The Best Workout Recovery Supplements - Less Muscle Soreness & Faster Return of Strength After Hardcore Training Sessions

The Best Workout Recovery Supplements - Less Muscle Soreness & Faster Return of Strength After Hardcore Training Sessions

Once you’ve pounded out your last muscle-damaging rep or burned through your last sprint on the track it’s time to focus on one thing: Recovery.

A lot of people make the mistake of dismissing recovery as something that they don’t have time for. They think of long massages they can’t afford, painful ice baths, or electrical stimulation and other esoteric and impractical recovery aids.

In reality, the most effective way to accelerate recovery and minimize soreness is with nutrition. By using a few key supplement strategies, you can target multiple systems in the body that get beat down with training.

#1: Stimulate Protein Synthesis & Repair Tissue
#2: Restore Energy Substrates
#3: Reduce Muscle Soreness
#4: Counter Inflammation
#5: Replenish Building Block Nutrients

By hitting up these five areas you can modify your recovery needs depending on training modality (endurance vs. strength/power for example), frequency, and personal preference, while ensuring you don’t miss out and set yourself up to be sore, exhausted, or inflamed just when you need to perform at your best.

#1: Stimulate Protein Synthesis & Repair Tissue

As you probably know, certain physical actions lead to muscle damage, which is a primary contributor to muscle soreness. Amino acids in protein stimulate protein synthesis and provide the building blocks so that the body can repair tissue that is damaged during training.

You want to get the majority of your overall protein from high-quality protein foods (meat, eggs, fish, dairy), but relying on supplemental protein during and after training can improve recovery.

For example, a recent review found that individuals who took protein powder after training had a 38 percent greater increase in muscle and a 33 percent greater increase in strength than those who did not. On average, taking protein increased muscle mass gains by 0.69 kg and maximal leg strength by 13.5 kg compared with placebo trials. The average amount of protein that was supplemented on top of the normal diet was 50 grams.

What To Take:

Whey protein is well accepted as a superior protein source for recovery because it is quickly digested and highly absorbable, elevating blood amino acid levels for tissue repair. It also has anti-inflammatory effect and raises glutathione, the internally produced antioxidant that is linked to longevity and disease prevention.

Pea Protein is another high quality protein source that is suitable for vegans or anyone who is intolerant to whey. Although whey is very low in lactose, some people are not able tolerate it, especially if they are using a low-quality whey protein.

BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids that contain a large amount of leucine, which is the primary amino acid necessary for triggering protein synthesis. BCAAs can conserve tissue during intense training, possibly by preserving the integrity of muscle fibers during muscle damaging exercise. For example, taking 100 mg/kg/body weight of BCAAs reduced muscle soreness at 48 hours and allowed for faster recuperation of strength.

How Much?

A dose of 20 to 25 g of high-quality protein has been accepted as the quantity to take post-workout, and this is a good amount to start with. However, recent studies suggest that more protein may be better for maximal recovery.

A new study found that regardless of how muscular subjects were, 40 grams of whey protein simulates greater muscle protein synthesis post-workout than 20 grams. A second study found that a meal of lean beef containing 70 g of protein resulted in greater whole body net protein balance than a smaller one containing 40 g of beef, suggesting that a larger amount than is currently accepted may be ideal: Whole body net protein balance has relevance not only to the amino acids that are being burned for energy and taken up to repair damaged tissue but also for immune function and storage (amino acids can be released and used by the body later).

#2: Restore Energy Substrates

Depending on the intensity and duration of your training, two different energy sources (also known as substrates) get depleted: 1) Glycogen from carbohydrates and 2) Phosphocreatine from creatine.

Phosphocreatine is stored in muscle tissue and serves as the short-term energy source for very intense exercise that lasts less than 15 seconds. For example, it is utilized for a maximal effort deadlift or a 100-meter sprint. The body has the capacity to replenish phosphocreatine stores, but taking supplemental creatine can top off reservoirs and increase the total amount of creatine available in muscle.

Glycogen is also stored in muscle tissue and serves as the primary energy substrate for high-intensity, limited-duration exercise (up to about 2 minutes) via anaerobic glycolysis, and lower intensity, endurance exercise (indefinite) via the aerobic oxidative system.

Glycogen restoration requires incoming dietary carbs. Unless you are a serious athlete who is training twice a day or competing in a tournament, you will likely be able to replenish glycogen stores via carbs you get in your diet. The one exception is if you are training very intensely and on a very low-carb diet, in which case you may want to rethink your dietary approach.

What To Take:

Creatine can be supplemented using a “loading” protocol, which will cause faster saturation of muscles and therefore greater increases in strength and body weight (due to water retention). A loading protocol is to take 0.15 grams of creatine per pound of body eight. Then, take a maintenance dose of 5 grams per day.

It should be noted that creatine loading will cause faster saturation of muscles with creatine, but, taking a smaller dose (5 grams a day) for a longer period of time will eventually reach the same saturation point, so a “loading” protocol is not required. It will just take longer to reach the same muscle concentration of creatine.

Carbohydrate supplementation can enhance performance in certain situations:

For endurance exercise lasting more than 90 minutes, take 0.9 g/kg/hr with 0.2 g/kg of protein.

For recovery during multi-day competitions or two-a-day high-intensity, long duration training, as much as 1.2 g/kg/hr is recommended. Adding protein in a range of 2:1 to 4:1 carbs-to-protein can lower carbs need and improve glycogen restoration.

Carbohydrate powders, carb beverages or fruit juice, and gel carb supplements are equally effective. Choose whichever you enjoy most and tolerate best (some carb powders and gels can bother the GI tract so experimentation is often necessary). A dual form of carbs containing glucose and fructose is recommended to refill muscle and liver glycogen stores.

#3: Reduce Muscle Soreness

One of the worst things about hardcore training is that it leaves you sore and depleted. No one wants to be hobbling up the stairs or groaning when they pick up their shoes just because they killed it with their squat workout the day before.

Topical creams are one effective approach to counter the soreness that comes from training. These creams contain therapeutic compounds that are absorbed into the blood stream through the skin, making them a relaxing and effective way to reduce severe muscle soreness.

What To Use:

Curcumin is a compound derived from the spice turmeric, and recent results show that it accelerates healing by improving cell repair and lowering inflammation.

Topical Magnesium, either applied via cream or with bath flakes, can improve muscle healing by interacting with the calcium that accumulates during intense muscle contractions. Magnesium is rapidly depleted during training because it regulates blood pressure, muscle contractions, and insulin binding with muscle.

Topical Menthol has a cooling sensation on the skin that has been found to reduce post-workout muscle soreness by inhibiting the brain-pain connection. When active men used menthol cream on trained muscles after a muscle damaging eccentric workout, they were 63 percent less sore compared to a group that iced their muscles.

#4: Counter Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a normal part of the adaptation process from training. It’s essential if you want to get stronger, faster, and more muscular. But, when recovery is compromised, either from training too frequently (as is often the case in competitive sports), life stress and high cortisol, inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, or all of the above, inflammation can become a chronic problem that weighs you down.

A variety of nutrients provide antioxidants that help the body to neutralize free radicals that damage tissue and DNA, leading to inflammation if they aren’t quickly eliminated from the body.

What To Use:

Taurine is a popular amino acid that decreases oxidative stress, allowing athletes to attain a higher work capacity. It also improves the water content of muscle fibers, reducing muscle damage for faster recovery from muscle soreness. Taurine can be taken in capsule or powder form. One study found that untrained men who supplemented with 2 grams of taurine and 3 grams of BCAAs three times a day had faster recovery after a muscle-damaging workout.

Blueberries and Tart Cherries have been shown to significantly reduce muscle damage and pain by helping to remove the waste products or “garbage” produced during heavy training. For example, a study found that drinking blueberry juice allowed for faster recovery of muscle function after training, as measured by strength tests. You can eat your berries or supplement with berry/tart cherry juice or powder. One thing: Avoid consuming berries or cherries with dairy proteins like whey because the peptides in the protein inhibit absorption of the antioxidants. Instead, wait 30 minutes to an hour after consuming whey protein will allow for full digestion.

Caffeinated Coffee is one of the most effective ways of reducing post-workout muscle soreness and restoring strength after a muscle-thrashing workout. Coffee is packed with antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress. Additionally, the caffeine helps reduce soreness by blocking central nervous system receptors related to pain. Typically, you want to avoid consuming caffeine immediately after a workout because it will elevate cortisol just at the time when you need to be lowering cortisol for optimal recovery. Therefore, depending on when you train, you may want to have a cup of coffee midmorning, at lunch, or first thing in the morning the day after a tough training session.

Fish Oil is an anti-inflammatory that increases blood flow so that necessary nutrients are delivered to damaged tissue at a greater rate. It may also reduce muscle pain slightly. Supplementing with 1 to 3 grams post-workout is recommended.

#5: Replenish Building Block Nutrients

There are certain key nutrients that are necessary for the body to complete recovery processes such as offsetting protein breakdown, eliminating inflammation, and restoring function of the central nervous system.

What To Use:

Vitamin D mediates protein synthesis and improves muscle recovery: Take 2,000 to 5,000 daily in order to achieve a blood value of at least 40 ng/ml.

Glutamine is an amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of proteins. It also affects the body’s ability to replenish muscle glycogen and is implicated in prolonged muscle soreness. If you think your levels may be low, try taking 2 to 10 g multiple times a day to help the body regenerate.

Zinc is a key element in zinc-copper SOD, which is a necessary internally antioxidant powerhouse like glutathione. In simple terms, it helps decrease the inflammatory response of intense training for faster removal of waste products.

Be aware that a small deficiency in zinc is considered a “disaster” for human health by scientists, but so is too much zinc. To test levels, get a red blood cell zinc test and continually monitor zinc levels when supplementing.




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