All of these questions…
What is the best supplement to take post workout? What makes the most difference in recovery? What is the best supplement to build muscle? What is the best supplement for muscle growth? What is the best post workout shake? What is the best post workout supplement? What is the best post workout drink? What is the best post workout recovery drink?
These are all variations of the same question which I will try and answer in this article. I have prioritized the top supplements that I feel are necessary for maximum post workout recovery and growth. These questions are popular among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. I feel for pre-workout, the best supplement would consist of a creatine/NO mix with many cofactors. That will be the topic of a separate article, but for this article we will consider the most effective supplement to take after working out that will build muscle and increase muscle growth.
Our perfect post workout supplement should contain a variety of ingredients designed to aid your muscles in maximum recovery and anabolism (build up) while reducing catabolism (muscle break down). When deciding on a formula, timing of delivery is something to consider, which is why we see separate products for both pre and post workout. Post workout, your muscles are in the perfect state for growth and absorption of key constituents. If you can harness the power of this anabolic window, you will see growth of your muscles that surpasses those people that do not use post training supplements. Post workout is the best time to hit your key anabolic window and if you have taken a pre-workout NO product it gives you even more benefit as the nutrients are delivered with more vigor and speed than the body’s ordinary state.
Don’t fall into the trap of fancy sounding names and exotic ingredients. The best supplement for muscle growth and recovery is one that includes some basic ingredients that are commonly found together in precise ratios. Also, don’t be afraid of a little carbohydrate in your post recovery drink either, since carbohydrates are invaluable for increasing nutrient uptake and even ketogenic dieters can benefit from the minor lift in muscle glycogen. Seven grams of dextrose isn’t going to knock you out of ketosis but will aid in your ability to increase nutrient uptake. Stay away from products that use Maltodextrin, since this is a useless sugar in my opinion. Maltodextrin is the slowly digested maltose plus dextrose which gives NONE of the benefits of dextrose yet still provides useable carbohydrates. Companies wrongly put this in supplements because it is a lower glycemic carbohydrate compared to straight sugar, but that is actually a bad thing in the case of supplements. Maltodextrin supplies a slow delivery of sugar which ruins the anabolic effect of taking nutrients in with dextrose yet still will do damage on ketosis. Also, maltodextrin tastes horrible, so it is a double dose of useless! Pure pharmaceutical grade dextrose is the perfect carbohydrate source for our post workout drink. So, look for a post workout product to include 7-10 grams of dextrose to take advantage of the anabolic window.
The first big ingredient that our body needs to recover after a grueling workout is essential amino acids. Unfortunately many people take a protein shake after their workout, but this is really not hitting the anabolic window in time to make maximum use of this critical time. Protein shakes must go through metabolism and breakdown by the body. They are great for a quick meal 45 minutes after your workout, but the perfect post workout (meaning right after you work out except for the advanced bodybuilding specialist who will be addressed at the end of the article) drink is something that will be absorbed right after you work out and is not dependent on your stomach and intestine enzymes to process (many people have low levels of enzymes because of the standard western diet). We will want to take a essential amino acid blend that includes high doses of essential amino acids yet still remains in the hydrolyzed state. Hydrolyzed amino acids are partially digested proteins that break the protein into peptides (which are small chains of amino acids). You will want to pick a product with low molecular weight peptides (**search “Small Chain Hydrolyzed Amino Aids” to find a good product that includes the best source of these amino acids) since low molecular weight peptides are exactly what the body needs and they are in the perfect state for absorption. Small chain peptides have been shown in scientific literature to have much better absorption than both singular amino acids and large protein peptide chains. This will ensure that you are getting the highest quality supplement available. The Small Chain Hydrolyzed Amino Acids will cost a little more than standard predigested protein, but the extra money isn’t much compared to the benefits. Small Chain Hydrolyzed Amino Acids will flood your muscles immediately with nutrient building molecules at the time when your muscle is in the perfect anabolic state. This combined with the dextrose will refuel your muscle with the building blocks to take full advantage of the muscle building state of the muscle after intense exercise by preventing the tear down of muscle cells for raw materials and offering substantial nutrients for the building of new muscle tissue! Essential amino acids are the most important ingredient post workout and will offer both the newbie and experienced trainer that edge when building muscle (especially for those of us who tend to over train).
The next key ingredient to our post anabolic support complex is the amino acid L(+)-Leucine or commonly know as Leucine. Leucine is proven in many scientific papers to be the only anabolic amino acid available to bodybuilders. This amino acid and it’s derivatives are a mixed bag though since taken alone and in high doses will actually have the opposite effect. We need to supplement our essential amino acids with Leucine to increase the anabolic effect without interrupting normal cellular metabolism. Leucine comes in many forms but to ensure that you get pure Leucine in the form that is perfect for our needs, look for products containing pharmaceutical grade Leucine or better know as L(+)-Leucine (search L(+)-Leucine for the products that contain only the highest grade of Leucine available today. Leucine is a staple in the supplement industry and although the data on Leucine is dependent on the circumstances and age groups, I tend to think that the bulk of the research shows that L-(+)-Leucine is a critical addition to any post work out program for the intense bodybuilder. It has many years of positive science behind it along with years of anecdotal reports of effectiveness. L(+)-Leucine is the second key ingredient in our post workout metabolic arsenal. L(+)-Leucine stimulates a metabolic pathway called MTOR that increases anabolism and muscle growth, for this reason I give Leucine a high rating in my perfect anabolic post recovery drink.
The two amino acids that are used up in intense exercise are Glutamine and its cofactor amino acid L(+)-Alanine (**search L(+)-Alanine for the pharmaceutical grade of Alanine). Now, this isn’t the popular Beta-Alanine which is really great pre-workout for buffering lactic acid, this is the L form of the essential amino acid Alanine. Beta Alanine is all the rage in the supplement industry and rightly so, but let’s not forget our friend L-Alanine. Both Glutamine and Alanine have been shown to increase muscle glycogen stores which helps expand muscle fascia and increase recovery for the next workout. Both Glutamine and Alanine are extremely good for the gut, which is a side benefit since so many bodybuilders take little care of their intestinal systems. Supplementing with both Glutamine and Alanine will help increase the ability to absorb other nutrients. They seem to work synergistically in both the muscle and the gut, helping boost one another. Glutamine is a staple among bodybuilders and has decades of positive anecdotal evidence. Both Glutamine and Alanine are heavily metabolized during and after workout however supplementing with them doesn’t have an effect on muscular levels until the next workout, so supplementing them during the perfect anabolic window is the best possible way to increase muscle cellular glutamine. You will get some Glutamine and Alanine in your amino acids but the addition of both amino acids will give the gut the raw materials it needs and spare the complete use of these amino acids in the intestinal tract.
A small amount of Creatine is a good addition to a post workout product for many reasons, but I will highlight one key reason and talk about it in addition to Potassium in a post workout product. Creatine should ideally be obtained in a pre-workout drink along with a Nitric Oxide potentiator and many can be found on the internet. Hopefully your pre-workout NO supplement contains Beta Alanine and supplemental Arginine. The creatine in the post workout formula isn’t there for the lactic acid buffering effect or the ability to recharge ATP, it is there to perform one major function…draw water into the cell. Both Potassium and Creatine draw water and therefore other nutrients into the muscle cell, making them more nutrient friendly and able to accommodate more amino acids and cofactors. The best creatine for increasing cellular fluid levels is straight creatine monohydrate. There are many benefits for straight creatine monohydrate but this one effect is what we want with a post workout product. About 1000mg of creatine monohydrate should provide a positive effect on cellular water levels along with 99mg of elemental