Workout recovery supplements: what are they and when should you use them?

The human body is an amazing machine and it can adapt extremely well to changes in conditions.

Working out with medicine ball

A great example of the tremendous adaptability humans have is to look at how the body responds to changes in elevation. People who live in lower altitudes have higher air pressure than people who live in higher elevation. Reducing air pressure means that the air molecules are farther apart. This change leads to what is known as altitude sickness and is only temporary. After about two weeks at the higher elevation your body is completely adapted to the limitation of oxygen and is able to function normally. Increases in blood cell counts and other physiological adaptations allow the body to quickly adapt.

Working out works in a similar manner as the exercises place a stressor on the body. In response to the stressor, the body adapts by increasing muscle mass, bone strength, and cardiovascular ability.

It is common knowledge that working out is an energy intensive process that requires you to eat more calories in preparation for you to perform at your best. However, it is less commonly known that nutrition following a workout during the recovery phase is necessary.

The recovery phase represents the period of time in which the body is building muscle tissues, bone, repairing itself, and adapting.

Getting adequate nutrition is a vital component to recovery and sometimes it is unrealistic to obtain all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients through diet alone. Workout recovery supplements are the answer in this situation and can help your recovery by giving your cells the resources they need to recover. Below is a detailed look at some workout recovery supplements as well as how they should be utilized.


Proteins are a category of macromolecule that are most commonly utilized in muscle cells, the formation of enzymes, and other molecules coded by DNA. While protein is readily available in foods like fish, meat, eggs, and nuts it isn’t always the most convenient to prepare a meal before or after a workout.

Protein supplements can come from a variety of sources including whey, pea, egg, hemp, and even brown rice. This large variety of sources can allow you to choose the option that fits best with you and any dietary restrictions you may have.

The timing of when to take protein supplements is highly debated but there is evidence to suggest that taking protein before and after a workout is advantageous to ensure muscles have a steady supply of amino acids needed for muscle growth and recovery.


Creatine is a buzzword in the world of health and fitness. Creatine is a molecule that is present in human muscles that helps with immediate demands of energy. The physiologically relevant form of creatine is phosphocreatine. Cells within the body utilize Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) as a main source of energy. For muscles ATP is utilized in muscle contractions. Once used ATP turns into Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) which is unable to facilitate muscle contraction.

The mitochondria are traditionally the suppliers of ATP for the cell, but in some events the rate of ATP production may need assistance. This is where phosphocreatine stores come into play. Phosphocreatine transfers its phosphate to the ADP molecule turning it into ATP and allowing it to be utilized again.

Creatine energy stores are typically only useful for a short burst of energy while training, but there does seem to be anecdotal evidence that it can help reduce muscular damage and improve recovery. Further research on its effectiveness needs to be conducted to validate it, but many have found creatine to be helpful to them.

It is generally accepted that the consumption of creatine can be before or immediately preceding your workout. The timing is not too important because the body maintains a general equilibrium of creatine within muscles.

Outside workout with bars


CoQ10 is an antioxidant molecule that naturally occurs in the membrane of mitochondria. The mitochondria are the cellular powerhouse that is responsible for converting glucose into ATP molecules for the cell. Mitochondrial health is becoming a large area of research and there are new benefits being discovered on a regular basis.

A generally well documented phenomenon is that CoQ10 levels tend to decrease as you age. Because of this, mitochondrial efficiency takes a hit and your mitochondria become less efficient at producing ATP. This trend can have a drastic impact on your energy levels as well as your body's ability to recover quickly. Without a strong source of ATP, cells are slower to rebuild, grow, and facilitate recovery.

The supplementation of MitoQ helps support mitochondrial functioning by restoring levels of CoQ10 and potentially increasing mitochondrial efficiency.

Standard CoQ10 supplements are only so effective because of the difficulties that these molecules have getting through the mitochondrial membrane. MitoQ is not your standard CoQ10 supplement and has been shown to accumulate much more readily in the mitochondria-dense tissues like the heart, brain, liver, and skeletal muscle.

Supporting your mitochondria through MitoQ is a great way to aid your recovery through ensuring the cells within your body have the energy they need when they need it. It is recommended that MitoQ is taken 30 minutes before your first meal of the day. While you take MitoQ before exercise, its effects can extend well beyond your exercise and could assist your cells with recovery.

Branched Chain Amino Acids

Branched Chain Amino Acids, more commonly known as BCAAs, are a form of protein supplement that contain the amino acids leucine, valine, and isoleucine. Much like a standard protein supplement, BCAAs do not typically provide any benefits to performance, but are able to aid in recovery.

One study found that while ineffective in enhancing performance, BCAAs were able to affect the process of muscle recovery and the immune system. BCAAs generally follow the same rules as protein supplements for when they should be consumed. Taking BCAAs before and after can ensure that you deliver amino acids to your muscle cells.


When you think of recovery supplements you most likely think about supplements that directly increase your body's ability to build muscle and bone or speed it up in some capacity. Ashwagandha however is a supplement that does not directly improve muscle recovery, but it has been shown that it can assist with decreasing anxiety and allow you to relax and get the perfect night's sleep.

The benefits of sleep are far reaching as sleep is an important process that allows for proper hormonal regulation, neurotransmitter regulation, stronger immunity, and energy level throughout the day. A study in 2011 also showed that sleep is an important component to muscle recovery and that lack of sleep decreased the capacity for recovery.

Sleep is a key component to recovery and the facilitation that ashwagandha provides indirectly can help with post workout recovery. Ashwagandha supplements are typically taken two to three times a day, depending on dose, with food.


Omega-3 fatty acids are lipids that have been shown to enhance the recovery process post-exercise. Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in fish like salmon as well as seeds like flax seed. While it is best to get your nutrition through whole foods, not everyone likes fish and it can be difficult to get omega-3 on a daily basis through diet alone.

The health benefits of omega-3 also extend well past muscle recovery. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to overall well being and can decrease the chances of cardiovascular issues. The long list of health benefits of Omega-3 makes it a top choice supplement for many people.

Because Omega-3 molecules are fat molecules, it is advised to take the supplement with a meal to increase absorption. Unlike many other supplements that are water soluble, Omega-3 is not and needs food to aid in its digestion.


In summary there are many different workout recovery supplements available to you. Knowing about each supplement as well as how it is typically taken can help you to get a good idea of what to expect if you want to add the supplement to your workout recovery regimen.

It is important that you consult with your doctor before starting any supplement. Even though these supplements don’t require a prescription or medical assistance in obtaining it is important to consult a professional. A licensed sports nutritionist or doctor can help you determine what supplements are right for you, your goals, and your unique health situation. What works for one person does not always work for everyone.

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