Nutrients for Post-Exercise Recovery
The blog posts Post-Exercise Nutrition and Nourishment During the Window of Opportunity describe how physical activity, particularly high-intensity, strenuous or prolonged exercise produces exercise-induced muscle damage and creates a need for carbohydrates and protein to be replenished. There are many supplements aimed at and consumed by athletes to minimise the negative effects of exercise and to enhance recovery, increase muscle strength and improve performance. Here we’ll look at specific nutrients that may aid recovery beyond protein and carbs:
Alpha-lipoic acid – decreases markers of exercise-induced oxidative stress (1).
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) – if your main aim is fat loss a recovery drink may not be advised. However, if overall energy intake is low due to reduced food intake, and a lot of time is spent exercising, consuming a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement might be helpful. Recommendations are to consume 5 to 15 grams per hour of training.
Catechins, anthocyanins and vitamin C – may improve vascular function (1).
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – also known as ubiquinone because it is present everywhere in the body, is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the mitochondria from oxidative damage. The reduced form of CoQ10, ubiquinol-10, is more bioavailable than its oxidized form. Doses of 200-300 mg/day are needed to prevent oxidative damage in athletes and to mitigate tissue damage and alleviate fatigue in distance runners (2).
Creatine – creatine supplementation exerts positive ergogenic effects on short-duration, high-intensity exercise. Supplementation may amplify the cell’s ability to resynthesise adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This leads to increases in maximal strength, maximal work output, power production (high-speed strength), sprint performance, and fat-free mass. Creatine supplementation may also speed up recovery time between bouts of intense exercise by mitigating muscle damage and promoting faster recovery (3).
Curcumin – a polyphenol extracted from turmeric, has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin reduces the perception of the intensity of muscle pain; reduces muscle damage; increases muscle performance; has an anti-inflammatory effect by modulating the pro-inflammatory cytokines, and may have an antioxidant effect. At a dose between 150-1500 mg/day before and during exercise, and up until 72 hours after exercise, curcumin may improve performance and modulate the inflammation caused by physical activity. Most people are able to tolerate high doses of curcumin without side-effects (4).
L-carnitine – plays a key role in fatty acid oxidation and energy metabolism. It shows beneficial effects on physical performance and has a positive impact on the recovery process after exercise. It alleviates muscle injury and soreness and reduces markers of cellular damage and free radical formation. It may enhance blood flow and oxygen supply to the muscle tissue. Studies in older adults show that l-carnitine can lead to increased muscle mass accompanied by a decrease in body weight and reduced physical and mental fatigue (5).
Melatonin – protects the skeletal muscles and decreases markers of exercise-induced oxidative stress (1).
N-acetyl cysteine – may be of benefit over the days prior to an endurance event (1).
Polyphenols – these are chemicals that give the taste and colour characteristics to fruits and vegetables. They are antioxidants and metal chelators. They have anti-inflammatory properties and enhance vascular function. Polyphenols may reduce fatigue and enhance recovery from exercise induced muscle damage and improve exercise performance, (6).
Sodium and Potassium – sodium and potassium are lost through sweat and need to be replaced. The ingestion of sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate with added calcium and magnesium citrate is found to attenuate metabolic acidosis and improve anaerobic performance (7). Sodium can also maximise the retention of ingested fluids (8).
Taurine – reduces muscle damage after exercise (9).
Vitamins C and D – may support the immune system and promote recovery after exercise (10).
Healing from Injury
Sports participation is not without risk, and most athletes and exercisers suffer injury at some point in their lives. Amino acid and protein intake, antioxidants, creatine, and omega-3 fats can be helpful in preventing muscle loss and aiding healing from injury (11).
1. Redox Biol. 2020 Aug;35:101471. Antioxidant supplements and endurance exercise: Current evidence and mechanistic insights. Mason S A et al.
2. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2021 Jun;91(3-4):261-270. Short-term ubiquinol-10 supplementation alleviates tissue damage in muscle and fatigue caused by strenuous exercise in male distance runners. Suzuki Y et al.
3. 2021 Jun 2;13(6):1915. Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations. Wax B et al.
4. 2020 Feb 15;12(2):501. Modulation of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage, Inflammation, and Oxidative Markers by Curcumin Supplementation in a Physically Active Population: A Systematic Review. Fernandez-Lazaro D et al.
5. 2018 Mar 13;10(3):349. l-Carnitine Supplementation in Recovery after Exercise. Fielding R et al.
6. Sports Med. 2019 Feb;49(Suppl 1):3-23. Fruit-Derived Polyphenol Supplementation for Athlete Recovery and Performance. Bowtell J, Kelly V.
7. 2018 Nov 1;10(11):1610. Chronic Ingestion of Sodium and Potassium Bicarbonate, with Potassium, Magnesium and Calcium Citrate Improves Anaerobic Performance in Elite Soccer Players. Chycki J et al.
8. Aust J Sci Med Sport. 1997 Mar;29(1):3-10. Nutrition for post-exercise recovery. Burke LM.
9. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Feb 5;19(3):1803. Effect of Antioxidant Supplementation on Markers of Oxidative Stress and Muscle Damage after Strength Exercise: A Systematic Review. Canals-Garzon C et al.
10. Sports Med. 2017 Nov;47(11):2201-2218. Selected In-Season Nutritional Strategies to Enhance Recovery for Team Sport Athletes: A Practical Overview. Heaton LE et al.
11. 2021 Dec 23;14(1):53. Nutritional Considerations for Injury Prevention and Recovery in Combat Sports. Turnagol HH et al.