Intense workouts are hard on the body. Muscles and tendons get pushed to their limits and beyond. We expend our reservoirs of essential vitamins and minerals, and we sweat out electrolytes. If we don’t do anything to address those depleted vitamin and mineral stores and provide our body with some way to repair and rebuild overworked muscle tissue, we’re in for a very difficult time.
This is where muscle recovery supplements come in. If you’ve never heard of them, you’re in the right place. Because below we’re going to take you through what they are, how they work and which are the best recovery supplements.
How do Recovery Supplements Work?
If you exercise the way you should, you end up pushing your muscles to the point of failure. If you don’t challenge your muscles this way, you won’t see any progress. But while pushing your muscles past their comfort zone is necessary for progress, doing so actually tears muscle tissue apart. If you take appropriate steps after the workout, this is not a problem. In fact, it’s a benefit. This is where muscle recovery supplements come in.
Muscle recovery supplements provide your body with the nutrients it needs to replenish vitamin and mineral reserves. In addition, they enable your body to not only repair the damage done to your muscles while working out but to replace the damaged muscle tissue with new, bigger, stronger muscle tissue.
If you shortchange your body when it comes to providing it post-workout support, you can wind up doing serious damage to your entire musculoskeletal system.
“Eat right and you can’t go wrong.” – Jack Lalanne
Types of Recovery Supplements
The list of known vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients is long. Too long to get into here. Fortunately, the list of supplements that actually help with workout recovery is fairly short. And that’s all we’re concerned about. So let’s look at those things that can help you recover from a sweat-soaked episode in the gym.
Creatine has been used by weightlifters for years as a way to enhance their post-workout recovery efforts. Creatine is an amino acid that can be found throughout your muscle tissues. Most people get the creatine they need either from red meat or seafood.
But if you’ve just pushed your muscles to failure, you’re going to need more creatine to repair them than you’ll find in a hamburger. That’s where creatine supplements come in.
Creatine supplementation will help restore creatine levels in your muscles to where they should be. By replenishing creatine levels, you eliminate byproducts of muscle damage like ammonia and blood lactate that can interfere with muscle capacity.
L-Glutamine is another amino acid. (“Amino acid” is a term you’re going to have to get familiar with if you hope to build a more powerful physique.) This one helps your muscles recover by enabling them to absorb more carbs after a workout.
Glutamine also tends to ramp up the production of growth hormone. And that’s important if you want to make the most of your muscle-building efforts.
Glutamine is actually the most common amino acid in the body. That means that when you push your muscles to breaking point, it’s also the amino acid you lose the most of. So post-workout supplementation with glutamine is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs are a vital link in the process of muscle protein synthesis. They also play an important role in preventing, or at the very least, minimizing what’s known as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness.
That’s a fancy way of describing that soreness you feel the day after a workout. The BCAAs are valine, isoleucine, and leucine of which leucine is widely considered to be the most important to replenish. Mostly because your body burns through more of it during a workout than it does the others. If you don’t get sufficient quantities of BCAAs after your workouts, your muscles will start to suffer.
Pushing your body to the limit has ramifications beyond just tearing down muscle tissue. It can be hard on the connective tissue between nerve cells as well. Why is that important? Because it’s your nervous system that provides instructions to your muscles to contract and relax where you’re working out.
Aspects of the nervous system are susceptible to oxidative stress, a byproduct of free radical activity. Beta-alanine fights oxidative stress and bolsters the integrity of your nerve cells and the connections between them. This is another important component of effective post-workout recovery.
Additional Substances That Can Help Aid in Muscle Recovery
This may seem like a strange thing to add to a list of post-workout recovery supplements, but coffee has several things going for it when it comes to post-workout recovery. First, it’s high in antioxidants which are the foot soldiers in the battle against free radicals.
Second, it can boost glycogen levels, which in turn boosts overall energy levels. And third, it can and does decrease the amount of uric acid in the blood. This can help fend off arthritis and gout.
Your body is 70% water. That means any program designed to help any part of your body to recover from anything should include plenty of water. In order for muscle repair to progress effectively, your muscles need to be well hydrated.
If they’re not, protein synthesis will grind to a halt, as will your muscle recovery. Not drinking enough water after a workout also sets you up to not have as much energy during your next workout. Dehydration also leads to decreased blood volume, which in turn leads to insufficient oxygen and nutrients in your muscles.
Tart cherry juice
It may seem like our look at muscle recovery has gone off the tracks with this one, but bear with us. There is actually sound scientific evidence to support the notion that drinking tart cherry juice after a workout will reduce muscle and joint pain, and alleviate muscle tenderness.
Tart cherry juice is also loaded with antioxidants. Which means it helps fight off the scourge of free radicals that cause oxidative stress.
There is also some scientific evidence that suggests ginger can reduce muscle soreness in the aftermath of a strenuous workout. Exactly how it goes about providing this benefit is unclear. But while the clinical evidence is not exactly definitive, there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence to support this idea.
Indeed some weightlifters swear that taking a couple of grams of ginger after a workout leaves them almost pain-free the next day. Give it a try. What do you have to lose?
What’s the Best Recovery Supplements for Runners?
The best recovery supplements for runners are those high in BCAAs and essential fatty acids.
What’s the Best Recovery Supplements for Cyclists?
The best recovery supplements for cyclists also include BCAAs. But cyclists may also want to consider taking magnesium both before and after a workout.
If you push your muscles to the breaking point, and then don’t give them the nutrient support they need to recover properly, you’ll get progressively weaker, not stronger. And, as if that’s not enough, you’ll also leave yourself vulnerable to muscle strains, problems with the connective tissue in your nerve cells and more.
Remember, exercise does not build muscles. It actually destroys them. It’s what you feed your body afterward that builds them. So post-workout recovery supplements are an important addition to your post-workout diet. The more of the above-profiled supplements you wind up incorporating into your routine, the better off you’ll be.