Elite athletes used to be the only ones obsessed with workout supplements. However, advanced technology, a push for better health, and a drive to test physical limits has opened the doors to a new world of health supplements. Post-workout supplements replenish nutrients to build, tone, and help muscles bounce back after intense workouts. They range from protein powders and creatine monohydrate to branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and plain old vitamin C. The right supplement for you will depend on your fitness goals, workout schedule, and energy needs.
We reviewed dozens of post-workout supplements to find the best of the best. There are different ways to target your post-workout recovery, so we took into account supplements that work well for overall recovery as well as those that target strength, conditioning, and endurance. We also weighed in price and delivery—shake/drink versus powder. Today’s supplements are an impressive mix of vitamins, minerals, and flavors to make it all go down smooth. We’ve put together our favorites along with the information you need to weigh the pros and cons so you can find a supplement that will help you reach your fitness goals.
BulkSupplements Creatine Monohydrate Powder is a vegan-friendly formula that maximizes the absorption of creatine. Each serving delivers 2,500 milligrams of creatine monohydrate. A powder lets you adjust the dose based on your needs. Creatine can be used both before and after your workout for a pre-workout energy boost and to help your muscles recover faster. It’s a lot easier to supplement when you use the same supplement before and after your workout.
In This Article
The 5 Top-Rated Post-Workout Supplements
|Best Overall||Bulk Supplements Creatine Monohydrate||4.7|
|Runner Up||Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder||4.3|
|Best Budget Buy||Optimum Nutrition Instantized BCAA Capsules||4.5|
|Best Post Workout Protein Supplement||Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder||4.1|
|Best Post Workout Shake||Premier Protein Shake||4.4|
*Ratings are from Amazon at the time of publication and can change
Our Top Pick: BulkSupplements Creatine Monohydrate Powder
BulkSupplements Creatine Monohydrate Powder is made of the purest form of creatine so your muscles get energized in a hurry. It’s a micronized version, which means the individual particles are 20 times smaller than average. Those tiny particles have some serious advantages over traditional creatine.
Smaller particles more easily dissolve in liquid, including milk, water, and juice. That opens up your options when you’re preparing your drink. Micronized creatine is also more soluble than other forms of creatine so it stays suspended in liquid longer. Consequently, you’re less likely to find a wet clump of creatine at the bottom of your glass with this type of powder.
A micronized supplement also means you don’t have to take as high a dose to get equally powerful results. The powder goes farther because you’re using less yet still get the same benefits. Finally, this powder is a sugar, dairy, soy, yeast, and gluten-free option, making it appropriate for those who follow a vegan diet.
BulkSupplements Creatine Monohydrate Key Features:
- Micronized creatine monohydrate
- Equal creatine in a smaller dose
- Sugar, dairy, soy, yeast, and gluten-free
Our Runner Up Pick: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder cuts to the chase when it comes to encouraging post-workout recovery. Whey protein helps build muscle tissue, but it also speeds up muscle recovery if consumption is timed correctly. Whey protein is derived from milk or egg, making it less likely to test high for heavy metals, a common issue with powdered protein supplements. This formula has two forms of whey protein—concentrate and isolate. Concentrate is high carbohydrates and low in fat while isolate has no fat or lactose, greatly increasing its overall protein percentage per serving. When it’s all said and done, each serving has an impressive 24 grams of protein.
While this supplement is heavy on protein, it offers other recovery benefits too. A healthy serving of branched-chain amino acids—leucine, valine, and isoleucine—promotes muscle repair and growth by providing the building blocks of muscle synthesis. BCAAs also reduces protein loss so you’re building on top of the muscle tissue you already have. The 5 grams in each serving is the perfect amount to support your post-workout recovery.
On the convenience side of things, it can be bought in 20 flavors and 4 size options. That gives you a chance to not only try it out before committing to a large quantity, but you can test several flavors so things go down smoothly.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein Powder Key Features:
- 24 grams of protein, 5 grams of BCAAs per serving
- Contains concentrate and isolate whey protein
- 20 (twenty) flavors
- 4 (four) sizes
Best Budget Pick: Optimum Nutrition Instantized BCAA Capsules
Optimum Nutrition nails the nutrients on the head with their Instantized BCAA Capsules. We briefly mentioned BCAA with our runner up pick, but this supplement focuses solely on the foundation of muscle protein—leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Intense training purposely breaks down muscle tissue. During the recovery process, the body rebuilds and strengthens the tissue. Damage is necessary for growth. BCAAs are the building blocks and when they’re present in the body after a tough workout, they promote faster muscle recovery and growth.
This particular formula uses as 2:1 ratio for leucine to isoleucine and valine. Together they reduce breakdown and increase protein synthesis. Basically, BCAAs help you hang on to more muscle during your workout and increase the amount of muscle produced post-workout. However, it’s all about timing. These supplements can be taken both pre- and post-workout to maximize their effects. The capsules are easy to swallow so you don’t have to worry about mixing, taste, or proportions, and you’ve got three size options.
Optimum Nutrition Instantized BCAA Capsules Key Features:
- Pure BCAA
- 2:1 optimum ratio
- 3 (three) bottle sizes
Best Post-Workout Protein Supplement: Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder
Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder brings far more than protein to the table, but we’ll start with the 32 grams of protein per serving. The whey protein comes in the form of concentrate and isolate. The two balance each other as the concentrate is high in carbs and low in fat while the isolate has no fat or lactose. That extra protein prevents break down while speeding up recovery. Additional protein can also help prevent wakefulness at night when your muscles are getting to the serious work of rebuilding.
It’s also full of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamins D, A, and C along with calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium and small servings of iron and potassium. The addition of vitamins goes a long way to help your body recover. Vitamin C, for example, is essential for cell repair and dealing with physical stress.
Water isn’t the only mixing option with this formula. It can be added to juice, milk, mixes, and batters to sneak your protein in more flavorful ways. We’re focusing on post-workout supplements, but this one can be taken before or after you’ve broken a sweat.
Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder Key Features:
- 32 grams of protein per serving
- Contains vitamins A, C, and D
- Contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, potassium
- Mixes with drinks and batters
Best Post-Workout Shake: Premier Protein Shake
What would an after workout shake be without protein? Premier Protein Shake has protein along with 24 essential vitamins and minerals to fuel your recovery and power your day. When you’re in a hurry, you may not have time to mix a drink or add a supplement powder to your meal. Supplement shakes are a grab and go option to drink on your way out of the gym or as you drive to work. They’re more expensive than a powder, but can be worth it to improve recovery times when you’re on a timetable.
Whey protein concentrate brings the 30 grams of protein per serving. That gives it a little more fat than a shake with protein isolate, but at only three grams, you’re not wasting calories. While protein is an essential starting point for recovery, there’s more to the recovery equation. It’s full of a long list of vitamins and minerals, including a few big ones like Vitamins A, C, B6, and B12, which are essential for muscle building. There’s also iron, niacin, folate, magnesium, and Vitamin K.
This shake is lower in calories than many other options, but still provides five grams of carbohydrates and three grams of fiber. Not to mention the fact that it’s gluten and soy-free. Add some variety to your diet with four different flavors and you’re ready to hit the ground running even if you just got done with a workout.
Premier Protein Shake Key Features:
- 30 grams of protein per serving
- Contains vitamins A, C, B6, B 12, K, and E
- Also contains calcium, iron, thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium, and more
- 4 (four) flavors
- Premade ready to drink
Who Should Buy Post-Workout Supplements
Post-workout supplements can help just about anyone who steps on a treadmill. However, if you’re eating a well-balanced diet and you’re a moderate exerciser, you may not need or even notice the benefits a supplement has to offer. Supplements contain ingredients that you can find in a diet that includes adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Where supplements really come in handy is when you don’t have time to bake a chicken breast or eat a salad right after a workout. They’re quick, easy, and simplify the process of loading your body with energy and nutrients. If you’re interested in losing weight and are stuck on where to start, be sure to take a look at 20 Weight Loss Tips For Beginners.
However, there are certain categories of people who should seriously consider adding supplements to their daily regimen. Competitive athletes who want to improve muscle mass, tone, and reduce recovery times are at the top of the list. These are the people that notice a half-pound weight gain and monitor their sprint times down to the tenth of a second. Supplements can take their already disciplined routine and advance their performance to the next level.
Even if you’re not in competition, an intense training schedule with multiple workouts per day, weight training, and a focused diet may warrant a supplement to ensure your energy needs are being met. Some supplements can help build muscle mass and tone while others will make sure you’ve got the energy to fuel your activities. If you’re ready to push your physical limits, a supplement might be the way to meet your goals or even extend them beyond where you thought the limits lie.
Important Features to Consider
- Your goals. Your fitness goals can help you determine both the type and the amount of supplementation you really need. If your goal is to build muscle mass then a protein supplement with BCAAs would probably be a good choice. However, protein can bulk up your muscles and add weight so if those aren’t in your plans, you might want a pure BCAA supplement that supports energy levels. Vitamins C, E, and other antioxidants are a good choice if you simply want to shorten your recovery times and reduce muscle soreness.
- Protein content and source. The most common types of protein for supplements is milk or egg-based whey protein. It comes in two forms: concentrate and isolate. Whey concentrate is a whey peptide that’s high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Whey isolate is a peptide that has no fat or lactose and generally contains the most protein by weight. Either one can be hydrolized (called hydrolysates) through exposure to heat, acid, or enzymes, which can make it easier to digest and absorb. However, whey protein isn’t hard to digest and hydrolysates can be expensive with minimal extra benefit. Whey protein isn’t the only source of protein in supplements. Plant-based proteins are also a popular option. However, some protein supplements have been found to have high levels of heavy metals and most of them are the plant-based variety. Plants can absorb these metals through the soil. Be mindful of the protein source and look for supplements that list all of their ingredients.
- BCAA (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) content. BCAAs, namely leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are the basic necessities for building muscle protein. Hard exercise effectively breaks down your muscle tissue. The process of rebuilding this tissue strengthens and builds muscle. BCAAs make sure you have everything your body needs to rebuild that damaged tissue. You can take BCAAs pre-workout to help maintain the muscle tissue you have and post-workout to fuel any that was lost.
- Creatine content. Creatine is right up there with protein and BCAAs when it comes to popularity. It’s been highly tested and is used to build muscle strength, mass, and enhance performance. Creatine increases the amount of phosphocreatine in the muscle, which is used to make the energy molecule ATP. The more ATP you have, the more energy you have to burn. Creatine is a popular pre-workout supplement to boost energy, but it can also be used to increase and shorten recovery time post-workout.
- Extra nutrient content. Take a good look at the rest of the nutrient contents. Vitamin C, a popular antioxidant for fighting the common cold, helps cells repair themselves. A few carbohydrates are also a good addition as they restore blood glucose levels. However, depending on your gender, goals, and personal needs, you might look for a supplement that also contains calcium, iron, magnesium, and/or potassium.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are post-workout supplements and how do they work?
Post-workout supplements are dietary supplements meant to enhance health and recovery. The post-workout period includes the two hours following an intense training session. During this time, you can take supplements to shorten your overall recovery and jump-start the muscle-building process. They work by providing a boost of the nutrients used by the body to make energy and build and keep muscle.
Why do I feel exhausted after working out?
The simple answer is you’re burning through a lot of energy and calories in a relatively short amount of time. You may also be creating tiny micro-tears in the muscle tissue. While that sounds bad, it’s actually good, especially if you want to build muscle. It’s the process of muscle repair that actually builds newer (and more) muscle tissue. However, you need to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients to fuel your workout. Otherwise, your exhaustion could be due to a lack of water and the right nutrients. Make sure you’re drinking enough and eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables with a good balance of protein. If you’re not getting enough, supplements can help where your diet may lack.
What helps muscles recover?
First and foremost are time and rest, including at least seven to nine hours of sleep. Without sleep, your body doesn’t spend enough time exposed to the hormones that stimulate muscle growth. After that, your body needs the right nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, BCAAs, and creatine. These substances can be found in natural forms like red meat, chicken, fish, and dairy products. Lean cuts and low-fat options can keep your fat intake down. Of course, if you’re running low on natural sources or don’t have time for them, a supplement is a quick fix.
What nutrients should a post-workout supplement contain?
The key nutrients you want to include are protein, BCAAs, or creatine. Some supplements have two or all three of these while others have only one. Your fitness goals can determine what you need. For example, if you’re looking to build muscle, a protein or creatine powder is a good choice. If you simply want to reenergize after your workout, BCAAs are probably all you need. Check the ingredients and dose per serving. Also, consider that men and women have different nutritional needs. Men, in general, need more protein. Use supplements to meet the ideal amount of your nutrient needs rather than to make them skyrocket.
Other Post-Workout Supplements We Reviewed
We researched and looked into 20 other post-workout supplements. They didn’t make our 5 best post-workout supplements, but they’re still some of the best formulas out there. Depending on your goals and body type, they could help you push yourself to the next level of fitness. We’ve provided the information you need to compare your options.
- Post-Workout All-Purpose Supplements
- Post-Workout BCAA Supplements
- Post-Workout Creatine Supplements
- Post-Workout Protein Supplements
- Post-Workout Shakes
Post-Workout All-Purpose Supplements
Rather than protein, BCAAs, or creatine, this supplement goes strictly for vitamins and minerals that enhance recovery—zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6. One of the side benefits is that both zinc and magnesium can help you sleep better too.
- 30 milligrams of zinc, 450 milligrams of magnesium, 10.5 milligrams of vitamin B6
- Requires 3 (three) caplets per day
- Available in two bottle sizes
Cost: $8 ($0.09/capsule)
This powder contains BCAAs, creatine, and L-glutamine to increase blood sugar and give your post-workout body a hit of fuel. It’s intended for muscle recovery not adding bulk to your body.
- 3 (three) essential branched-chain amino acids
- Contains creatine monohydrate and L-glutamine
- Contains no artificial flavors or sweeteners
Post-Workout BCAA Supplements
This formula has the essential BCAAs plus a few extras for a true amino acid infusion.
- Micronized BCAAs: L-leucine, L-valine, L-isoleucine
- Also includes L-alanine, taurine, L-citrulline
- 5 (five) flavors
Cost: $20 ($1.28/ounce)
This BCAA supplement is loaded with far more than the impressive 6 grams of BCAAs, including tart cherry juice that helps prevent muscle loss.
- 3 grams of BCAAs per single serving
- Tart cherry juice concentrate
- Precise 4:1:1 ratio
Cost: $20 ($1.33/ounce)
A full 7 grams of BCAAs per serving fuels recovering muscles. This formula also adds in electrolytes and glutamine to up your blood sugar after a tough workout.
- 7 grams of BCAAs per dose
- Includes L-glutamine and citrulline malate
- 0 (zero) calories, carbs, or sugars
Cost: $18 ($1.20/ounce)
Give your muscles the ingredients they need to jumpstart protein synthesis with a serving of the essential BCAAs.
- Gel capsules
- Only active ingredients are the BCAAs L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine
- Contains no yeast, starch, or artificial colors and preservatives
Post-Workout Creatine Supplements
The GENIUS Brand adds a few of their own extras to this creatine powder. They include AstraGin for better absorption and CarnoSyn to improve endurance.
- 3 grams creatine monohydrate per serving
- Also includes creatine magnesium chelate and creatine HCI
- AstraGin for improved absorption
Cost: $30 ($4.52/ounce)
Growth Surge not only helps your muscles recovery but also bulks them up by supporting growth. It’s not a pure creatine powder as it contains other muscle builders like betaine anhydrous, L-carnitine, and L-tartrate.
- 3 grams creatine monohydrate per dose
- Additional muscle builders: L-carnitine, L-tartrate, and betaine
- Comes in two (2) flavors
Cost: $26 ($2.42/ounce)
A blend of creatine, L-carnitine L-tartrate, and corosolic acid to aid absorption provides the cells with the energy they need to recharge after an intense training session.
- 5 grams of creatine per serving
- L-tartrate boosts absorption
- Natural flavors and sweeteners
Cost: $33 ($1.84/ounce)
MuscleTech keeps the formula simple by loading each serving with 5 grams of creatine monohydrate. Micronized crystals enhance dissolving and suspension.
- 5 grams creatine monohydrate
- Micronized crystals
- No added sugar
Cost: $9 ($1.56/ounce)
A micronized powder like this one has tiny particles that dissolve more quickly and stay suspended so they go down smooth. Creatine monohydrate has already been treated to make it easier for the body to absorb.
- Unflavored so it can be used in any drink
- 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per serving
- Available in 5 (five) bottle sizes
Post-Workout Protein Supplements
If you’re looking for serious protein, look no further than the 60 grams in each of this supplement’s servings. However, it gets its ‘super advanced’ name from the additional BCAAs included in the formula.
- 60 grams of whey protein per serving
- 12 grams of BCAAs
- 7 (seven) flavors
Cost: $16 ($0.50/ounce)
With 30 grams of plant-based protein, you’re well on your way to good muscle recovery. However, this formula also brings 5 grams of BCAAs and glutamine to the table.
- 30 grams of protein per serving
- Also includes calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc
- 2 grams of fiber
Cost: $37 ($1.23/ounce)
A good 25 grams of protein from five sources can definitely help your post-workout recovery.
- Protein from whey hydrolysate, isolate, and concentrate
- Egg and casein protein
Cost: $27 ($0.43/ounce)
Twenty-three grams of hydrolyzed whey protein gives this supplement its power. It also comes with two grams of fiber and a hit of calcium and iron.
- 23 grams of hydrolyzed whey protein
- 4 (four) flavors
- Contains calcium and iron
Cost: $65 ($1.66/ounce)
A solid 24 grams of protein per serving is complemented with calcium, sodium, and potassium.
- 24 grams of protein
- Includes extra calcium, sodium, potassium, and fiber
- 9 (nine) flavors, 2 (two) sizes
With an impressive 40 grams of protein per shake, your muscles will be fully charged on your way home from the gym. It does more than fill you with protein, it packs in 22 vitamins and minerals for your overall health too.
- 12-packs of 17 oz
- Chocolate flavor
Cost: $35 ($0.17/ounce)
Muscle Milk provides a decent hit of protein at 25 grams per shake, all from non-dairy sources.
- 25 grams of protein per shake
- Includes vitamin A, C, and D
- Contains 4 grams of fiber and no sugar
Cost: $13 ($0.10/ounce)
This premade shake has a whopping 20 grams of protein per serving. It also adds some fiber to keep your body running smooth.
- 20 grams of protein per shake
- Includes sodium, calcium, potassium
- 3 grams of dietary fiber
Cost: $18 ($0.14/ounce)
This one isn’t technically a shake, but water infused with whey protein is a great way to rehydrate and give your muscles some fuel post-workout.
- 15 grams of whey protein per drink
- Contains BCAAs
- Gluten, lactose, preservative, BPA-free
Cost: $19 ($0.09/fluid ounce)