Workout recovery is undeniably important to any fitness regimen to ensure you’re giving your muscles the best chance at recovery and growth. By providing your body with the adequate means for muscle recovery, you can avoid limiting the gains you worked hard for.
Multiple factors influence muscle recovery, like age, gender, fitness modality, and overall lifestyle habits. Muscle recovery supplements may be one effective way to repair muscle fibers and decrease recovery time between workouts.
Even though we know that supplements aren’t an end-all-be-all solution to health-related obstacles, I’ll say it again for the people in the back. Supplements shouldn’t be taken as a substitute for healthy lifestyle habits. Post-workout nutrition is an integral aspect of muscle recovery, but food and supplements should be used alongside adequate sleep, stretching, and proper hydration before, during, and after a workout for maximum recovery and overall health.
In this article, we’ll run through some compounds that may aid in muscle recovery, the science behind them in relation to muscle recovery, and some recommendations for muscle recovery supplements.
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What Are Muscle Recovery Supplements?
Muscle recovery supplements may come in the form of foods or traditional dietary supplements like powdered blends or capsules.
Many dietary supplements have been studied for their potential effects on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), which are key markers of muscle recovery.
It’s important to bear in mind that while foods are reviewed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, dietary supplements are not. If you’re considering adding a workout recovery supplement to your diet, it’s always a good idea to run this by your doctor, especially if you have existing medical conditions or allergies.
Best Muscle Recovery Supplements
Perhaps the most popular supplement gym-goers use is protein. Protein is made up of amino acids that encourage protein synthesis, which is needed once muscle fibers are damaged after exercise to build and maintain muscle mass.
Protein powder is a great way to get extra protein in your diet. Many are flavored and can be directly mixed with water or milk in a blender bottle or blended into shakes. The most popular and most well-researched type of protein powder is whey protein powder. However, there are effective plant-based protein powder options like soy and pea protein, which can offer similar benefits.
A dose of 20–40 grams of protein is acceptable in one sitting, whereas some would argue 20–30 grams suffices for most people. Total daily protein intake recommendations vary based on a few factors. If you’re curious about how much daily protein you need, try using this calculator.
Research indicates that the optimal timing for protein supplementation is post-workout, but this may vary by circumstance.
Nitro-Tech by MuscleTech – Best Post-Workout Protein
MuscleTech is a renowned brand among bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts. Customers rave about this product in the reviews section. Apparently, it mixes well and has a nice smooth taste, which can be hard to come by in powdered supplements.
- 30 g protein
- 3 g creatine monohydrate
- 6.8 g BCAAs
- 5 g glutamine
- Flavors include milk chocolate, vanilla cream, strawberry, and cookies and cream
- GMP certified
- $34.99 (2 lb)
- 40 servings ~ $0.87/serving
This protein powder appears to check all of the boxes for post-workout refueling, especially since it contains glutamine. I like that they provide access to the science that they base their supplements on. These guys seem to know what they’re doing in the wide world of supplements, and the price point is good for the formulas offered.
Proteins are important for repairing damaged muscles, but carbs alongside protein help those building blocks do their jobs. Consuming carbohydrates also helps to replenish the glycogen that may have been depleted after an intense sweat session.
Keep in mind that carbs after a lighter workout are not necessary, for example, a brisk walk or long yoga session. However, if you do an hour-long HIIT class, refueling your glycogen stores may be beneficial to help combat post-workout fatigue.
An optimal ratio for carbs to protein post-workout is roughly 3-to-1. Meaning, if you consume 30 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of protein would be an acceptable ratio following a strength or endurance session.
Post-workout nutrition can be in the form of supplements and food! One of my favorite snacks after a workout is nut butter on whole-grain toast with sliced bananas, which makes for a tasty combination of carbs and protein. Sprinkle some cinnamon or chia seeds on top for an added bonus.
Creatine, specifically creatine monohydrate, is the most well-researched fitness supplement on the market. Studies have found that creatine supplementation alongside resistance training increases strength, lean mass, and muscle tone more so than resistance training alone.
Studies have found that creatine may aid in recovery by attenuating muscle damage, but authors indicated that this information should be regarded with caution and more research needs to be done to identify a causal link between creatine supplementation and post-workout recovery.
The ISSN recommendation for creatine supplementation is 3-10 grams per day for healthy individuals.
The best time to take creatine is up for debate since positive effects are observed when it’s taken both before and after a session, and this study found no real difference in the effectiveness of creatine taken right before or right after a workout.
Creatine by Gnarly Sports Nutrition – Best Creatine Supplement
Gnarly Sports Nutrition is a reputable company with loads of supplements on offer. This creatine supplement uses Creapure, which is the purest form of creatine monohydrate and is IFS FOOD certified.
- 5 g pure creatine monohydrate (Creapure)
- NSF certified for sport
- NSF content certified
- 90 servings ~ $0.61/serving
Since it’s clean and unflavored, there are no added sugars or surprises in this one, which is my favorite type of supplement. One note: on Gnarly’s website, this product only has ten reviews only dating back to one year ago, meaning it’s a new product. This isn’t necessarily bad; there just aren’t as many reviews by real people to decipher any negatives about this powder.
Glutamine is an amino acid made by the body and found in foods, though glutamine supplementation may be beneficial to some people that engage in frequent high-intensity or strenuous exercise. L-glutamine is the form found in foods and supplements, but is sometimes simply referred to as glutamine.
A study testing the effects of L-glutamine on muscle soreness and muscle strength post eccentric exercise found glutamine to be beneficial in both respects, though the effects were greater in men. Another placebo-controlled trial concluded that L-glutamine improved markers of muscular damage in professional basketball players.
Most diets naturally consist of 3–6 grams of glutamine per day, so some experts recommend around 5 grams of glutamine in a supplement.
Glutamine by Transparent Labs – Best Glutamine Supplement
Instead of this one just containing BCAAs, Transparent Labs added glutamine to decrease soreness, vitamin C for reducing inflammation, and coconut water powder for electrolytes to make it a well-rounded post-workout muscle recovery supplement.
- 8 g BCAAs
- 5 g L-glutamine
- 1 g coconut water
- 1.5 g vitamin C
- 30 servings ~ $1.30/serving
While this one does have added sugars for flavor, it’s still pretty clean. However, if you don’t train extremely hard, I wouldn’t spend money on an amino acid product like this as you’re probably getting enough from food. On the other hand, for trained athletes or bodybuilders, this supplement may be beneficial as part of a post-workout regimen.
Antioxidants are thought to help with muscle repair since, in essence, an antioxidant’s job is to fight free radicals that cause oxidative stress and reduce inflammation. However, this systematic review discusses the evidence regarding antioxidant supplementation for muscle soreness and recovery is sparse and the benefits may not be clinically significant so the jury is still out for this recovery supplement.
There are a number of antioxidants, but two have been studied the most for their use in muscle recovery: vitamin C and polyphenols.
Vitamin C is a powerhouse of an antioxidant for a few reasons that go beyond the scope of this article. There is some evidence that confirms its role in muscle recovery after exercise.
The category of polyphenols can be further broken down into four classes, with one of those being flavonoids. Flavonoids hold promise in easing muscle soreness and aiding in muscle protein synthesis post EIMD.
Tart cherry juice has gained significant attention in the fitness world. This juice or concentrate contains high levels of flavonoids, which are believed to contribute to its effects on muscle recovery, especially in endurance athletes, including runners.
This review of tart cherry juice supplementation for workout recovery describes an effective dose as about 8–12 ounces 4–5 days before a workout or athletic event and 2–3 days afterwards to promote recovery.
Tart Cherry Juice by Carlyle – Best Antioxidant Supplement
This tart cherry extract by Carlyle is a high-quality supplement that can be used daily to ease the pains and soreness from working out regularly. The dosing instructions are to take three capsules daily, and with food is best.
- GMP certified
- 10:1 extract
- 66 servings ~ $0.30/serving
This supplement is hassle-free if you don’t like drinking smoothies or mixing supplements into liquid. Also, the high amounts of antioxidants would be good for someone that struggles with joint pain or inflammation from exercise.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a brightly colored spice proposed to have numerous health benefits.
A meta-analysis published in 2021 stated that based on the available evidence, curcumin supplementation may reduce muscle soreness and markers of muscle damage after exercise, which was confirmed by a similar study in 2022.
A safe and effective dose of curcumin hasn’t been established for muscle recovery benefits, but the most common range of turmeric used in studies is 500–2000 mg per day.
Hi- Health Turmeric Plus – Best Curcumin Supplement
Curcuwin is a trademarked, clinically studied, and highly bioavailable form of curcumin. The directed dosage is once daily with food or as recommended by a health professional.
- 250 mg curcumin
- 250 mg turmeric root
- GMP certified
- 120 servings ~ $0.44/serving
It’s nice that this supplement can be taken just once daily for overall added health benefits, in addition to being beneficial for muscle recovery. Someone that’s already pain-free may not notice as much of a difference as someone who has inflammation. Regardless, a curcumin supplement is helpful to most people who don’t consume much turmeric.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These particular essential amino acids are not naturally produced by the body, so they must be obtained through diet or supplementation.
There is plenty of controversy surrounding BCAA supplementation, so at current, the research and guidance come with a few caveats.
This 2019 meta-analysis, including eight studies, concluded that BCAA supplementation improved DOMS in participants. However, results from a similar meta-analysis in 2021 showed only improvements were observed in trained individuals and no significant decrease in DOMS was found in untrained participants. This one found that muscle damage biomarkers were reduced but supplementation didn’t enhance muscle performance, which agrees with conclusions met by authors of another study in trained males.
This essentially means that for serious fitness enthusiasts on a regular intense training schedule or professional athletes, BCAA supplementation may help with muscle recovery. On the other hand, for the average person doing smaller amounts of endurance or resistance training, supplementation is probably not necessary.
Based on the available evidence, it’s unclear whether BCAAs are most effective taken before or after a workout. However, it’s unlikely it makes much difference, so take this supplement when it is most convenient for you.
For a super thorough list of BCAA’s take a look at our companion article about some of our favorite amino acids supplements. For our favorite overall product, look below!
Thorne Amino Complex – Best Overall BCAA Supplement
Thorne has established credibility with multiple large entities in the health industry. They create a plethora of evidence-backed products and the amino complex is no exception.
- Contains 20 amino acids including EEAs and BCAAs
- NSF certified for sport
- Comes in two flavors: lemon and berry
- 30 servings ~ $1.50/serving
This is a great product from a respected company in the industry. The only downside is this powder contains Stevia, which can cause stomach upset in some people.
Drinking plenty of water after a workout is the easiest, cheapest, and most important aspect of workout recovery at any fitness level. Tap and bottled water naturally contains trace amounts of electrolytes that will typically suffice after a workout.
However, after a longer, more intense workout that involves a lot of sweating, or after outdoor workouts in the heat, an electrolyte supplement may be beneficial.
Skratch Labs Hydration Sport Drink Mix – Best Electrolytes Supplement
Skratch Labs wanted to create a post-workout hydration mix that was more refreshing than sweet compared to other sports drinks on the market. So that’s what they did. There’s not much to this supplement but it’s a step up from water to help you hydrate after exercise.
- Comes in seven unique flavors
- Some flavors contain caffeine
- 20 servings ~ $1.10/serving
This supplement would be great for someone who doesn’t necessarily love the taste of water, but needs to hydrate. Endurance athletes rave about this product in the customer reviews. They also come in single-serving packets, which are perfect for a gym bag or those always on the go.
Pre-workout is a popular supplement used by fitness enthusiasts. Many people are not as aware of post-workout supplements, but they follow the same premise as pre-workout. Many post-workout supplements are sold as powders. Though ingredients vary by brand, the ingredients commonly found in post-workout blends are listed above.
You should use supplements and powders as directed on the label. However, it’s not a bad idea to start with a lower dose (like half a scoop) if you are new to workout supplements. Track how you feel before having a full dose.
Post by Transparent Labs – Best Post-Workout Blend
I like Transparent Labs, and it’s because they are, well, “transparent” about their ingredients and manufacturing and testing procedures. This post-workout blend contains several of the supplements listed above as ingredients, in one formulation.
- Comes in three flavors
- 5 g L-glutamine
- 2.5 g Betapure (betaine anhydrous)
- 2 g L-carnitine L-tartrate
- 2 g beta-alanine
- 500 mg VitaCherry (tart cherry powder)
- 25 mg astragin
- 30 servings ~$1.60/serving
This supplement is formulated with ingredients specifically for muscle repair and growth. If you’re focused on this, this is a great choice for a muscle recovery supplement.
Why Use a Muscle Recovery Supplement?
Though exercise is necessary and beneficial, when we exercise, we put our bodies through stress. Tiny tears in muscle tissue lead to muscle growth (which is good), but those tissues also need to be adequately repaired. Muscle soreness may be due to lactic acid buildup right after a workout, or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which is what most supplements try to combat.
Muscle recovery supplements can promote muscle recovery by increasing protein synthesis post-workout to continually build muscle even after you’re finished working out. They can also aid in reducing muscle soreness and fatigue after particularly challenging workouts.
Final Thoughts on Muscle Recovery Supplements
As always, ensure that you’re practicing other healthy lifestyle habits like getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, and incorporating daily movement into your routine to help you achieve peak performance both in the gym and during activities of daily life.
According to research, there are several beneficial compounds and supplements that may have beneficial effects on muscle recovery, including reduced soreness and an increased rate of muscle repair. While a supplement may help speed up this process slightly, it’s important to remember that sometimes recovery just takes time. Our bodies can do incredible feats, but we have to take care of them to keep everything working properly.
The best workout recovery supplement for another person may not be the best option for YOU, so consider consulting with a professional at EverFlex to steer you in the right direction to achieve your fitness goals and optimal health outcomes.