If your goal is to see muscle growth—which, let’s be honest, of course, it is—it’s absolutely vital that you take some form of protein immediately after your workout.
Right after an intense workout (cardio or resistance training), your body is scrambling to produce more energy (from stored fat or blood glycogen) and beginning the work on repairing the muscle and joint tissue damaged during workout.
Consuming protein, either in supplement form or an easily bioavailable food (like chicken breast, egg whites, or Greek yoghurt) ensures that your body has all the necessary amino acids required to build new muscle tissue.
But is protein the only thing you should be taking right after a workout? Of course not!
Post-workout supplements provide you with a wide range of other critical nutrients that will facilitate recovery, accelerate muscle growth, and even encourage greater strength gains. Finding the right nutrients to take post-workout can lead to serious results, as multiple studies have proven.
We’re going to dive deep into the world of post-workout supplements and recommended nutrients to help you figure out which are your best options to take to see solid gains and improve your post-workout recovery.
Pre-Workout vs. Post-Workout Supplementation: Which is Better?
This is an important question to answer! Both are highly effective for a resistance training regimen, but you’ll find that one is significantly more important than the other.
Pre-Workout tend to focus more on providing you with a jolt of energy for your training session. Some people rely on energy drinks or coffee as their pre-workout supplement of choice, as the boost of caffeine and other stimulants helps them to work harder, push longer, and maximize intensity.
Other pre-workout supplements are intended to prevent muscle glycogen depletion, essentially protecting your muscle mass from being consumed in your body’s scramble to produce more energy throughout and after a long, intense resistance training session. These typically include branch-chain amino acids, or BCAAs (which can both maintain and help you gain muscle mass), creatine (a natural source of energy that encourages muscle growth and maintenance), or beta-alanine (which plays a role in muscular endurance during your high-intensity workout).
Post-Workout are intended to provide your body with the critical nutrients required after your workout, nutrients that facilitate muscle growth and full-body recovery. They ensure that your body can make repairs to the damaged muscle tissue, thereby reducing post-workout soreness and accelerating muscle growth.
The classic post-workout supplement is, of course, protein powder. Protein powder (whey, casein, egg, vegan, and others) deliver a concentrated dose of easily digestible protein that is critical to recovery and muscle repair. Glutamine is another highly popular post-workout supplement, one that reduces soreness, speeds up recovery, and even balances out your digestive system. BCAAs help to provide a concentrated dose of the three most important essential amino acids that your body needs for muscle repair.
Just looking at the differences between the two types of supplements, it’s pretty clear which is more important. While pre-workout supplements can act as fuel and energy to power you through your training session, it’s the post-workout nutrients that will really lead to long-term muscle growth, protect you from post-workout soreness, and accelerate recovery.
The Top Recommended Post-Workout Nutrients
Now that you know how important post-workout supplements are, it’s time to take a look at the nutrients MOST CRITICAL to include among your post-workout supplements. Each of the nutrients below will serve a purpose in your after-training regimen—it’s up to you to test each and see how they help to improve your recovery times and restore your depleted energy levels.
The best time to take a lot of easily digestible, quick-acting protein is immediately after your workout, when your body is desperate for the amino acids necessary to repairing and building muscle tissue damaged by your resistance training. Protein powder delivers a significant quantity of that protein, making it one of the most highly recommended post-workout supplements.
Whey protein is the bodybuilder’s classic choice, thanks to its excellent bioavailability and concentrated amino acids. Whey protein isolate, in particular, is easy for your body to absorb and put to immediate use on your muscles.
Egg, casein, and soy-based proteins are digested a bit more slowly, so they provide your body with a steady supply of energy to utilize over the course of a few hours. They can be paired with a whey protein to ensure your body has plenty of amino acids to make the post-workout repairs and accelerate recovery times.
Branch chain amino acids are among the top-recommended post-workout nutrients simply because they provide a concentrated dose of the three essential proteins that make up 66% of your protein requirements. Leucine, valine, and isoleucine are heavily utilized by our bodies as a primary fuel source to power our muscles, both during and after intense training.
One study found that BCAAs helped to protect against muscle damage, while another study decreased inflammation caused by the exercise-induced muscle damage. This led to both faster recovery times and better protection of the muscle fibers.
Related: Best BCAA Supplements.
Also known as “creatine monohydrate”, creatine is a popular supplement for both pre- and post-workout nutrition. Its post-workout benefits include faster muscle force recovery, meaning you’ll feel less sore and get back to your next training session with a whole lot more energy.
Creatine is believed (with minimal scientific proof to back up the claims) to give your muscles the “pump” or “swoll” look that enhances the visual appeal of your muscle definition. It’s one of the best solutions to increase post-workout ATP energy availability because creatine helps your muscle cells to produce and store ATP energy.
Glutamine is one of the most important amino acids in your body. It’s the building block for new muscle cells, vital for your immune system, and aids in your digestive function. While your body does naturally produce glutamine on its own (from the food you eat), taking a post-workout supplement that contains glutamine is a good way to provide more of this vital nutrient.
You see, glutamine is particularly effective at reducing post-workout muscle soreness. Taking this amino acid after a workout can not only decrease inflammation and prevent soreness, but it can reduce the strength loss that commonly occurs after heavy resistance training. It’s an excellent option to help speed up recovery and facilitate post-workout activity (such as walking, playing with your kids, outdoor sports, etc.).
But that’s not all it can do! Glutamine can also reduce muscle wasting and protect your lean muscle mass from being cannibalized to fuel your depleted energy reserves.
Beta-alanine is one of the non-essential amino acids, meaning it’s not one of those required by your body to build new muscle tissue. It is, however, important for building lean muscle mass due to the fact that it encourages an increase in carnosine production.
Carnosine has antioxidant properties and plays a wide range of beneficial roles in your body, but what matters in this context is its ability to reduce protein glycation. Glycation is a natural process in which sugar molecules attach to proteins, which negatively alters the way your body utilizes that protein and thus decreases its efficiency. Glycation also contributes to cellular aging and is linked to higher diabetes risk.
Higher carnosine levels have been directly correlated to faster lean muscle mass growth, and beta-alanine can help to raise your body’s natural production of carnosine by providing the amino acid that is a critical component of carnosine. As one study found, taking beta-alanine as a post-workout supplement helped to increase stamina and restore energy levels after intense training.
Note: It’s also highly useful as a pre-workout supplement, as it has ergogenic properties that enhance muscular and cardiovascular endurance.
This is one of the lesser-known supplements that can offer some pretty amazing post-workout benefits! Not only can it decrease excessive muscle damage during your workout, but it can also accelerate the uptake of testosterone following the workout. This results in better anabolic growth as a result of your training, meaning it will help you build bigger muscles more quickly.
Tart Cherry Juice
This isn’t your typical supplement, but it’s still highly effective! Tart cherry juice is quickly becoming a popular post-workout choice to help reduce soreness, thanks to its incredibly high antioxidant capacity. As one study found, marathon runners who drank tart cherry juice experienced faster post-workout recovery, improved antioxidant capacity, decreased inflammation, and less oxidative damage as a result of your training.
As you can imagine, these are all excellent post-workout supplement options to consider. They can protect your muscles from damage, encourage lean muscle growth, even decrease soreness and speed up recovery times. Serious resistance trainees would do well to add one or more of these supplements into their post-workout recovery regimen.
Our Favorite Post-Workout Supplements for 2021
If you’re looking for recommendations of high-quality post-workout supplements to try, here are our favorites:
Transparent Labs 100% Whey Protein Isolate
ProteinSeries Whey Protein Isolate by Transparent Labs is made from 100% naturally grass-fed, hormone-free whey and clean of artificial sweeteners, food dyes, gluten, and preservatives, If you’re serious about achieving your fitness goals; then it’s a must-have Protein.
Optimum Nutrition Platinum HydroWhey
This powder delivers 30 grams of high-quality whey protein isolate per scoop, along with 8.8 grams of BCAAs. It’s easily digestible, fast-acting, and one of the best-tasting whey protein powders you’ll ever find.
If you want an excellent BCAA supplement to help you recover post-workout, you’ll love this one! A single scoop is packed with 21 grams of BCAAs, as well as glutamine to reduce muscle soreness and increase antioxidant activity. The supplement also includes coconut water powder to deliver a concentrated dose of electrolytes to replenish what you’ve lost during your high intensity training.
It’ll give you a nice little energy boost and restore a healthy fluid/sodium/potassium balance to improve recovery times and keep you on your feet the rest of the day.
Transparent Labs Post Workout
This zero-calorie supplement may not give you the boost of energy you need to recover after an intense workout, but it’s got an excellent combination of nutrients that will help you feel exponentially better all day long.
It combines the soreness-reducing benefits of tart cherries (in powdered form) with the muscle damage-decreasing properties of L-Carnitine/L-Tartrate and the faster lean muscle growth that makes beta-alanine such an excellent post-workout supplement.
This post-workout supplement delivers creatine to boost muscle definition and reduce soreness, glutamine to protect against strength loss, and L-Carnitine/L-Tartrate to increase anabolic muscle growth. There’s even a bit of taurine in the supplement to give you an energy boost, particularly in your brain.
It’s an anxiolytic, nervous system-improving, inflammation-decreasing nutrient that will make this particular supplement highly effective!
Supplementing with the right post-workout nutrients can make a world of difference in the hours and days following an intense resistance training session. Not only can a good post-workout supplement reduce muscle soreness, but it can increase energy levels, accelerate muscle growth, and lead to better muscular performance.
Using our list above, test the various post-workout nutrients to see which work best for you, which help you feel good and live your life outside the gym the way you want it. Not every supplement works the same for everyone, but you’ll find that each one of them has something amazing to offer you!