Top 5 Post-Workout Supplements

Best Supplements for Recovery From Training

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: July 14, 2023

After a punishing workout, your body is in a state of disrepair. But with the right nutrients, you can recover and come back stronger.

The problem is there are 1,001 post-workout supplements out there clamoring for your money. So how do you know which ones actually work?

This list will help you sort through the options and save money. By the end of the article, you’ll know the 5 best post-workout supplements proven to help you reach your fitness goals.

Post-Workout Supplements

What Are Post-Workout Supplements?

After completing resistance training, individuals often consume post-workout supplements to aid muscle recovery and adaptation. These supplements can consist of various dietary and nutritional products.

Although pre-made supplement blends are available, many individuals prefer combining basic supplements such as protein powders, amino acids, recovery compounds, and vitamins.

Benefits of Post-Workout Supplements

You may be asking yourself, “Why do I need post-workout supplements?” To answer that question, it helps to understand what they do and the potential recovery and muscle-building benefits.

Increase Protein Synthesis

Protein synthesis is one of the fundamental factors determining if you gain or lose muscle. This is simply the creation of proteins that build new muscle tissue.

When your body creates more protein than it breaks down, this is called a positive protein balance and it is necessary for muscle growth. But if you break down more protein than you create, that’s a negative protein balance and it can cause muscle loss.

Therefore, it’s key to provide enough dietary protein to ensure that your body is in a positive protein balance. And a post-workout supplement including a protein supplement has been shown to increase protein synthesis5.

Post Workout Supplements Protein Synthesis

Effect of Post-Workout Supplements on Protein Dynamics: Consuming carbs and protein immediately following a workout results in a positive net protein balance. (adapted from Levenhagen et al.)

Flip The Metabolic Switch

Like all your body’s processes, your metabolism operates in cycles. There are periods of breaking down called catabolism, followed by periods of building up called anabolism. Which metabolic state you’re in is affected by your activities and diet.

For example, intense exercise brings about a catabolic state due to increased stress hormones like cortisol. In contrast, consuming carbohydrates post-workout releases anabolic hormones like insulin that shuttle nutrients into your cells6.

Therefore, the best way to go from catabolic to anabolic is by eating carbs shortly after your workout.

Post Workout Supplements Insulin

Effect of Post-Workout Supplements on Insulin Level: Consuming carbs and protein immediately following a workout results in a greater insulin response. (adapted from Zawadzki et al.)

Replenish Energy

In addition to increasing protein synthesis and flipping the metabolic switch, post-workout supplements replace the energy you burn during your workout. Specifically, the carbs stored in your body are called glycogen.

Studies show that the rate of glycogen storage is directly correlated with the post-workout insulin response6. Therefore, consuming high glycemic carbs after your workout increases the energy you can replenish.

Post Workout Supplements Glycogen Uptake

Effect of Post-Workout Supplements on Glycogen Storage: Consuming carbs immediately following a workout results in greater glycogen uptake. (adapted from Zawadzki et al.)

Speed Up Recovery

During exercise, glycogen depletion and the buildup of byproducts such as lactic acid result in fatigue and exhaustion. When glycogen levels are returned to pre-exercise levels, strength and performance improve.

The process of glycogen restoration begins immediately after exercise and is highest during the first 5-6 hours of recovery8. Therefore, replenishing glycogen after your workout is central to recovery and preventing fatigue in the next bout of exercise.

Replace Nutrients

Carbohydrates are not the only thing you burn during resistance training workouts. You also use up vitamins and minerals.

Without replenishing those micronutrients, your immune system and overall health can decline. That’s why replacing vitamins and minerals with a solid multivitamin is a good idea.

Best Post-Workout Supplements

This is what you came here for, so let’s jump into the list of supplements. I’ve purposely included mostly single-ingredient supplements on this list instead of pre-formulated supplement blends.

This gives you greater control over what you put in your body and saves you money!

1. Whey Protein

Dozens of studies have shown that whey protein supplements improve muscle and strength gains from resistance training workouts1,2.

But not all protein powders are created equal. Many supplement companies fluff up their protein powders with added fillers and ingredients you don’t need. So be savvy when purchasing protein.

One tip is to divide the grams of protein per serving by the total serving size. For example, if one scoop is 36 grams and contains 24 grams of protein, that supplement is only 67% protein by weight!

Generally, a protein powder with whey isolate (instead of concentrate) concentrate as the first ingredient is 80-90% protein by volume and costs a little more. That said, you also don’t have to pay a fortune for protein powder either.

Learn More: Whey Isolate vs Concentrate Buyer’s Guide

Post-Workout Supplements Whey Isolate Protein

2. Dextrose Or Maltodextrin

After protein, the next most important post-workout nutrient is carbohydrates. While you can get your carbs from food, using carbohydrate powders like dextrose or maltodextrin is faster and easier.

When you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose by your body. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar, consisting of only one molecule.

Dextrose is very similar to glucose and does not require further breakdown by your body. Maltodextrin comprises multiple sugar molecules, but it breaks down just as quickly as dextrose.

The benefit is that you get glucose into your body rapidly when needed. So it can get absorbed and stored as glycogen to aid in recovery from workouts.

Choosing between dextrose and maltodextrin is a matter of personal preference. While dextrose is slightly more costly, it is easier to mix than maltodextrin.

Post-Workout Supplements Dextrose
Post Workout Supplement Maltodextrin
What about mass gainer post-workout supplements?

A weight gainer or mass gainer is a supplement that combines protein and carbs (usually maltodextrin) to help you consume more calories. So why not use a weight gainer instead of buying powders separately?

In my 20s, I tried using a mass gainer supplement to help me gain weight. I mixed four scoops with milk in a pitcher and drank it throughout the day, including after my workouts. While I did manage to gain weight, I also gained a lot of fat as a result.

The reason for this is that weight gainers typically contain a lot more carbohydrates than protein. In fact, some weight gainers have a ratio of 250 grams of carbs to just 50 grams of protein, which is a 5:1 ratio. For a post-workout shake, a better ratio would be 2:1.

Another issue with weight gainers is the price. On average, they can cost around $3 per serving. It’s much more cost-effective to purchase protein and maltodextrin or dextrose separately, as this gives you more control over your macronutrient intake.

Overall, unless you’re an extremely hardgainer looking for the easiest way to add extra calories to your diet, I wouldn’t recommend using a weight gainer supplement.

3. Creatine

Creatine is a molecule used in the glycolytic energy pathway, which is just a fancy way of saying carbs burned during anaerobic activities like weight lifting.

By supplementing with creatine, you can ensure that your body has all the necessary ingredients to generate power through its energy pathway. Numerous studies have shown that creatine can enhance muscle growth and increase strength3.

However, with countless brands and variants available, it can be confusing to choose the right one. The most effective and affordable form of creatine is creatine monohydrate, which is considered the gold standard.

Learn More: Facts About Creatine HCL vs Monohydrate

Post Workout Supplements Creatine

4. BCAA or EAA

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and there are three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are particularly useful in building muscle.

When it comes to muscle recovery after a workout, BCAAs have an advantage. They are quickly absorbed by the muscles without needing to be broken down by the digestive system. This means that they can start repairing muscles sooner.

However, BCAAs do not contain all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) needed for tissue repair. This could result in the breakdown of muscle to acquire the missing six. Therefore, during fasting, EAA supplements are a better option.

Studies also suggest that taking EAAs with whey protein results in greater protein synthesis. However, if your post-workout meal or shake contains protein, then BCAAs are still effective and more affordable.

See My Comparison of EAA vs BCAA Supplements

Post Workout Supplements BCAA

5. Multivitamin or Greens

Did you know that almost a third of Americans have a vitamin deficiency, according to the CDC? Physical activities like weight lifting can further lower these micronutrients, causing more stress.

This is why having a good multivitamin is like an insurance policy, protecting you from potential disasters. You can take a multivitamin with any food, but I usually take mine after working out because nutrients are shuttled directly to the cells.

Another option is to try a greens powder supplement containing a healthy vitamin and mineral mix. These supplements often include probiotics and digestive enzymes that help keep your gut healthy.

Post Workout Supplements Multivitamin

When to Take Post-Workout Supplements

Post-workout supplements should be taken within 45 minutes of finishing resistance training, as this is considered the anabolic window. This concept suggests that consuming carbs and protein after a workout is crucial for muscle gain, although some debate its validity.

The science behind body composition is complex, making it difficult to study the impact of any one factor. However, taking post-workout supplements can help maximize anabolic activity, which is beneficial for building muscle.

Related: Disputing the Anabolic Window Myth

Post-Workout Nutrition

If you’ve made it this far, you may have noticed that these supplements are similar to regular foods. In fact, all of these nutrients can be obtained from healthy foods.

Even creatine is found in red meat, fish, and poultry. These post-workout supplements are a natural extension of your diet and make it easier to get important nutrients for recovery and performance optimization.

6 Post-Workout Meal Ideas Including Shakes, Smoothies, & Whole Foods

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More Supplement Guides

In this article, you learned about five post-workout supplements that are proven to increase protein synthesis, replenish glycogen, speed up recovery, and replace nutrients.

So the next time you see an advertisement for a post-workout supplement, you’ll be able to check the ingredients to see if it’s worth the money. If you found this article helpful, I know you’ll like these additional muscle-building supplement guides.

11 Easy Weight Gain Shake Recipes

Creatine Weight Gain Body Composition Analysis

Creatine Dose Calculator Based on Weight

7 Benefits of Drinking a Protein Shake Before Bed

Ibutamoren (MK-677) Muscle Building Peptide Explained

Turkesterone Supplements: B.S. or Better Than Steroids?

If you’re ready to explore something else, I also have tons of informative content on nutrition, exercises, workouts, and more. Feel free to browse some of the other popular articles below.

References
1) Cermak, Naomi M., et al. “Protein supplementation augments the adaptive response of skeletal muscle to resistance-type exercise training: a meta-analysis.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 96.6 (2012): 1454-1464.
2) Morton, Robert W., et al. “A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults.” British journal of sports medicine 52.6 (2018): 376-384.
3) Branch, J. David. “Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 13.2 (2003): 198-226.
4) Naclerio, Fernando, and Eneko Larumbe-Zabala. “Effects of whey protein alone or as part of a multi-ingredient formulation on strength, fat-free mass, or lean body mass in resistance-trained individuals: a meta-analysis.” Sports Medicine 46.1 (2016): 125-137.
5) Levenhagen, Deanna K., et al. “Postexercise nutrient intake timing in humans is critical to recovery of leg glucose and protein homeostasis.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism 280.6 (2001): E982-E993.
6) Zawadzki, K. M., B. B. Yaspelkis 3rd, and J. L. Ivy. “Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise.” Journal of Applied Physiology 72.5 (1992): 1854-1859.
7) Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. “Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?.” Journal of the international society of sports nutrition 10.1 (2013): 1-11.
8) Alghannam, Abdullah F., Javier T. Gonzalez, and James A. Betts. “Restoration of muscle glycogen and functional capacity: role of post-exercise carbohydrate and protein co-ingestion.” Nutrients 10.2 (2018): 253.

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