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Finding the Best Muscle Recovery Supplement for You

Adding these supplements to your gym bag can help improve your training and keep you in the game. Find out more about how they help your muscles keep up with you.
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If you’re a regular in the gym or an athlete, you know the toll training takes on your body. Physical activities break down the muscle tissue in your body, and in order for muscles to repair, they have to recover first. Recovery can occur through natural methods like getting adequate sleep, resting between workouts, massage sore areas and proper nutrition.

Beyond that, muscle recovery supplements enhance the natural process and speed up tissue repair through ingredients like antioxidants. Each product plays a unique role in muscle recovery and including one or more in your health and fitness regimen can benefit you in many ways.

Knowing the specific functions of each product can help you choose the right one:

1. BCAA
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are proteinogenic amino acids derived from food sources. The three BCAAs -- leucine, isoleucine and valine -- play an important role in protein synthesis for muscle building and maintenance. BCAAs are lost during sports and exercise and muscle tissues are broken down to replenish the supply, creating the need for supplementation. Extensive research has shown BCAAs help reduce fatigue and heighten performance during exercise. In a study conducted by Ohtani et al, participants who took BCAA had a considerable increase in exercise efficiency compared to those who took the placebo.

The recommended dosage for BCAA is one to 12 grams daily in divided doses, with a ratio of 50 percent leucine, 25 percent isoleucine and 25 percent valine. BCAA should be taken with water before and after a workout and is safe to take with other supplements.

2. Creatine
Creatine monohydrate is the most well known form of creatine and the form used as a muscle recovery supplement. Creatine supplies the extra phosphate needed by the body to produce energy during high intensity sports and exercise. The body uses up phosphate quickly, in as few as 15 minutes of rigorous physical functions. Clinical trials have shown creatine's positive impact on lean muscle mass, power, speed and endurance during training.

Creatine as a muscle recovery supplement can be taken in two ways:

  • Start with the loading phase, taking 20 grams daily for five to seven days, followed by a maintenance phase of three to five grams per day for two to three months. Take a break from creatine supplements for one to two weeks before starting the phases again.
  • Take three to 10 grams daily of creatine for two to three months, take a one- to two-week break and resume the protocol.

3. Glutamine
As a muscle recovery supplement, glutamine supports the function of the immune system and its role in the prevention of muscle degeneration by increasing the level of growth hormones and regulating the action of glucocorticoids and myostatin. The secretion of glucocorticoids in the body increases during intense workouts, producing a consequent rise in the production of myostatin. Myostatin is a muscle regulating chemical that causes muscle atrophy or loss when present in high levels. Taking glutamine supplements promotes an increase in growth hormones, enhances muscle recovery and prevents glucocorticoid-induced muscle atrophy and loss of muscle weight.

Athletes and active individuals have lowered immune systems due to nutrient depletion, which can lead to infection and illness. In a study conducted by Castel et al of runners and rowers, the group  given glutamine supplementation had a significant decrease in cases of infection and illness after endurance exercise compared to those who went without supplementation with glutamine.

Five to 20 grams of glutamine can be taken daily in divided doses. A typical protocol consists of five grams in the morning, five grams before working out and another five grams post after exercise.

4. HMB
Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) comes from leucine, one of the BCAAs. HMB is best known for its role in increased protein synthesis and its fat burning properties. HMB has been proven to prevent muscle damage and decrease the severity of muscle soreness, especially in cases of overtraining. As a muscle recovery supplement, HMB promotes an environment conducive to muscle building specifically for individuals who engage regularly in sports and intensive exercise.

HMB works best in a dose of three to five grams daily, combined with exercise. Its potency is heightened when taken with creatine and glutamine. HMB should be taken with food, before a workout or at bedtime.

5. Antioxidants
Unarguably, antioxidants occupy an esteemed place in the health world. As a muscle recovery supplement, antioxidants are believed to control the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the skeletal muscle during workouts. ROS has been linked to muscle damage and muscle impairment. The role of antioxidants in preventing or decreasing oxidative stress is one way to prevent muscle damage.

Antioxidants remain beneficial for overall health, not only for muscle recovery. Specifically, the vitamins A, C, E and selenium are recommended for muscle recovery supplementation. Always follow recommended dosing instruction, since an excessive dose does not equate to better benefits.

Muscle recovery is an important part of the entire physical fitness program. If you miss out on sleep and a nutritious diet, or if you tend to overdo your exercises, consider taking muscle recovery supplements.

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