The 6 Best Post-Workout Supplements of 2021, According to a Dietitian

How to choose a post-workout supplement that is right for you

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Best Post-Workout Supplements

Verywell Fit / Chloe Jeong

Refueling after a workout is critical for muscle recovery and performance. While there are tons of products on the market that claim to support and optimize your post-workout strategy, it’s essential to choose a safe and scientifically proven recovery supplement.

“Nutritional needs after workouts can vary based on the individual. We all have unique nutritional needs based on our diets, lifestyle, and health concerns," says Dr. Arielle Levitan, MD, board-certified internal medicine physician and co-founder of Vous Vitamin, LLC. That being said, some common vitamins can be especially useful in the post-workout period. According to Dr. Levitan, these include "magnesium (essential electrolyte that helps muscles function and recover) and certain B vitamins (important vitamins for energy replenishment and nerve function)." But that's not all; "other electrolytes such as potassium and chloride can also be helpful for their role in hydration and electrolyte balance," says Dr. Levitan.

In a joint position statement, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine support replenishing glycogen and protein stores through carbohydrate and protein-rich foods or sports foods like bars, protein drinks, and electrolyte supplements after exercise. In terms of ergogenic aids, few products are evidence-backed; however, creatine and branched-chain amino acids may be effective.

What to Look for in a Post-Workout Supplement

Goal:

When choosing a post-workout supplement, it's essential to consider your goal. If you're looking to rehydrate and replace electrolytes, an electrolyte powder may be best for you. If overall recovery and refueling is the aim, then a protein shake made from a high-quality protein powder should suffice. For more muscle-building recovery, BCAAs or creatine may be most beneficial.

Form:

Post-workout supplements come in many forms, including powders, liquids, and capsules. If you aren't a fan of swallowing pills, powder or liquid may be best for you. Capsules may be better if you're looking for a more convenient and portable supplement.

Quality & Ingredients:

Always consider the quality of the supplement you are choosing and what is in it. There are many post-workout supplements on the market that contain potentially dangerous ingredients that may do more harm than good. Choose a supplement that is safe and evidence-based. Speak with your health care provider to ensure that any supplement you take works for your individual needs.

Post-Workout Supplements Dosage

Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.

There are no current guidelines for post-workout supplement dosage, such as BCAAs or creatine. There are few safety concerns with typical creatine dosing, which is a loading dose of 20 grams/day for up to 7 days and 3-5 grams/day for up to 12 weeks. For BCAAs, no safety concerns have been reported with a dose of 20 grams/day or less for up to 6 weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are post-workout supplements necessary?

    Post-workout supplements may provide some benefits with performance or body composition, but a nutritionally balanced diet with proper hydration is most important. Depending on your goals or activity level, you may have increased calorie or protein needs, and post-workout supplements can certainly help you reach those needs.

  • What are more important, pre- or post-workout supplements?

    This all depends on the type of supplement you are interested in. For instance, there is some evidence that suggests post-workout supplementation with creatine has more significant effects on body composition and strength than pre-workout supplementation.

    When supplementing with electrolytes, it’s important to consider the duration and intensity of your workout. For exercise that lasts more than an hour, especially high-intensity exercise, it’s a good idea to drink an electrolyte supplement instead of water during your workout. You should also rehydrate with an electrolyte drink after the workout to replace the electrolytes you lost by sweating. You may need more electrolytes when exercising in a hot or humid environment.

    For protein supplementation, there is research to support performance benefits and muscle protein synthesis for both pre- and post-workout supplementation. It’s important to note that whole food sources of protein like eggs, milk, or soy can have the same or superior impact as amino acids.

How We Select Supplements

Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here

We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science, as well as clinically tested and approved for use in humans. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. These attributes include non-GMO, Organic, and allergy-friendly products that are free of most artificial ingredients including colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners. When possible, we recommend products that are third-party tested and certified.

It's important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.

Here, the best post-workout supplements:

Best Overall: Garden of Life Organic Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder

Garden of Life Organic Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder
Pros
  • Highly bioavailable whey protein

  • No added sugar

Cons
  • Sugar alcohol erythritol may cause digestive upset for some 

When it comes to post-workout recovery, an excellent protein powder-based drink does double duty, rehydrating and refueling your muscles with essential amino acids and quickly digested carbohydrates. Research published in 2017 shows that supplementation with whey protein may promote enhanced performance and recovery among resistance-trained individuals. For this reason, protein powder is a convenient, effective, and affordable supplement that promotes recovery post-workout.

Whey protein, such as Garden of Life's Organic Whey Protein, is a high-quality protein source and contains all essential amino acids, as well as some branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are building blocks for muscle growth. This Certified USDA Organic (rBST and rBGH-free), Non-GMO Project Verified product provides ample protein in addition to BCAAs and probiotics, for a good value. The budget-friendly powder comes in five flavors, including chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, lightly sweet, strawberry, and vanilla.

The Garden of Life whey is sourced from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows, and is American Humane Certified. Each serving provides 21 grams of protein, 2 grams of sugar, 120 calories, and 4.7 grams of BCAAs. The product also contains 2 billion CFU of probiotics, which can support your gut health.

Although it is not third-party tested, it has several third-party certifications, including USDA Organic (rBST and rBGH-free), Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, and Certified Grass Fed.

Key nutrients: Whey protein concentrate | Vegan: No | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | Additives: None

Best Ready-to-Drink Protein Shake: OWYN Only What You Need 100% Vegan Plant-Based Protein Shakes | Cold Brew Coffee

OWYN
Pros
  • Complete protein source suitable for vegan diet

Cons
  •  Expensive

Getting adequate protein and carbohydrates after a workout can be a challenge if you don't have access to a kitchen or cafe—however, a ready-to-drink protein shake like OWYN makes it easy to get high-quality nutrition anywhere and any time of day. The delicious beverage requires no refrigeration before you open it, so it’s great to take on the go to work, while hiking, or anywhere you need to refuel along the way. It's a quick and easy post-workout recovery product with clean ingredients that appeal to a wide range of people, from vegan to omnivore and everywhere in between.

OWYN, short for Only What You Need, combines pea protein, organic pumpkin seed protein, and organic flax oil to create their proprietary protein blend. If you're curious about the carbs, they stem from a greens blend and monk fruit extract. This ready-to-drink protein shake is 100 percent certified vegan and contains 20 grams of plant-based protein per serving.

Though it’s not third-party tested, we like it because of its certifications: vegan, gluten-free, and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Key nutrients: Pea protein, pumpkin seed protein | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO: Yes | Additives: Monk Fruit Extract

Best Protein Bar: Papa Steve's No Junk Raw Protein Bars

Papa Steve's No Junk Raw Protein Bars
Pros
  • Satiating combination of protein and fiber

  • Less than 10 grams of added sugar per bar from whole food sources

Cons
  • High fiber content may not be tolerable to some

While it may not seem like a "supplement," a protein bar is an excellent way to boost protein intake after a workout. Looking for a bar with some extra oomph? Papa Steve’s No Junk Raw Protein Bars can be consumed as an on-the-go mini-meal or as a satisfying post-workout snack.

Depending on the flavor, these bars contain anywhere from 12 to 20 grams of protein from raw whey or vegan protein sources, over 50 percent of the recommended daily intake for fiber, and less than 10 grams of sugar. In fact, the sugar in each bar comes primarily from raw dates and fruit.

Each bar is handmade in Southern California from non-GMO, wheat-free, and soy-free ingredients. They last for 45 days at room temperature, two to three months in the refrigerator, or up to six months in the freezer.

Key nutrients: Pea protein or whey protein | Vegan: Yes, some | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO: Yes | Additives: None

What Experts Say

"High intensity and long workouts (more than 60 to 90 minutes) tap into your glycogen (energy) stores, break down muscle tissue, and stimulate muscles to adapt, while recovery through adequate rest and nutrition facilitates muscle recovery and growth, decreases risk of injury and illness, and prepares your body to crush your next workout. Nutritionally, the recovery process involves consuming carbs for glycogen re-stocking, protein for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue, and fluids and electrolytes lost to sweat for rehydration."—Claire Shorenstein, MS, RD, CDN

Best Electrolyte Powder: Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Powder

Ultima Replenisher
Pros
  • Provides all six electrolytes

Cons
  • Not third party tested

Electrolyte-enhanced beverages, or sports drinks, help to replenish water, electrolytes, and energy lost during exercise. These drinks often contain potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium, which help combat dehydration, prevent muscle cramping, and delay fatigue.

Ultima's Replenisher Electrolyte Powder provides all six electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, and phosphorus) with no artificial ingredients. This sugar-free, zero-calorie, and zero-carbohydrate beverage is sweetened with stevia. Ultima is made with real fruit flavors and comes in many delicious varieties, including Cherry Pomegranate, Blue Raspberry, Grape, and Orange. The flavors are not overly sweet and taste refreshing.

Unlike other powders, which can be chalky, Ultima mixes well and dissolves completely to become a smooth, hydrating drink. Though not third-party tested, the versatile product can be used for many diets, such as vegan, gluten-free, keto-friendly, paleo-friendly, and peanut-free. For those who are sensitive to caffeine, it’s also caffeine-free.

Key nutrients: Sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO: Yes | Additives: None

Best Creatine Supplement: Thorne Research Creatine Powder

Thorne Research Creatine Powder
Pros
  • Creatine Monohydrate is easily mixable into beverages

Cons
  • Unflavored taste may not be palatable for some

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements for athletes and is widely studied. Research suggests that combining creatine supplementation with resistance and weight training increases muscle strength and lean tissue mass. Thorne's Creatine Powder is a great option to support energy, optimize muscle endurance, and promote muscle building. The product is made up of Creapure, an easily mixed, highly researched form of creatine. This form is a micronized variety of creatine monohydrate that is colorless, odorless, and dissolves easily. Each scoop provides 5 grams of Creatine Monohydrate.

The product is NSF Certified for Sport, so athletes can rest assured that the supplement has been tested and certified for quality, purity, and safety. The supplement is also allergy-friendly, as it's free from major allergens including gluten, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, dairy, soy, fish, and shellfish.

Key nutrients: Creatine Monohydrate | Vegan: No | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO: No | Additives: None

Best BCAA Powder: Thorne Research Amino Complex

Thorne Research Amino Complex
Pros
  • Provides all essential + conditionally essential amino acids, in addition to BCAAs

  • No artificial flavors

Cons
  • Stevia may leave aftertaste for some consumers

Research shows BCAAs may help build muscle size and support recovery when used with a resistance training program. If you're looking for a high-quality, great-tasting BCAA powder, Thorne's Amino Complex is a top choice. The delicious berry-flavored powder is sweetened with stevia and uses no artificial flavors.

Each scoop contains eleven amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids (which includes the three BCAAs) as well as cysteine and tyrosine. These two amino acids are known as conditionally essential amino acids, which are needed in higher quantities during times of physical stress, such as exercise recovery.

The powder is free of gluten, dairy, and soy. The product is NSF Certified for Sport, meaning that it is tested to be sure it is free of banned substances and compliant with label claims.

Key nutrients: Leucine, isoleucine, valine | Vegan: No | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No | Non-GMO: No | Additives: None

Final Verdict

For an affordable, easy, protein-packed, post-workout drink, choose a protein powder like Garden of Life's Organic Whey Protein Powder (view at Amazon). We like the organic ingredients and high bioavailability of whey protein to promote muscle protein synthesis. We also love Ultima Electrolyte Powder (view at Amazon), which provides all six electrolytes and is perfect after sweaty workouts or in a hot and humid environment.

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9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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