Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering…
What is Workout Recovery?
Most people assume that getting stronger, building muscle and losing weight all happen in the gym, but that’s not true. In fact, exercise alone doesn’t get you in shape. In reality, the role of workout recovery enables you to perfect your shape and build your stamina. During recovery, many changes occur, including muscle growth, stamina enrichment and overall fitness intensification. As a result, what you do between workouts is just as important as what you’re completing in the gym. Post workout supplements and recovery supplements are a crucial part of your wellness routines.
Why is Workout Recovery Important?
During a workout, you’re breaking down your muscle tissue and expending the glycogen in your muscles. Glycogen refers to the energy store that your muscles use. Recovery is when your body repairs the damaged muscles and replenishes the glycogen accumulation. Recovery also enables you to replace the fluids lost during exercise.
If you don’t recover, you’ll over-train. Overtraining is what happens when you exercise too much without giving your body a chance to recover. In turn, your body can begin to break down without proper recovery efforts. You’ll feel incessantly tired and may experience depression and decreased athletic performance.
Sleep is more important for recovery than we often realize. In fact, studies show 70 percent of American adults report that they don’t sleep enough, and lack of sleep is strongly associated with obesity. Most of the actual work of repairing your body after a workout happens while you sleep. So, if you don’t sleep, you don’t recover (x).
Low impact activities such as walking or riding a bike can stimulate blood flow, relieve sore muscles and keep you active between workouts. Workout recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch all day. You still need to move and exercise lightly.
Supplements for Workout Recovery
Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 all deliver different fats, so all three are necessary for optimal health. Fats aren’t what most of us envision when we think of workout supplements — proteins and electrolytes are probably the two big examples that we first consider.
Healthy fats, though, allow your body to function properly. To maximize your fitness, you should try supplementing with them.
Omega-3, in particular, is advantageous. Our diets typically have too much omega-6, so reducing omega-6 consumption is useful for most people. Our bodies can produce omega-9 on their own. Like omega-6, omega-9 is abundant in most people’s diets.
Omega-3 is a fat that can’t be made naturally by the body. It is important for reducing inflammation, supporting brain function, providing energy, improving blood pressure, encouraging fat loss and promoting bone health. You can increase your omega-3 intake by eating two servings of oily fish, such as salmon, per week. You can also buy supplements containing fish oil or krill oil, which have large amounts of omega-3. Avocados are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 (x).
There are 20 different amino acids that comprise all the various proteins in the human body. Nine of those cannot be manufactured by the human body. They are called essential amino acids.
BCAAs are often sold as a powder for mixing into drinks. They make a great muscle recovery supplement because leucine particularly stimulates muscle protein synthesis, thus improving muscle growth (x).
Supplementing with BCAAs has also been reported to reduce muscle soreness after a workout, according to anecdotal studies. Muscle soreness is caused by tiny tears in your muscles, so amino acids assist with repairing those ruptures. A supplement full of amino acids may help your body create more protein to repair and protect muscles.
In sum, the biggest benefit of BCAA supplements is the stimulation of muscle growth, since this function of leucine helps to activate a specific pathway.
Coenzyme Q10 is a compound that your cells use to generate energy. Our bodies produce CoQ10 naturally, but this production decreases with age. We can also obtain CoQ10 from some foods, but taking CoQ10 supplements allows you to know exactly how much of it you’re getting.
CoQ10 improves heart function by supplying more energy to the cells and protecting them against oxidative stress. It can be one of the best workout supplements for women because, in addition to boosting heart function and supplying energy to the cells, it can improve female fertility. For women who are trying to conceive children or who want to in the future, a combination of exercise and CoQ10 supplements can be a powerful tool (x).
CoQ10 can improve exercise performance by reducing oxidative stress on the muscles and increasing the amount of energy available to them.
Glutamine is another amino acid. In addition to being a component of protein, glutamine also plays a role in the immune system. Glutamine can be found in any food with a high concentration of proteins, such as meat, eggs and fish. The amount of glutamine in your food will vary, though, so supplements are a helpful addition to ensure you’re getting enough.
Glutamine is used as a fuel source for white blood cells and intestinal immune cells, so it plays a critical role on the immune system. The functioning of the entire immune system is compromised if you’re deficient in glutamine.
Since glutamine is only one of the amino acids, glutamine supplements won’t improve muscle synthesis or exercise performance. However, they’ll likely reduce muscle soreness and speed up your recovery (x).
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a popular spice. It’s a strong antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects. Because it comes from turmeric, you could increase your curcumin intake by eating more turmeric. Unfortunately, most of the major benefits of curcumin occur only after consuming at least 1 gram per day. It would be difficult to eat enough turmeric — which has a very strong flavor and aroma — to reap the benefits of curcumin from food alone.
Curcumin isn’t absorbed into the blood stream easily, but piperine, a compound found in black pepper, greatly increases curcumin’s overall absorption. Quality curcumin supplements will usually include piperine, so keep an eye out for it on the ingredient labels.
Curcumin is fat-soluble, so another way to improve your absorption of it is by eating a fatty meal before taking it.
By combating inflammation in the body, curcumin can reduce muscle soreness and speed recovery.
Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid, and you can usually get enough of it through your diet. These supplements are often for people dealing with specific medical conditions. However, there’s some evidence that arginine can deliver effective workout results for men, as a study demonstrated that arginine supplements improved the stamina of male wrestlers (x). It’s also linked as a possible treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Arginine is also beneficial for cardiovascular health. Your body uses it to synthesize nitric oxide, which helps your blood vessels to relax and expand.
Creatine is one of the best-known supplements for building muscle. It is a naturally occurring substance in your muscle cells that helps them produce energy during high-intensity exercise. While the body can produce it naturally, using creatine as a supplement has been shown to improve muscle mass, performance and strength (x).
You can use creatine for post workout supplementation, but as long as you’re consuming 3-5 grams per day, the timing of each dose is largely unimportant. Just be sure to drink a glass of water each time you take it, because creatine pulls water into your cells. An easy way to attain this goal is by mixing creatine powder into a post workout drink.
Although many myths deem creatine as unsafe, creatine is one of the safest and most-studied supplements on the market.
Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid, meaning your body can synthesize it from the foods you eat. Although citrulline has been gaining popularity as a supplement for exercise, it’s one of the few amino acids that our bodies don’t use to build proteins.
Still, it fulfills an important role in the urea cycle by helping the body to remove harmful waste products. It also widens arteries and veins, which lowers blood pressure. Citrulline can increase muscle growth by stimulating an important pathway that tells the body to begin protein synthesis (x). As a result, citrulline may help the body build muscle and possibly increase muscle mass.
Carnosine is another amino acid that our bodies can synthesize. It’s also present in much of our foods. As a supplement, carnosine has many alleged medicinal purposes.
Carnosine is important for muscle functions well as heart, liver, and kidney health. Many people believe that carnosine supplementation may improve muscle strength and performance.
Ashwagandha is a common herbal remedy for stress. It’s considered an adaptogen, which means it helps your body to deal with stress.
Ashwagandha can also increase testosterone in men (x). It may further improve performance during exercise and possibly increase muscle growth. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can increase muscle mass and strength, though it’s unclear if that’s a function of increased testosterone or if it occurs through a separate mechanism.
Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.