Many athletes and people who train take a post-workout shake immediately after a workout.
Getting optimal benefits from your exercise or training routine isn’t just a matter of putting the work in.
Between protein, carbohydrates, amino acids, and all sorts of other nutrients, it can be hard to tell what’s important when it comes to a post-workout supplement.
Fortunately for you, we’ve analyzed the best post-workout supplements on the market and ranked them right here.
1. Performance Lab SPORT Post-Workout
Performance Lab SPORT Post-Workout focuses on energy, electrolytes and strength recovery, but without the BCAAs.
It’s an all-natural product and contains powerhouses such as creatine and beta-alanine for improved muscle recovery. It strives to keep you at your best for your next workout.
This Post-Workout’s formula also includes Himalayan pink salt and organic coconut water crystals to restore electrolytes lost through sweating. As well as glutamine and pomegranate extract to reduce muscle soreness and halt muscle catabolism.
It has no artificial coloring, no flavorings, and no additives at all. Even the capsules it comes in is made from prebiotic fiber to improve digestive comfort.
That is why this is our #1 natural post-workout this year.
2. Vintage Build
The clean, focused design of Vintage Build is a nice contrast against other post-workout supplements that throw just about everything short of the kitchen sink into their supplement.
The key ingredients here are branched-chain amino acids, creatine, and L-glutamine for muscle recovery and immune function. Beyond this, the supplement is flavored and colored naturally with stevia and cherry coloring.
3. BSN Amino X
BSN Amino X is unique in that it’s formulated more towards speed, power, and endurance athletes than for pure strength athletes.
As the name suggests, you’ve got your usual branched chain and regular amino acids, but what makes BSN Amino X special is its inclusion of the buffering agents citrate and sodium bicarbonate.
These can be used by your bloodstream to fight off anaerobic fatigue in the short term, and restoring your body’s stores of these after an intense workout like HIIT training can help improve your performance the next time around.
4. Evlution Recover Mode
When it comes to post-workout supplements that take a comprehensive approach as opposed to a minimalist approach, nobody does it better than Evlution Recovery Mode.
It has everything you know you need in a post-workout supplement: branched-chain amino acids, regular amino acids, and creatine.
In addition, it has all of the extras you like to see: beta-alanine to boost muscular carnosine content, a robust mix of electrolytes to replace what’s lost in sweat, L-glutamate for better muscle recovery and immune function, and BioPerine to boost absorption.
5. Sheer Strength Sheer Build
Sheer Build is a post-workout supplement that is very focused in its design philosophy.
Fundamentally, it aims to deliver a rapidly absorbed blend of branched-chain amino acids for muscle recovery alongside creatine for strength gains.
There aren’t any frills, which is very good to see if you want a focused, no-BS post-workout supplement. The artificial coloring agents might put off some hardcore enthusiasts, but aside from that, it’s hard to find a fault with this supplement.
6. JYM Supplement Science POST
POST is JYM Supplement Science’s answer to the post workout supplement question. It’s a more comprehensive approach than many of its competitors; it has the basics, like branched chain and regular amino acids.
It also has some cutting edge ingredients like beta-alanine, which can boost your muscular carnosine content, and taurine for extra energy.
To boost absorption, it also includes the proprietary black pepper extract, BioPerine. If you want a complete post-workout supplement that’s optimized for both strength and power, this is an excellent choice.
7. Legion Recharge
Legion Recharge is a surprisingly simplistic post workout supplement. Among the active ingredients, all it delivers creatine, L-carnitine, and banaba leaf extract.
A super-simple supplement like this can be nice, but the disappointing thing about Legion Recharge is that there are a lot of unwanted extras like artificial flavoring and several different non-caloric sweeteners.
Despite this, it’s still pretty good for those in the minimalist supplement camp.
Powerbuild delivers a few branched-chain amino acids, beta-alanine for muscular power, and creatine for muscular strength.
It’s also got BioPerine, a.k.a. Black pepper extract, to boost your absorption of the amino acids in the supplement. It’s a little bloated with extras, which knocks it down a few spots in the rankings.
9. BioRhythm Afterglow
BioRhythm takes more of a comprehensive approach with Afterglow, its post workout supplement, but in this case, it tilts a little too much towards the “shotgun approach” of throwing everything into the supplement with hopes that something will actually work.
It does have most of the ingredients you’d want, like BCAAs and even some whole protein, but the extra vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts make it seem like there wasn’t a coherent design philosophy with this supplement.
10. Growth Surge
This post workout supplement is designed pretty much exclusively for strength athletes. It’s really more of a creatine supplement than anything else; it doesn’t even have a full complement of branched chain amino acids.
While it has BioPerine, there aren’t really enough ingredients for it to boost absorption and bioavailability, so it seems like an afterthought ingredient. On top of this, it’s bloated with artificial ingredients, making it very hard to recommend.
11. Progenex Recovery
Most post-workout supplements deliver their amino acids in a pure form, but Progenex Recovery, despite billing itself as a recovery supplement, is really more of a protein shake.
It does have branched chain amino acids, but only in the amounts present in whey protein isolate.
It’s flavored in a way that keeps artificial ingredients out and keeps the carb and sugar content down, but the lack of core post-workout ingredients like creatine and some kind of muscle power supplement make it hard to recommend Progenex Recovery.
Who should buy a post-workout supplement?
If you work out to improve your peak performance, and you push yourself hard at the gym, you definitely need to be thinking about post-workout nutrition. If all you do is go to the gym to keep in decent shape, a post-workout supplement probably isn’t necessary, but if you are reading this, chances are you are a serious athlete.
Since the real key to improving strength, speed, power, endurance, and muscle mass is to do hard training, then recover well afterwards, taking care of your post-workout nutrition is a no-brainer if you are looking for improvement.
After finishing a workout session, you have damage to your muscle fibers, you’ve sweated out a lot of electrolytes, your body is fatigued from putting out a high amount of power, and your muscle and liver glycogen stores are depleted.
All of these things need should be addressed for getting your recovery optimized after a tough workout session. A post-workout supplement makes it easy to cover all of your bases after a workout: these supplements feature essential amino acids, branched chain amino acids (aka BCAAs), and other supplements to maximize gains, like creatine or beta alanine.
The right post-workout supplement can boost your recovery, and thus your improvement. Don’t forget, though, that you need to do the hard training first: a post-workout supplement without a solid workout prior is not going to do you much good.
How we ranked
To evaluate all of the various post-workout supplement options currently on the market, we started with a list of the essential nutrients that are beneficial for workout recovery.
These included essential amino acids, and in particular the branched chain amino acids, for muscle fiber repair; creatine or beta alanine for restoring your body’s anaerobic energy production abilities, and electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat.
If a post-workout supplement didn’t contain at least some of these critical ingredients, we eliminated it from consideration.
We evaluated the remaining products on their dosage levels, rating highly those that delivered these critical ingredients at efficacious doses, and dropping those that had insufficient doses. We had a strong preference for products whose ingredients were plain to see, instead of being mixed together in a “proprietary blend.”
Next up, we looked at the other ingredients. You want a post-workout shake that tastes good, but a product with too much sugar is bad news for your body.
Likewise, we were also looking for products that did not have a lot of artificial colors and flavors. Post-workout supplements that didn’t measure up on either of these fronts got eliminated from the field. Products that used natural sweeteners like stevia scored better and remained in consideration.
From the remaining products, we analyzed the benefits of any additional ingredients beyond the basics. Products that used black pepper extract (BioPerine) to boost the absorption of key ingredients gained extra points, for example, as did products that had L-glutamine to boost muscle protein synthesis.
Finally, we looked at the overall purity and quality of the products: anything that was bloated with fillers, binders, and stabilizers got eliminated, leaving us with our final list of the best post workout supplements of the year.
It’s not just your workout that counts. It’s how you recover from it. Boosting your workout recovery capabilities can help you adapt to your workouts better, and it can also allow you to push yourself harder with longer, more difficult training sessions, because your recovery capabilities are augmented.
With the right post workout supplement, you’ll be able to leverage both of these abilities to improve your fitness.
There are a few key ingredients to be on the lookout for in a post workout supplement. Whether you are training strength, power, speed, or endurance is going to influence which is most important to you.
One ingredient that should be in pretty much any post workout supplement is branched chain amino acids.
Branched chain amino acids are known to prevent muscle damage during exercise as well as enhance muscle recovery following exercise. The mechanism by which this happens was detailed in a 2006 scientific paper in the Journal of Nutrition by researchers in Japan (1).
In it, the researchers demonstrated that post-workout muscle soreness was lower in a group of people who performed squat exercises when they were given a branched chain amino acid supplement.
Branched chain amino acids prevent muscle breakdown. Branched chain amino acids, according to the authors, prevent the breakdown of skeletal muscle during exercise, because the body is able to use the supplemental branched chain amino acids instead of the branched chain amino acids that make up your muscles.
Leucine, one specific branched chain amino acid, also seems to boost rates of muscle protein synthesis following exercise. This suggests that branched chain amino acid supplements which deliver leucine will increase your body’s ability to adapt to your training.
This is good for two reasons: first, it means that you will gain more benefits from the same workout, and second, it means you can actually push yourself harder in training without fear of overtraining or exceeding your body’s recovery capabilities.
For these reasons, it should be obvious why you want branched chain amino acids in your post workout supplement.
Creatine is key for power athletes. If you are a power athlete engaging in sports or training that lasts for very short bursts of time (less than ten seconds or so), getting some creatine in your post-workout supplement is likely to be helpful.
Creatine is one of the best supplements for increasing your raw strength, and there’s plenty of evidence for its efficacy. A 2003 paper in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated the effectiveness of creatine supplementation (2).
In it, the authors reviewed several different papers on the use of creatine for strength increases. They found a difference in strength increase of 8% in subjects who received a creatine supplement compared to those who received a placebo.
Both groups tend to improve, of course, after strength training, but people given a creatine supplement tend to improve more.
Beta alanine can help anaerobic power athletes. Athletes who do longer bouts of high-intensity exercise which lasts for at least 60 seconds may seek out post-workout supplements that include compounds that can boost your anaerobic power, like beta-alanine.
Beta-alanine works to increase the ability of your muscles to continue working when there is a lot of acidity being generated from tough, anaerobic workouts.
Beta-alanine functions as a precursor to a compound called L-carnitine, which buffers acidity during high intensity exercise. If you can buffer more acidity during exercise, you can maintain higher levels of workout intensity for a longer time.
A review article published in 2014 reviewed the efficacy of beta-alanine supplementation and found moderately strong evidence that it had a direct performance-enhancing effect in high-power physical exercise tasks (3). The advantage is largest for “power sports” that require bursts of intense energy expenditure for at least 60 seconds, though not long, low-intensity efforts like marathon running or hiking.
A post-workout supplement with glutamine could reduce soreness and prevent strength loss following a difficult workout. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that your body is capable of synthesizing it in most circumstances.
However, some research has found that it can be a useful addition to a post-workout supplement for improving recovery following very tough training sessions. Unusually, glutamine first got its start in critical care medicine, where it was studied as a possible way to improve recovery from surgery and major injuries. Soon, the potential benefits of glutamine spread to sports research.
While glutamine is not as universally useful as a supplement compared to, say, creatine, it does seem to have a few niche applications that make it useful for post-workout supplements.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness makes the case that glutamine could reduce muscle soreness and strength decreases in the wake of a particularly tough workout (4). The study split 15 men into two groups, one of which took a glutamine supplement and the other of which took a placebo supplement.
Both groups performed 100 drop jumps, then had their strength and soreness assessed multiple times over the next 96 hours. The results showed that the subjects who took the glutamine supplement lost less of their muscular strength, and experienced lower levels of soreness, compared to those who took the placebo.
Thanks to these results, a post-workout supplement that includes glutamine is a good idea, particularly if you do very fatiguing eccentric exercises at the gym, like squats or deadlifts.
The key components of a standard post workout supplement are pretty safe. Branched chain amino acids are found in countless foods, so even if you overdo it on the dosage, it’s hard to encounter real problems.
Likewise for creatine. One of the reasons why it has become such a popular supplement in its own right is its excellent safety profile.
Even long-term studies on creatine use have found no adverse effects, according to a 2002 study on long-term use of creatine in college football players (5).
When you start pushing the boundaries with muscular power boosting supplements like beta-alanine, you may start to see some adverse effects associated with higher doses in the short term.
The most salient of these is flushing, a rush of blood and a feeling of warmth in your face or extremities (5). This occurs when some people take high doses of beta alanine, but does not appear to cause any long-term problems.
Branched chain amino acids are widely studied, but there is a lot of variation in the dosage that athletes are given.
Typical research protocols call for anywhere from three to 18 grams of branched chain amino acids per day.
The most common dosage range is between six and nine grams per day, though larger athletes with more muscle mass may want to veer towards the high end of the dosage range.
When it comes to creatine, the optimal dosage for the first few weeks of a new supplementation routine should be high: 20-25 grams per day, to boost your muscular creatine content (6).After this, you can move to a maintenance phase with a lower dose of 5 grams per day.
Beta-alanine should be dosed between 2 and 6 grams per day (7). Ideally, you’d use a progressive strategy, taking more after the first few weeks to further increase your muscular carnosine content.
The dose should be split up into smaller pieces to be taken throughout the day if you want to avoid flushing.
Q: What is a post-workout supplement?
A: Post-workout supplements are formulations that are specifically designed to boost your body’s recovery following a tough session at the gym.
They include protein as a basic macronutrient to kick-start muscle repair and synthesis, and include specialized ingredients like branched chain amino acids and creatine to make sure your body recovers to a state that’s stronger than before.
Unlike a pre-workout or intra-workout supplement, a post-workout supplement isn’t going to include caffeine or other stimulants to boost your workout performance today. Rather, the intent is to recover well after your training session so you will ultimately be stronger, faster, and more powerful in the future.
Q: What is the best supplement for muscle recovery?
A: For boosting muscle recovery, it’s hard to beat a combination of protein, BCAAs, and creatine. The amino acids in protein (plus BCAAs, all of which are essential amino acids) are critical building blocks for repairing muscle fibers and synthesizing new muscle tissue.
On top of that, creatine is one of the most heavily-studied and rigorously proven supplements for boosting muscle growth. Deliver these two in combination, as many top post-workout supplements do, and you have a winning formulation for muscle recovery after challenging workouts.
Q: What’s the best post-workout supplement for weight loss?
A: If you are trying to lose weight and maintain workout gains, you have to navigate a narrow path: you obviously need to be in a calorie deficit, but you also want to maintain muscle mass and muscular strength to the greatest degree possible.
Choosing a post-workout supplement that focuses mostly on amino acids and not so much on creatine or total protein content is a good choice, because amino acids will help maintain and repair muscle tissue, but not add too much to your total caloric intake.
You’ll definitely want to avoid post-workout supplements that use sugar for flavoring, since these will add unnecessary carbs to your diet and will make it harder to drop fat mass. You might consider a dedicated weight loss supplement if your goal is to burn off as much fat as possible.
Q: How do you reduce post-workout soreness?
A: The soreness that you feel following a tough workout is a good indicator of muscle damage, and several nutritional strategies exist to combat it. Post-workout muscle soreness comes along with a measurable decrease in muscle strength over the following several days: it’s not just a feeling of fatigue in your arms or legs.
Soreness after workouts is particularly bad if your workout included eccentric exercises like squats or deadlifts, as eccentric exercise is known to cause more muscular damage.
The effect is so pronounced that researchers will even use eccentric protocols, like drop jumps or single leg squats, to experimentally induce soreness in studies on Even something as simple as a protein shake will help combat post-workout soreness, but some research has shown that a post-workout supplement that includes glutamine could help reduce both your feelings of soreness and the decrease in muscular strength that accompanies it.
Several of our top-rated picks for the best post-workout supplements on the market right now include glutamine alongside other primary ingredients, making them good picks for combating soreness after a hard workout that includes a lot of eccentric exercise.
Q: What should you look for in a post-workout recovery shake?
A: We recommend using a similar process to what our research team did to formulate our rankings. The key ingredients you should be on the lookout for are a source of protein (either a high-quality protein like whey protein or a large amount of individual amino acids), sufficient amounts of all three branched chain amino acids, and possibly beneficial extras like creatine and beta alanine.
Creatine is particularly important if you are looking to maximize strength and muscle mass gains, while beta alanine is most useful for boosting your anaerobic power.
Make sure the post-workout recovery shake that you choose avoids excessive amounts of sugar (opt instead for a natural sweetener like stevia), unless you are explicitly looking for a recovery shake that uses carbs to restore your muscle glycogen.
Q: What’s the most important macronutrient for after a workout?
A: After you’ve finished a workout, a good source of protein is definitely the most important macronutrient. Protein provides critical amino acids for rebuilding and repairing your muscle fibers, which get damaged during a workout.
Since these amino acids are the building blocks for new muscle tissue, getting protein in after a workout is also critically important for muscle gains. Even given the importance of protein, it’s important not to overlook another important macro, which is carbohydrates.
After a long workout, especially if it included cardio, your muscle glycogen stores will be depleted. Some research indicates that the best way to restore your muscle glycogen levels is by a mixture of carbs and protein, in approximately a 4:1 ratio. So, while protein is still king when it comes to post workout macros, it seems to work best in combination with carbs if you need to restore muscle glycogen.
Q: How do post-workout supplements relate to pre-workout and intra-workout supplements?
A: Both pre-workout and intra-workout supplements are designed primarily to increase your exercise performance on the day you take the supplement.
In other words, they help you work out harder and perform better today. These supplements achieve this by using compounds like caffeine, green tea extract, and other potential ergogenic aids.
Sometimes, they also include some ingredients to get you primed for post-workout recovery as well, but the focus is still primarily on immediate performance.
In contrast, a post-workout supplement is 100% focused on recovery. You won’t find stimulants in these supplements; instead, you’ll see much higher levels of protein, amino acids, and creatine, to name just a few ingredients. Note that there is occasionally crossover between ingredients in pre and intra-workout supplements and post-workout supplements.
Beta alanine and carnitine are good examples; these compounds could help workout performance in the short term, but are better studied as medium to long-term supplementation strategies to increase your body’s anaerobic power output.
If you’re shooting for a specific intake level of a supplement like beta alanine, make sure you check the ingredients of both your pre-workout and post-workout supplement to be sure you are not overshooting—too much beta alanine can cause tingling and flushing in your skin.
Q: What’s the best supplement for muscle building?
A: For building muscle, you want pretty much the same ingredients as muscle recovery: protein and especially creatine. While creatine helps with muscle recovery, it’s even more important for maximizing muscle building.
Even when your dietary intake of protein is quite high, supplementing with creatine is an effective way to increase your muscle gains even more.
Of course, if you have insufficient protein intake, that should be addressed as well, so don’t forget about protein and amino acid content in a post-workout supplement if you are aiming to build muscle. Without this basic building block, you won’t be able to max out your muscular strength and muscular size gains
When you choose the right post workout supplement, you stand a good chance of boosting your body’s ability to recover.
This means that you’ll get a greater benefit from a given workout, and it also means you can push a little harder in your toughest and most challenging workouts because you know that your body’s ability to recover is elevated.
Pretty much all athletes should be on the lookout for branched chain amino acids in their post workout supplement.
Athletes focused on raw strength and short-term power (less than ten seconds of effort) should look for creatine as well.
Athletes who need to be able to produce power for anywhere from 60 seconds to several minutes should try to find a post workout supplement that also includes a muscular power booster like beta alanine if they want to fuel up their muscles for optimal performance.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 post-workout supplement recommendation, click here.