What is Post Workout?
Post workout supplements are a popular type of sports nutrition product. The term post workout means any supplement intended to be taken after a workout. These supplements are designed to address the nutrient needs of bodybuilders and athletes immediately after an intense workout. As a result, post workout products can help restore energy levels, increase muscle protein synthesis, support muscle recovery, and more. Post workout supplements are usually formulated with fast-acting ingredients to quickly deliver amino acids and other essential nutrients to the muscles, so they can take effect almost immediately.
Post Workout Supplements
Some post workout supplements are intended to address specific muscle building goals, while others are simply general post workout recovery supplements. Muscle recovery supplements are designed to supporting muscle growth. General recovery supplements intend to restore energy, and deliver nutrients that may have been lost during exercise.
Muscle recovery supplements
After a period of sufficiently intense exercise, muscle fatigue, a period where the muscles cannot work as well as they did before the exercise, sets in.1 Muscle fatigue is a result of muscle stress, fluid imbalance (i.e. dehydration), and depleted nutrient stores (for example, lowered stores of carbohydrates, since carbs are primarily used for energy).1 During intense exercise, stress causes tiny tears to form in the muscle fibers, so the body needs protein to synthesize into muscle cells.2 These new cells, formed to repair the muscles, are bigger and stronger, so that the muscles will be better at coping with the stress of a tough workout.
After a certain period of time, depending on the intensity of the exercise, individual health, and activities taken during the recovery period, the muscles recover and return to their normal range of motion.3 Many post workout supplements are specifically designed to help return the muscles back to normal functioning, restore energy, and reduce muscle recovery time. A muscle recovery supplement can help the consumer get back in the gym faster, and make muscle recovery more efficient.
General recovery supplements
Some athletes are not working towards the goal of increasing muscle size. These athletes are usually taking part in some form of aerobic (cardio) or endurance exercise. These types of exercise usually place less stress on the muscles than resistance training, but raise heart rate, increase body temperature, and dehydrate the body.4 Thus, general recovery supplements are intended to rehydrate the body, deliver nutrients that may have been depleted such as carbohydrates, and lower high temperatures. Unlike post workout supplements for muscle recovery, non-muscle building recovery supplements tend to contain less protein, since athletes who do not intend to build muscle mass and muscle strength need less protein for recovery. Non-muscle building supplements tend to contain more electrolytes, since electrolytes play a key role in maintaining fluid balance, and more hydration than muscle-building ones.4 For those who do not want to build muscle (i.e. runners), general recovery supplements are likely a better choice of post-workout supplement
Post workout supplements can have multiple benefits in areas such as workout recovery and body composition, depending on the type of supplement taken. Results are likely to vary between different supplements, and some supplements may be more effective than others.
Muscle recovery supplements can:
- Reduce fat mass5, 7, 8
- Increase lean muscle mass5, 6, 7
- Increase muscle strength5, 7
- Reduce muscle inflammation6, 8
- Reduce the amount of time needed for the muscles to recover6, 8
- Replenish glycogen (a form of glucose used to provide energy) stores6
- Decrease muscle pain and muscle soreness6, 8
- Decrease body fat percentage7, 8
Though they may have similar benefits to muscle recovery supplements, general recovery supplements can also have some unique effects.
General recovery supplements can:
- Restore fluid imbalance in the body4
- Prevent heat stress caused by high body temperatures4
- Reduce soreness4, 6, 8
- Increase VO2 max (the measure of the maximum amount of oxygen that can be used during exercise)6
- Reduce fat mass5, 7, 8
- Replenish glycogen stores6
- Decrease body fat percentage7, 8
The five studies cited above from 2009 to 2014 have shown that post workout supplementation combined with exercise can be more effective than exercising without using supplements. However, it is important to note that results will vary between different supplements.
Post Workout Side Effects
Post workout supplements may come with some side effects, depending on the ingredients, the dosage taken, and the health of the consumer. Usually, side effects are fairly mild, but some may be more severe.
Common side effects observed in studies using post workout products include:
- Nausea5, 10
- Rapid heart rate5
- Shortness of breath5
- Dry mouth10
However, few studies have fully investigated the safety of a wide range of post workout supplements – only a very limited amount of post workout supplements have been studied in scientific literature. Consequently, different post workout supplements may have additional side effects, or more intense side effects. Not all countries require dietary supplements to be evaluated for safety by a regulatory body before being sold on the market. In the US, dietary supplements are not reviewed for safety and side effects by the FDA.11 However, in Canada, supplements must be reviewed by Health Canada, and must obtain a license to be legally sold in Canada.12
If you are concerned about side effects, consult with a doctor or other health professional before taking any post workout supplements. A doctor can help determine which post workout supplement is most suitable according to your health and nutrient needs, and a correct dosage.
Common Post Workout Ingredients and Mechanism of Action
Common ingredients in post workout supplements include:
- Branched-chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine, and valine)
- Malic acid
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Whey protein
Supplements and workout recovery
A tough workout results in fatigue – muscle soreness, low energy levels, etc. Fatigue is a result of depleted carbohydrate stores, lowered fluid levels, and stress on muscle tissues. Exercise depletes glycogen stores, a form of glucose mostly gained from carbohydrates, as well as fluids and electrolyte balance, which are lost through sweating.13 Electrolytes are a type of molecule needed to regulate fluid balance and prevent dehydration. Additionally, tiny tears in muscle fibers form after putting stress on them during exercise. When the fibers repair themselves, the muscle cells adapt to become larger, so that the muscles can handle more intense stress.14
Accordingly, post workout supplements are formulated to restore energy levels, restore fluid balance, and deliver protein so that the muscles can repair themselves and grow larger. Consuming carbohydrates after a workout allows these post workout carbs to be converted into glycogen, which replenishes energy levels.13 To restore fluid balance, many post workout products are formulated to deliver some sort of rehydration to the body. Many post workout products contain electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.15 Balanced fluid levels also help to restore energy levels; depletion of fluid and depletion of carbohydrates within the body are the two major causes of fatigue.14 As well, protein is usually included to support muscle protein synthesis, which repairs muscle cells to build larger, stronger muscle cells.14
For these reasons, after a workout, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming 1.5 liters of fluid per kg of body weight lost during exercise, and also recommends consuming a snack with electrolytes and carbohydrates.16 As an example, consuming chocolate milk post workout or a carbohydrate replacement drink has been shown to decrease fatigue by replacing glycogen stores, replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, and reducing muscle soreness.17
Dosage Formats – Post Workout Shake, Food, and Pills
Post workout supplements are mostly found as powders, which are intended to be mixed with water, milk, or another liquid, and made into a post workout shake. Making a post workout smoothie by mixing post workout protein powders (link to buying guide) into liquid is also popular. Post workout energy drinks and other drink formulas are common forms of post workout supplements.
Many people do not enjoy the taste of post workout powders, or find them inconvenient. Fortunately, it is still possible to achieve the desired effects of post workout supplementation with post workout pills. Pills and capsules containing similar ingredients to post workout powders can be purchased, and are intended to be taken right after a workout. This form of supplementation is recommended for anyone who prefers the convenience of a small bottle, does not like the taste of powders, or does not want to spend time preparing a shake or smoothie.
Some foods are also beneficial to eat post workout. In addition to taking recovery supplements, consuming foods high in protein and carbohydrates is an effective way to restore energy levels and ensure the muscles have enough protein to repair themselves. The best post workout food is any type of food that contains high levels of these nutrients. Foods with high levels of protein, carbs, drinks for rehydration, and drinks with electrolytes (i.e. potassium, chlorine, and sodium) contain the nutrients that are commonly lost during exercise.
Post Workout Reviews
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- Celes, R., Brown, L. E., Pereira, M. C., Schwartz, F. P., Junior, V. A., Bottaro, M. (2010). Gender muscle recovery during isokinetic exercise. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 31 (12), 866-9.
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- Spillane, M., Schwarz, N., Leddy, S., Correa, T., Minter, M., Longoria, V., & Willoughby, D. S. (2011). Effects of 28 days of resistance exercise while consuming commercially available pre- and post-workout supplements, NO-shotgun® and NO-synthesize® on body composition, muscle strength and mass, markers of protein synthesis, and clinical safety markers in males. Nutrition & Metabolism, 8 (1), 78-78.
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- Antonio, J., & Ciccone, V. (2013). The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10, 36-36.
- Arent, S. M., Davitt, P., Golem, D. L., Williams, C. A., McKeever, K. H., & Jaouhari, C. (2009). The effects of a post-workout nutraceutical drink on body composition, performance and hormonal and biochemical responses in division I college football players. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 6 (2), 73-80.
- Hartman, J. W., Tang, J. E., Wilkinson, S. B., Tarnopolsky, M. A., Lawrence, R. L., Fullerton, A. V., and Phillips, S. M. (2009). Consumption of fat-free fluid milk after resistance exercise promotes greater lean mass accretion than does consumption of soy or carbohydrate in young, novice, male weightlifters. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86 (2), 373-381.
- Ormsbee, M. J., Thomas, D. D., Mandler, W. K., Ward, E. G., Kinsey, A. W., Panton, L. B.. . Kim, J. (2013). The effects of pre- and post-exercise consumption of multi-ingredient performance supplements on cardiovascular health and body fat in trained men after six weeks of resistance training: A stratified, randomized, double-blind study. Nutrition & Metabolism, 10 (1), 39-39.
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- Experts stress post-exercise nutrition. (2004). Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week, 23.
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- Maughan, R. J., Leiper, J. B., Shirreffs, S. M. (1996). Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of food and fluid intake. 73 (3-4), 317-25.
- American College of Sports Medicine (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand: Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39 (2), 377–90.
- Pritchett, K., Bishop, P., Pritchett, R., Green, M., Katicaa, C. (2009). Acute effects of chocolate milk and a commercial recovery beverage on postexercise recovery indices and endurance cycling performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 34 (6), 1017-1022.
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