Why do you need supplements for muscle recovery?
When it comes to getting the best out of a work out, most of the gains we make come long after we’ve thrown in the towel and quit for the day. Muscles need time to recover in order to build in strength The more we can do to aid that recovery and deliver the ingredients needed to boost growth, the bigger the gains we can make and the faster we can return to the gym.
In this guide, we take a look at seven of the best supplements available to boost muscle recovery.
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How to Help the Body Recover Post Workout
We’ve put together our guide to the best supplements for muscle recovery but there are some other ways you can help optimise gains by:
- Stretching post exercise;
- Avoiding stress
- Staying active
- Eating potassium rich foods
- Stacking the post workout protein
Recovery is just as important as the hard work you put in at the gym and skimping on a proper routine can negate the impact of all that exercise. Put simply, recovery is equally as important as the exercise you take.
As well as taking care of the basics and getting a good nights sleep (see below), supplements can be an ideal way to deliver quality sources of lost nutrients, provide the building blocks for muscle growth and encourage fast repair. They can reduce muscles soreness, improve sleep and support overall health to keep you fit for longer.
The Importance of Good Sleep
When we exercise we produce high levels of adrenaline and cortisol which can both be excellent aids for our performance. Not only do they increase our heart rate meaning our muscles get primed for action but they also make us more alert meaning we can concentrate on form. Though an excellent aid to stamina, endurance and focus, they aren’t terribly helpful, post-workout, in getting a good night’s sleep.
And, one of the most effective ways to speed up muscle recovery is getting a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is an essential ingredient to allow muscles to repair and grow. Without quality post-workout sleep, we restrict the potential gains we work so hard for in the gym.
For this reason, we’ve included a couple of supplements that also aid sleep but if you can combat sleepless nights after a session in the gym then you are well on the road to good muscle recovery.
Best Supplements for Muscle Recovery
Muscle growth is a process whereby the body repairs the fibers that have been damaged during a workout. In order to prevent damage, these muscle fibers are repaired more thickly and successful growth is dependent on several key ingredients.
One of the most important components needed by the muscles in order to recover and repair is protein and the higher quality the better.
Whey consists of Branch Chain Amino Acids (or BCAAs) which closely resembles the profile of skeletal muscle. It is an easily digestible source of protein and delivers these ingredients more rapidly post-workout to prevent muscle soreness and aid recovery.
As well as containing contains three key amino acids that boost protein synthesis for recovery (leucine, valine and isoleucine) a quality whey supplement will also:
- Boost immunity
- Provide the benefits of antioxidants
- Enhance muscle growth
It is important to select a quality source of whey protein but, as a dairy product, some people may need to select another source of BCAAs and protein (see below).
BCAA (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
Whilst whey protein is an excellent source of the essential amino acids needed for muscle repair, not everyone is able to take it.
Derived from milk, whey is unsuitable for vegans and those people who are lactose intolerant.
Whatever the reason for not using this powerful post-workout supplement, there are other ways to provide the body with BCAAs including foods such as lentils, soy protein, nuts and beans.
You can also find BCAA supplements in the form of powders, drinks and tablets.
ZMA (Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6)
This simple formula of anabolic minerals was designed specifically for athletes with post workout recovery in mind. Used by top sportsmen and bodybuilders, ZMA has been proven to reduce next day fatigue by improving the quality of post-workout sleep.
There has been some research to suggest that ZMA can help people who suffer from low testosterone levels but further research is needed to confirm the efficacy of this claim.
An important compound which is used in the metabolism of fatty acids, L-Carnatine has earned a reputation for helping the body burn fat. However, studies have shown that athletes who supplemented with a daily dose of 2g showed significantly less signs of post-exercise stress including:
- Lower levels of tissue damage
- Decreased muscle soreness
- Lower formation of free radicals
Tests were repeated at doses of 1g per day and the results were the same.
Not only is the efficacy of L-Carnatine supported by clinical trials in healthy younger men but has also been shown to be effective in an older age group.
WMS (Waxy Maize Starch)
Along with protein, your body needs carbohydrates to restore energy levels and support the function of muscle repair. A heavy workout can deplete the body’s stores of glycogen which leaves you feeling both tired and stressed.
When glycogen levels are low, the response is a state of hypoglycaemia whereby the body will begin producing catabolic hormones like cortisol. Whilst the primary aim of this is to provide the body with extra protein from glucose, it does this by breaking down muscle tissue and supressing the immune system.
You can avoid this process by delivering an instant hit of quality carbs to restore glycogen levels using WMS.
A derivative of corn starch, this mostly tasteless white powder can be added to post-workout smoothies, shakes and drinks and can be blended with other supplements such as whey protein.
This humble but essential vitamin has been used to support general health for centuries but is also a much needed component for muscle repair and growth. Not only is vitamin C essential for forming collagen (a protein used to repair connective tissues for blood vessels, tendons and ligaments) but it also helps to flush the body of lactic acid.
A build up of lactic acid post-exercise is a normal response but is the primary cause of muscle soreness.
In addition to all these benefits, vitamin C can also help men maintain testosterone levels by reducing cortisol levels.
And, if that wasn’t enough, vitamin C also:
- Boosts immunity to prevent down time
- Blocks the synthesis of proteins that cause inflammation
- Aids digestive absorption meaning faster delivery from other supplements
Vitamin C can be found in plenty of natural sources as well as in supplement form. The most easily digestible way to get an instant dose of vitamin C (that won’t give you diarrhoea) is to use one that contains lecithin. Known as liposomal vitamin C, the addition of lecithin makes this compound fat-soluble and more easily digestible.
Whilst you can find vitamin C from traditional sources such as raw vegetables and fruit, supplements such as camu-camu, acerola and rose-hip are naturally persevered to deliver easier dosing.
Another essential amino acid, L-Glutamine is available as both a vegetable and animal protein derivative and plays an important role in promoting muscle growth.
Whilst normal healthy adults should have sufficient levels of glutamine (including L-glutamine) from their diets, levels are diminished after a workout. As a result, muscles without this nutrient freely available tend to be broken down more rapidly.
Glutamine supplements are therefore taken before a big session at the gym in order to fuel the muscles with a ready supply.
Sources of Muscle Recovery Supplements
All of the supplements listed above are manufactured and sold by numerous companies, in some cases exactly the same products are simply rebranded.
Choosing any of these supplements will come down to personal choice over natural sources vs synthesised (or processed), budget and availability.
It is always recommended that any dietary supplement you choose carries the appropriate regulatory approval (such as from the FDA in the US, MHRA in the UK) and is within the ‘Use By’ date. The efficacy of out of date dietary supplements can be diminished but may also be harmful.
You should also ensure that you adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines on dosing and speak to your physician or pharmacist if you are taking any other medications to ensure there are no unwanted interactions.
And, a last word on muscle recovery.
Hydrating post workout is not only essential to help flush out toxins and prevent cramps and soreness but will also prevent a drop in metabolism caused by dehydration.
Featured image via Flickr.