“Branched-chain amino acids are unique in that they’re particularly effective at building muscle efficiently,” says dietitian Alex Larson, R.D., who works with endurance athletes. “They can work against muscle breakdown during exercise and stimulate muscle building and repair after exercise.” Because the BCAAs are absorbed more quickly than proteins and other amino acids, they can get into your muscle tissues right away.
As a result, research published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness shows that supplementing with BCAAs before and after exercise decreases the muscle damage that typically occurs 24 to 48 hours after intense exercise.
How to incorporate Them
A typical BCAAs supplement contains around five grams per serving, and you can bank up to 20 grams total per day. “You can take BCAAs during a long workout to inhibit muscle breakdown or post-workout to initiate the muscle repair and rebuilding process,” Larson says. Simply mix a serving of powdered BCAAs into your drink of choice and guzzle away. The Original BCAA by XTEND is an ever-popular option.
4. Whey protein powder
No conversation about muscle recovery supplements would be complete without mentioning whey protein powder.
Whey (a liquid by-product of milk) has an amino acid composition that’s similar to that of skeletal muscle, meaning it provides nearly all 20 amino acids in the exact proportions your muscles need, according to a review in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. As such, it’s pretty much the perfect protein source to consume after challenging your muscles with a tough workout.
Whey is also a fast-acting protein. According to a review in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, it only takes your body two hours to absorb 20 grams. This quick response may come in handy post-exercise when your muscles need protein ASAP to recover and rebuild.
How to incorporate it
Ake suggests finding a whey protein isolate powder that provides about 20 grams per scoop and taking one or two scoops post-workout. You can either shake up the protein with water, milk, or a milk alternative, or incorporate your powder into a smoothie containing fruit, greens, healthy fats, and other ingredients for a full meal. Check out Dymatize ISO100 100% Pure Whey Protein Isolate.