It is incredibly easy to become very performance-driven as an athlete, which is fantastic! Being motivated by time on the clock, weight on the bar, the score board… this is crucial in making competitive athletes who they are. But when recovery becomes the limiting performance factor, what then?
The two go hand in hand to ensure progress. Athletes with greater recovery capacity can train longer and harder without regressing and subsequently needing to take a deload or break. We asked Nikos Master Tutor on the UK leading personal training courses from Premier Global NASM, to give us some more info here.
Supplements for recovery
Recovery supplements can fall under several different subcategories; however, some have shown more promise than others. Some supplements might be best-taken post-workout (such as whey protein or Ribose), while others, such as antioxidants, are best taken as far away from training as possible! Here are some of the best recovery supplements available today.
Supplementing for recovery can start while you are still working out. An intra-workout drink can set you up for improved recovery between sessions. Essential amino acids, which include the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), are the base of a tremendous intra-workout drink.
Studies have shown that BCAA supplementation around exercise decreases exercise-induced muscle damage, the culprit of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (2). Most BCAA research utilises the most common ratio seen in sports supplements, which is a 2:1:1 split of leucine to isoleucine and valine.
Another supplement that can be used to enhance recovery within days and at minimal cost is d-ribose. D-ribose is a simple sugar and carbohydrate that acts as a building block to ATP (a fast releasing energy source for exercise). It can be compared to something like dextrose or maltodextrin, but does seem to outperform both and does not risk the same GI distress associated with the first two.
When compared to other sugars, d-ribose restores muscle ATP concentrations faster following exhaustive exercise (4). The suggested use of d-ribose is 5g before a workout.
Creatine is a supplement renowned for increasing strength and power output, but did you know it plays a part in recovery too? One study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, for example, found significantly improved recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage with creatine supplementation (3). Being that creatine is such a well-studied, affordable and easily accessible supplement, we see no reason why not to include it in your daily routine! The exact time you take isn’t too important. So long as it is used daily, your stores will remain saturated—creatine stacks well with both d-ribose and BCAAs or EAAs.
Anti-inflammatories are supplements that combat inflammation in various parts of the body, including the joints and even the gut. Some anti-inflammatory supplements, such as curcumin or tart cherry juice, may reduce inflammation and possibly DOMS post-training, too (1).
Other aspects of recovery
All of the above will only make fractional differences if not used in conjunction with a well-balanced diet—several critical factors in the diet play into recovery.
Overall calorie intake. Are you eating enough to account for the recovery demand your training places on your body?
Protein intake. Feedings of complete protein (protein sources containing all essential amino acids) should ideally be spaced throughout the day. When the muscle is broken down in training, these amino acids mean it can be built back stronger and larger. Some ideas of protein sources to include in your diet include lean meats, fish, eggs and whey.
Carbohydrate intake. Post-workout should arguably be your largest carb feeding of the day to replenish muscle glycogen used up during activity. Carb supplements such as highly branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD) are rapidly absorbing ways to begin this process and also aid the shuttling of nutrients in the intra-workout window also.
Fat intake. Fat sources are essential in the synthesis of hormones. A wide variety of fatty acids is ideal for a healthy diet.
Micronutrients. Vitamins such as C and E have antioxidant properties that protect against oxidative stress. Others, like zinc, help fight inflammation.
Athletes should obsess over their recovery just as much as they do their performance. Not only will it allow them to progress faster in their sport, but it will avoid overreaching and mental and physical burnout.
Recovery can be everything from the supplements you take to what you eat and what time you allow yourself to do things that are NOT training – whether that be an Epsom salt bath, an afternoon at the park or a trip to the cinema.
We hope this gives you some ideas on how to improve your recovery!
1. Rawson, E., Miles, M. and Larson-Meyer, D., 2018. Dietary Supplements for Health, Adaptation, and Recovery in Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28(2), pp.188-199.
2. Negro M, Giardina S, Marzani B, Marzatico F. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008 Sep;48(3):347-51. PMID: 18974721.
3. Cooke, M., Rybalka, E., Williams, A., Cribb, P. and Hayes, A., 2009. Creatine supplementation enhances muscle force recovery after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 6(1), p.13.
4. Hellsten Y, Skadhauge L, Bangsbo J. Effect of ribose supplementation on resynthesis of adenine nucleotides after intense intermittent training in humans. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. (2004)