When you’re new to lifting, all you have to do is look at a barbell to gain muscle. As you progress in your bodybuilding career, you’ll have to get stricter with your workout plan and nutrition to continue to make the same type of gains you did in the beginning.
You don’t get stronger when you work out. You get stronger when you’re resting. Working out causes small muscle tears and metabolic changes at a micro-level. Your body adapts to this stress by laying down new tissues which is what causes muscle growth.
If you don’t give your body the raw material it needs to repair itself, it’s going to break down instead of getting stronger. What does your body need? Protein is definitely important, but several other micronutrients can help you continue to improve your body.
Keep reading to find out what you should look for in a post-workout supplement. We’ll also break down the key features of several of the more popular muscle recovery supplements on the market to make your buying decision as easy as possible.
Best Recovery Supplement: Quick Picks
- Science in Sport Rego Rapid Recovery Editor’s Choice
- Evlution Nutrition Recover Mode
- The Protein Works Recovery Protein
- BULK POWDERS AFTERMATH
- CNP Pro Recover
Note: There’s a lot more information below but clicking the above links will take you to current prices, further information and customer reviews on Amazon.
What is a Post-Workout Supplement?
A post-workout supplement is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a supplement that you can take after your workout to give your body the raw materials it needs to get stronger.
Most post-workout supplements contain protein, but there’s quite a bit of variation between brands. Some post-workout supplements contain individual amino acids and micronutrients instead.
Protein is made up of 21 amino acids (many sources still report there being 20). These amino acids can be further categorised as essential (meaning your body can’t make them) or non-essential (your body can make them).
High-quality sources of protein like meat or whey powder contain a complete spectrum of these amino acids whereas incomplete sources of protein like rice or beans only contain some of them.
There are nine amino acids that your body can’t produce including the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Supplementing BCAAs and some other essential amino acids on top of your usual protein intake may be beneficial (we’ll go over the benefits in the next section).
Here is a list of some of the micronutrients that many post-workout supplements contain with a description of how each benefits your workout.
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most widely studied supplements out there. Basically, creatine helps your muscle work longer before they become fatigued.
Your muscles rely on several molecules for energy. For endurance activities like running a marathon, your body burns mostly fat. For shorter activities like running 400m, your body relies mostly on carbohydrates.
For short bursts of energy that last for less than ten seconds, your body uses a molecule known as phosphocreatine for immediate energy.
When you saturate your creatine stores through supplementation, you allow your muscles to contract longer before switching to a slower method of producing energy.
How can creatine supplementation help your weight lifting?
Taking creatine may help you grind out an extra rep or two during your heavy sets, which means you can perform more total volume and build more muscle.
Research supports that taking a creatine supplement can provide the following benefits:
- Increased power
- Improved lean mass
- Reduced muscle fatigue
- Improved bone mineral density
- Decreased muscle damage
- Increased testosterone production
Research also suggests that it doesn’t matter what time of day you take creatine. Most supplements contain creatine monohydrate, but you may also see another form of creatine on labels called creatine HCL, which has the same basic function.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs):
The three BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are essential amino acids that your body can’t synthesise. There may be several benefits of consuming BCAAs including reducing post-workout muscle soreness, aiding in muscle gains, and helping spare muscle while in a caloric deficiency.
Most BCAA supplements contain a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to valine to isoleucine since leucine is thought to be the most important of these amino acids.
Vitamin and Mineral Complexes
Many post-workout shakes include vitamins and minerals to help replenish nutrients lost during exercise. Minerals in the form of charged ions are known as electrolytes.
Electrolytes are lost through sweat. If you’ve ever had a muscle cramp during a workout, it’s possible that it was from an imbalance in electrolytes caused by dehydration. Common electrolytes include potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium.
L-glutamine is a form of the amino acid glutamine. Research shows that it may support your immune system and digestive system. There’s limited evidence to suggest that it can increase muscle mass, but there is research that found it can increase rates of muscle building after burns and knife wounds.
Even though including glutamine in your post-workout shake might not directly help you build muscle, it may help reduce the number of workouts you miss because of sickness.
Beta-alanine is commonly taken alongside creatine monohydrate. After you consume beta-alanine, it breaks down into carnosine. Carnosine can improve your athletic performance by acting as a pH buffer.
Beta-alanine is usually taken to increase muscular endurance. It’s also known to occasionally cause a harmless tingling feeling throughout your body. Like with creatine, it doesn’t seem to matter what time of day you take it.
Betaine anhydrous is the active component in beetroot juice. It’s thought to be able to increase exercise performance, although there’s limited evidence at this time. In one study where participants took a betaine anhydrous supplement daily, researchers found that participants could perform more reps in the squat that participants who did not take it.
Many post-workout products contain protein. As you probably already know, protein is vital for repairing muscles after a workout.
There are many different forms of protein that can be effective, however, taking it in a powder form provides you with the convenience of being able to take it immediately post-workout.
Most supplements use whey protein since it contains a complete spectrum of amino acids and is relatively cheap. Soy protein replicates oestrogen in the body and has been linked to hormonal imbalances, so you likely want to avoid it.
Bioperine is a trademarked name of the active ingredient in black pepper called Piperine. Research shows that this substance may be able to improve your body’s absorption of amino acids.
Green Tea Extract
Green tea extract contains catechins that are thought to have neuroprotective and cardioprotective effects as well as prevent obesity. It’s often marketed as a fat burner and often found in the best thermogenic fat burner supplements. Research shows that people who regularly drink green tea have slightly higher rates of fat oxidation than people who don’t drink green tea.
Why is Post-Workout Nutrition Important?
You’ve probably heard the expression abs are made in the kitchen. If you don’t believe that’s true, try eating nothing but cheeseburgers for a month and seeing what happens to your body composition.
The truth is, if you don’t give your body what it needs to repair itself from your workouts, it doesn’t matter how hard you train.
When you finish your workout, your body is at its most vulnerable. Your muscle glycogen stores are depleted, and your body needs protein to repair muscle fibres. Your number one priority post-work should be to consume protein and carbs within two hours of your workout to aid the muscle building process.
Even if you generally limit carbs you should aim to eat most of your carbs post-workout. The insulin spike caused by eating a carb-dense food helps to more efficiently shuttle protein into your muscles.
You should aim to eat healthy all the time, but you should pay particular attention to your post-workout nutrition unless you want to get injured or stall your progress.
What Should You Look for in a Post-Workout Recovery Shake?
You have several options when it comes to post-workout shakes. Some recovery shakes focus on providing you with protein. These shakes are similar to traditional whey powder supplements with added carbs and specific nutrients to enhance the recovery process.
Other workout shakes focus on providing you with a mix of various nutrients shown to be able to increase performance such as BCAAs, creatine, or beta-alanine. If you take these supplements already, it might be more cost-efficient for you to buy a post-workout shake that includes them altogether.
If you’re a particularly heavy sweater or work out in a hot climate, you may want to look for a post-workout supplement with an electrolyte blend to keep your muscles from cramping.
A Detailed Look at the Best Post-Workout Supplements
There are tons of post-workout supplements on the market designed to help you recover after your workouts.
Some of these products are better than others. We’ve consolidated a list of some of the most common post-workout supplements with a breakdown of each so that you don’t have to waste your time in front of your laptop.
Here’s our breakdown of some of the best supplements for recovery.
Editor’s Choice: Science in Sport Rego Rapid Recovery
Rego Rapid Recovery is a protein (20 g per serving) and carb-dense protein powder (23 g per serving) that helps your muscle recover from training. It’s relatively cheap compared to most post-workout supplements and also contains 1.5 g of electrolytes per serving.
If you’re on a budget, you can use this supplement to get enough protein to maximise your post-workout recovery. What’s more it is free of gluten, lactose and wheat.
- Cheaper than most protein supplements
- Contains electrolytes
- Some report it tasting bland (especially in water)
- Protein comes from soy protein
If you’re on a budget, this protein powder might be a good option for you. However, most of the protein comes from soy, which replicates oestrogen in your body.
It’s a good idea to limit your soy intake since it can act as a hormone disrupter. If you can afford a more expensive post-workout powder, you might want to stick to one made from whey protein.
Each serving of Evlution Nutrition Recover Mode contains a mix of micronutrients that can speed up your muscle recovery after your workouts. Some of the ingredients that highlight the formula include BCAAs, creatine HCL, vitamin D, and betaine anhydrous.
Many of the ingredients have research to support their ability to increase recovery from tough workouts or improve your overall health. However, it’s not a protein supplement (although it does contain BCAAs) so it works best when you couple it with your usual post-workout protein source.
Recover Mode intensifies your post-workout recovery, which allows you to train at a higher intensity and make more gains.
- 100% transparent labelling
- Contains a 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs
- Many customers report liking the taste
- Some customers report it being overly sweet
- May have trouble dissolving
- Doesn’t contain protein (not counting individual amino acids)
Evlution is a well-known brand that’s sold at most major supplement retailers. They have a good name in the supplement world, and this supplement packages together almost every micronutrient that has research to support it as a post-workout aid.
This isn’t a protein supplement like many other of the supplements on this list, so if you decide to take it, make sure you’re not using it as a substitute for your post-workout protein.
If you use the individual ingredients already, this product offers a convenient way to take them at in one supplement.
Protein Works Recovery Protein is basically a whey powder supplement with added micronutrients. Most of the protein comes from whey protein isolate, and it also includes electrolytes and BCAAs.
If you’re a particularly heavy sweater, workout in a hot environment, or are prone to dehydration, you may particularly benefit from the additional electrolytes.
This supplement provides you with 24g of protein boosted with BCAAs and a dash of vitamins to maximise your recovery from a hard workout.
- Contains high-quality protein (whey isolate)
- Contains BCAAs to reduce post-workout muscle soreness
- Electrolytes may prevent muscle cramps
- Relatively expensive per serving
- Isn’t much different than a regular whey shake
If you’re looking to upgrade your whey protein, you may like this supplement. You’ll get all the tradition benefit that comes with whey protein and get additional electrolytes to keep your muscle’s mineral balance optimal. The added BCAAs may help reduce muscle soreness.
Bulk Powders Aftermath is essentially a whey protein supplement (40 g Protein from grass-fed cows) with some other amino acids added to it to increase its recovery potential. It’s much higher in carbs than most protein shakes but lower in carbs than most mass gainers.
Aftermath makes a good choice if you’re looking for an all-in-one shake after your workout to give your muscles the raw nutrients they need to recover.
The added creatine can also increase your recovery and work capacity so you can perform more reps during your workout.
- Contains whey protein
- Contains creatine and glutamine
- Relatively cheap
- May be more expensive than buying whey and creatine separately
- Sweetened with sucralose
Besides providing you with high-quality protein, Aftermath also contains creatine and glutamine, which can enhance recovery.
If you take creatine or glutamine already, this supplement can replace them from your daily supplement stack. This supplement also provides you with a good ratio of carbs to protein.
CNP Pro Recover is a vegetarian-friendly, post-workout supplement that delivers 57 g of high-glycaemic carbs and 29 g of protein per serving to maximise your post-workout recovery. Each serving also provides you with BCAAs to reduce muscle damage and reduce post-workout muscle soreness.
If you often feel banged up the day after training, you might particularly benefit from the additional BCAAs. Its high-quality protein formula may improve your recovery times and allow you to train harder in the gym.
- Contains 29 g of protein per serving
- Protein comes from whey isolate
- Customers generally seem to like the taste
- Relatively expensive
- Is basically a whey supplement with added carbs
The company recommends that you take this supplement within 30 minutes of your workout to maximise the benefits. This supplement could make a good alternative to your current protein powder if you don’t mind paying a little more for the added BCAAs.
Your post-workout nutrition is critical. If you don’t give your body the raw materials it needs to repair itself after an intense workout, your body will break down and you’ll stop seeing gains in the weights room.
When it comes to choosing a post-workout supplement, you have two options. You can look for a supplement that contains a blend of micronutrients and amino acids to support recovery or you can look for a protein-based supplement.
If you chose a supplement that’s a blend of micronutrients, you should couple it with a protein powder or lean protein source.
Evlution Nutrition Recover Mode is a great choice if you want a supplement that focuses on individual amino acids and micronutrients. It contains a mixture of BCAAs, essential amino acids, creatine, and electrolytes that may get depleted after a hard workout.
If you would prefer taking a post-workout supplement that can replace your current protein powder, we recommend Bulk Powders Aftermath.
This post-workout powder contains 40 g of protein per serving sourced from grass-fed cows. It also provides you with creatine, which is one of the most well-research supplements for improving athletic performance.