2021's 10 Best
An abundance of information for post-workout routines and post-workout supplements can end up pointing you in several directions and leave you confused. So when you consider a nutrient or supplement choice, consider reverse engineering your goals. For example, consider your ideal health and body type. What does that number look like? Is it a range? What does your ideal body type look like? What types of routines did a person do to achieve that particular physique?
By reverse engineering your ideal body weight and physique, you create a much simpler, more straightforward roadmap to meeting your goals. A common goal is to shed body fat, gain lean muscle, or build on top of the muscle you already have (bulking up).
With this premise in mind, we will take a look at some of the best post-workout supplements, their benefits, recommended dosages, and potential side effects. After reading, you will be armed with enough data to implement one or more post-workout supplements into your daily routine, and be on your way to attaining your goals.
Benefits of Post-Workout Supplements
Post-workout supplements have numerous benefits. These benefits are primarily centered on performance in the gym, though post-workout supplements have some general health benefits as well. Let’s look at some of the ways that a post-workout supplement can benefit you.
Reducing inflammation is a core strength of many post-workout supplements’ combined blends. Supplements containing beta-alanine or sodium bicarbonate, for example, excel at muscle wear and tear recovery. These ingredients can manage pH levels, shuttle oxygen to muscles, and shave down recovery time.
INCREASED MUSCLE TISSUE
Many post-workout supplements have been credited with building substantial muscle tissue. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and creatine are reliable ingredients known to facilitate endurance, protein formation, and muscle tissue growth. Moreover, working with any ingredient that boosts protein production or increases your time to exhaustion can result in achieving your muscle gain goals in less time than going without supplements.
SHORTER RECOVERY TIME
An important ingredient of any effective recovery supplement contains a pH mediator. A pH mediator like beta-alanine, histidine, or carnosine work to break down lactic acid, which is responsible for blocking your muscles’ fuel reserves once your body has reached its time to exhaustion. Supplementing with a pH mediator means more glucose (fuel) to your muscles, improving endurance, and increasing your time before exhaustion hits.
MEET NUTRIENT NEEDS
The typical person does not consume 100% of their nutritional needs every day. In addition to caloric, protein, carbohydrate, and fat counts, there are vitamins and minerals. Despite eating green foods and taking a multivitamin, you may fall short in any number of nutrient categories. Besides comparing your current nutritional intake with a recommended daily values table, you may want to take a look at your health and fitness goals. For example, if your protein intake is below average for your fitness goals (e.g. to gain muscle), then you may need to look at supplements containing BCAAs or a panel of essential omega fatty acids like flaxseed.
IMPROVED COGNITIVE FUNCTION
Improved cognitive function is a lesser advertised, more nuanced benefit among fitness supplements. In the same way that your body benefits from your workouts long after you’ve left the gym, your mind also benefits. Implementing the right post-workout supplements begins with ingredients that stimulate your nervous system, inducing a fat to energy conversion. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant included in many post-workout blends.
What to Look for When Buying Post-Workout Supplements
Post-workout supplements contain a variety of ingredients depending on the product. Here is a look at some of the most common ingredients and their respective benefits.
The human body requires protein to build muscle, and it needs amino acids to build protein. While your body can self-produce certain amino acids, it requires nine other types of amino acids found exclusively in foods (and thus supplements). High-protein foods include eggs and various meat and dairy products. However, you may find that what you eat alone isn’t providing as much protein as you’d like. In that case, it’s a good idea to add additional protein with a supplement.
Whey protein is a great option for this, as it is a complete protein that includes all nine essential amino acids. Studies have shown that whey is effective for building and maintaining muscle and burning fat. It also has general health benefits, such as improving blood pressure, blood sugar, and symptoms of stress and depression. It’s absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream, which is why bodybuilders and athletes often drink it immediately following a workout.
Beta-alanine is a nonessential amino acid, primarily recognized for its ability to extend a person’s time to exhaustion (TTE). Its chief function is to combat lactic acid buildup common in high-intensity workouts. When you exercise with high intensity, your muscles break down glucose to use as an energy source.
Bodily processes are similar to a stack of dominos. One process stimulates another to take place. When glucose is broken down, lactate and hydrogen ions come in, reducing your muscles’ pH levels, creating a relatively acidic environment. When you exercise, you tend to need your muscles to perform at great efficiency over a period of time or sets. When muscles are operating in an acidic environment, glucose (their fuel) is blocked from feeding your muscles. As a consequence, muscle fatigue sets in if left to your body’s own devices. Beta-alanine and carnosine, however, block acidity from setting in, freeing your muscles to perform more effectively.
One study tested beta-alanine’s efficacy in increasing cyclists’ performance over a four-week period. The cyclists increased total output by 13%. A second study testing a group of rowers found that beta-alanine, taken over a 7-week period, enabled its participants to increase their speed in a 2000-meter, six-minute-long race. Jump to Our 10 Best Post-Workout Supplement List
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are recognized by health and fitness experts to be the heavyweights among muscle building, endurance enhancing amino acids. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are essential amino acids, meaning you must consume them. BCAAs make up as much as 40% of your body’s total amino acid count. Up to 20% of BCCAs live in your muscles alone. The typical amino acid is broken down in the liver. However, BCAAs are broken down directly in your muscles, suggesting at the very least their role as a facilitator in energy production.
BCAA benefits include increased muscle tissue, blood sugar regulation, and extending your time to exhaustion (endurance). Several studies have shown that BCAAs effectively slow serotonin production in your brain during exercise, thereby slowing mental fatigue, which is a segue to physical fatigue. One study’s BCAA-supplementing participants could exercise an additional 17% before hitting their time to exhaustion. Another study’s participants consumed BCAAs, cycled under heat stress, and increased their time to exhaustion by 12%.
Caffeine is a substance consumed by 9 out of 10 people in the United States. The substance has been strongly linked to increased fitness performance, focus, and even weight loss. Caffeine has become a prevalent enhancement supplement among professional athletes for its ability to mask perception of physical effort. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has even banned the potent substance when used in high amounts.
Caffeine’s effectiveness as a fitness supplement is variable, but most of its benefits are related to putting your body’s nervous system, brain, and muscles into a heightened state. To start, when you consume coffee or a caffeinated supplement, that caffeine is quickly absorbed in your bloodstream. Your brain and nervous system essentially receive a “lights on” stimulation, reaching their peak of focus between 90-100 minutes after substance consumption. Your body temperature goes up, your muscles receive an endorphin “fight-or-flight high,” and your muscles are driven into lipolysis, where fat stores are released and converted to fuel.
One study tested a group of runners’ speeds in a 1500-meter run after consuming coffee. This group achieved a 4.2 second speed increase over the group who consumed decaf.
Creatine is an all-natural supplement known for its muscle building and endurance enhancing capabilities. The supplement has been clinically tested 500 times with results ranging from increased muscle mass, time to exhaustion, and ballistic power. Professional athletes rely on creatine’s ability to reduce exercise recovery time and improve brain function.
ATP, the high-energy molecule responsible for fueling your body, is essentially limited in its ability to reproduce. Particularly during extended exercise, ATP’s stores are expended much more quickly than they are restored. This is the time when physical fatigue sets in and your muscles are drained of energy. Creatine can generate additional ATP, fueling your body past its normal fatigue point. By encouraging additional protein formation at the cellular level, creatine is credited for helping to build muscle mass in a relatively fast period of time when compared to non-supplementation. Muscles hold additional water, thereby increasing muscle size, called volumization. Early research shows creatine’s effectiveness at eliminating myostatin- a molecule known for inhibiting muscle growth.
Sodium bicarbonate (baking powder) has long been relied upon by athletes for its versatile muscle building and endurance benefits. The compound’s effectiveness is based on its ability to manipulate pH levels where energy is expelled and regenerated. Your body has two natural pH states: 7.4 for blood and 7.0 for muscles. When these pH levels are disrupted, energy depletion follows. Energy depletion is most easily understood within the context of intense exercise. If you exercise long enough, your muscles will soon exhaust their oxygen stores, resulting in fatigue.
Your muscles’ pH level then shifts toward a more acidic state (below 7.0), and your time to exhaustion is hit. Next, your muscles seek an alternative energy source- the anaerobic pathway. However, drawing energy from this source also draws lactic acid, creating a heightened acidic environment that is depleted of oxygen. Your endurance is halted.
Sodium bicarbonate raises your pH level to a more alkaline-friendly environment, thereby increasing oxygen supply to your muscles. The compound has proven to be most effective when performing high intensity and interval cardio exercise. One study observed sodium bicarbonate’s enhanced endurance benefit during a 2000-meter rowing event. Participant rowers improved their time by 1.5 seconds during the final 1000 meters of the race.
Flaxseeds have proven themselves as a protein heavyweight. 100 grams of flaxseeds contains 18 grams of protein. Other worthwhile nutrient mentions include an omega fatty acid-rich composition of omega-9 and omega-6. These are essential fatty acids that your body cannot produce on its own. Adding a flaxseed supplement to your diet will also contribute roughly 90% daily values of thiamine, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous.
One study conducted over two decades determined that consuming omega fatty acids long term can reduce negative artery-damaging LDL cholesterol levels. Women and those with existing high LDL levels experienced the greatest health improvements.
A second study had its participants with body mass indices (BMI) of 27 and over consume 30 grams of flaxseeds daily for twelve weeks. The results were overwhelmingly positive- BMIs dropped, total body weight dropped, and waist circumferences narrowed. A marked drop in blood pressure followed these results.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid that your body naturally produces. Your body produces just enough to regulate your internal ecosystem. However, in times of stress, additional amino acid protein is helpful to adequately power through its demands. Glutamine is frequently referred to by researchers and fitness enthusiasts as a “conditionally-essential” amino acid. During times of physical stress or illness, your body cannot keep up with glutamine demand, and you must consume additional amino acids by food or supplementation.
Glutamine is a crucial energy source for your immune system’s white blood and intestinal cells. When glutamine levels are down, your immune system weakens, and it turns to your muscles for sustenance. Glutamine is also responsible for ensuring that the protective lining within your intestines is kept intact, preventing a bacterial infection or leaky gut. Studies show a marked improvement in infection recovery times, hospital stays, and survival rates when supplemented glutamine is present. Glutamine’s strength lies in its immune-supporting role; current research is testing its efficacy toward muscle gain and other fitness benefits.
Proper Dosage of Post-Workout Supplements
Effective dosage relies on several variables. First, consider your physical goals. Would you like to improve concentration, heart health, muscle growth, and/or endurance? Would you like to increase your testosterone levels? Next, consider the types of regular exercise you perform. Is it performed in short bursts of rapid grueling intensity, or is it performed over long distances and paced for endurance? Consider what types of foods you eat and whether you plan on taking one or more of these supplements with your meals. These variables matter when considering which post-workout supplements are best for you.
1-2 scoops (25-50 grams per day) is a typical recommended dose of whey. It is important to note that it is a supplement to your normal protein intake, not a substitute. Your protein intake between food and supplements should total around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight if you’re looking to add muscle. Whey is often taken in the form of a protein shake immediately after a workout.
Beta-alanine is a supplement that enhances endurance and muscle gain by pairing with carnosine. Your body produces this nonessential amino acid on its own. However, increased consumption has demonstrated positive returns. Further, taking beta-alanine with a meal enhances protein synthesis. The recommended daily value is two to five grams.
Branched-chain amino acids are nonessential amino acids known for their powerful muscle building capability. Although your body produces a sufficient supply for your basic nutrient needs, additional BCAAs have consistently proven their worth for those who wish to see significant results. The recommended daily value is 15 to 35 grams.
Caffeine is a common substance used for its improved cognitive benefits. Studies have tested caffeine with endurance training and short burst, high-intensity workouts, and the results consistently demonstrate how the substance masks a person’s perception of physical effort. Competitive athletes often rely on caffeine and consume the substance in higher doses. The recommended daily value for most people is 200 to 400 milligrams; athletes have performed in studies with 600 to 900 milligrams.
Creatine is an all-natural supplement that enhances endurance, muscle gain, and physical power. Its popularity with athletes is based on its demonstrated ability to move a person past his point of exhaustion, strengthening endurance. Creatine has been observed for extended clinical trials with no adverse side effects in healthy participants to report. The recommended daily value is three to five grams.
Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is a compound typically known for its variety of uses, from treating insect bites to whitening teeth. The compound has demonstrated its value in clinical fitness studies, improving endurance by stimulating oxygen production in your muscles during intense workouts. The recommended daily value is 90 to 135 milligrams and may be taken all at once before a workout or spread over three to four doses throughout the day.
Flaxseeds are nutrient dense and linked to multiple health benefits, including weight loss, heart health and muscle gain. The oil seeds contain essential, protein-building omega acids known for increased muscle gain. They are linked to improved blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and artery health. Further, they contain several vitamins and minerals with 90% daily values. Flaxseeds’ recommended daily value is 10 to 50 grams.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid best recognized by researchers for its positive impact on the immune system. Your body produces enough glutamine to sustain you at a moderate physical level. However, the acid’s supply is limited. Athletes who work out intensely typically need additional protein and immune system support to see enhanced health and physical benefits. The recommended daily value is 5-10 grams.
Possible Side Effects of Post-Workout Supplements
Whey is generally very safe. One group that should be cautious is people with existing kidney or liver issues. They should consult with their doctor before taking whey. Others may be allergic to whey. In this case, other types of protein, such as casein or soy, can be considered. Minor side effects of too much whey can include digestive issues like nausea, diarrhea, or cramping.
Side effects of beta-alanine when taken in high doses include paraesthesia, or skin tingling, affecting the upper body, and a reduced taurine (an amino acid) count.
BCAA supplementation has been deemed safe in clinical trials. However, those living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and maple syrup urine disease are warned to limit their BCAA intake because their bodies cannot properly digest these amino acids.
Taking high doses of caffeine can result in one or several side effects. These potential side effects include abnormal heart rate, dizziness, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, stomach discomfort, and tremors. People prone to anxiety or who have a heart condition or high blood pressure are warned against consuming high doses of this stimulant. Jump to Our 10 Best Post-Workout Supplement List
Creatine has been determined by years of clinical trials as safe. However, there are still side effects associated with high doses. You have taken too much creatine if you experience one or several of these side effects: nausea, muscle cramping, dehydration, diarrhea, and dizziness.
Sodium bicarbonate is a particular compound that must be consumed with care. Too high of a dose can result in blood pH imbalances (muscle spasms, irregular heartbeat), stomach acidity (gas, bloat, abdominal pain), and high blood pressure (sodium). Moreover, those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, have heart disease, kidney problems, aldosteronism, or Addison’s disease are warned against consuming sodium bicarbonate.
Glutamine’s effects have been tested in short-term clinical trials. However, its long-term effects have yet to be determined. More precisely, participants’ blood panels have not been thoroughly examined, as well as any amino acid absorption that may be interfered with as a result of long-term, high-dose usage. As a result, current medical experts warn to stay within recommended daily values.
Best Post-Workout Supplements
Our top 10 list of post-workout supplements is organized to reflect what you most value in your supplements. First and foremost is quality. All of our top ten supplements meet high standards of quality and come from brands with a proven record in excellence and purity. Another important factor in deciding the top ten was cost. You don’t have to pay through the nose to get a high-quality post-workout supplement. In addition, all the companies represented on our list have stellar records with customer service and prompt shipping. This ensures that your supplement experience is enjoyable from the first click to your final dose.
- R. M. Hobson, B. Saunders, G. Ball, R. C. Harris, and C. Sale Effects of Beta-Alanine Supplementation on Exercise Performance: A Meta-Analysis PubMed.gov
- Balsom, P.D., Söderlund, K., Sjödin, B., Ekblom, B. Skeletal Muscle Metabolism During Short Duration High-Intensity Exercise: Influence of Creatine Supplementation PubMed.gov
- McNaughton, L., Backx, K., Palmer, G., Strange, N. Effects of Chronic Bicarbonate Ingestion on the Performance of High-Intensity Work PubMed.gov
- World Health Organization Energy and Protein Requirements WHO.int
- Fredholm, B.B., Bättig, K., Holmén, J., Nehlig, A., Zvartau, E.E. Actions of Caffeine in the Brain with Special Reference to Factors That Contribute to its Widespread Use PubMed.gov
- Stephen P. Bird Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review PubMed.gov
- Kris Gunnars, BSc Whey Protein 101: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide Healthline.com
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