Good workout supplements can’t fix poor nutrition, but they can enhance your workouts if you already have a solid diet in place. Many of the best workout supplements are concentrated forms of nutrients that naturally exist in your diet.
For example, curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, but taking curcumin as a supplement is easier than portioning out turmeric root. Instead of taking five teaspoons of turmeric powder per day, you can take one capsule of curcumin.
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If you head to the supplement section of your local Walmart or GNC, it can be a little overwhelming when you see how many supplements there are to choose from. How do you know which ones are worth taking?
We’ve compiled a list of 25 of the best workout supplements to help make your shopping easier. You don’t need to take all of them, but you can choose supplements that match your fitness goals.
Pre-Workout Supplements to Supercharge Your Training
L-citrulline is an amino acid that can reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after your workouts. If you find yourself cripplingly sore after leg day, it might be worth adding L-citrulline to your supplement stack.
Study: A study of 18 men published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine1 found that participants experienced reduced fatigue and increased ATP levels after 6 grams of daily supplementation.
Another study2 discovered that participants had a 40 percent reduction in muscle soreness 24 hours after a personal training session.
There’s a reason why most pre-workout supplements contain caffeine. Research consistently shows that caffeine makes you more powerful. A study3 examining the effects of caffeine on elite rowers found it elicited a 2 percent increase in performance during a 2 kilometer row.
Pro tip: If you like to work out in the morning, you may benefit from taking caffeine before you hit the gym.
Research4 has found caffeine increases athletic performance during early morning workouts.
Isoleucine is the first of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These three amino acids are essential, meaning your body cannot produce them.
Bottom line: Your body is not able to produce branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
You’ll likely see people at the gym taking BCAAs in their protein shakes to aid with muscle protein synthesis. However, there’s not enough research5 to support that they can help you build muscle. What BCAA’s can do, according to research, is help your muscles recover quicker and boost your immune system.
The amino acid leucine is the second BCAA. Like isoleucine, your body is unable to produce leucine. According to an article in Sports Medicine6, leucine may be able to spare muscle glycogen during extended exercise.
Pro tip: If you’re trying to increase your performance in an endurance sport like running or cycling, you may benefit from leucine supplementation.
However, the article goes on to explain that there’s a limited amount of research on leucine in isolation. Most of the research examines all three BCAAs together.
Valine is the final of the three BCAAs. The benefits of valine are basically the same as the other two BCAAs. Research7 doesn’t support the use of valine in isolation, so if you want to make BCAAs part of your supplement stack, you will benefit from taking all three amino acids together.
Pro tip: Most experts recommend supplementing with all three branched-chain amino acids together.
Some foods that are naturally high in valine include dairy, eggs, and lamb.
Bioperine is a form of black pepper included in many supplements to increase the bioavailability of the other ingredients.
Pro tip: You may also hear black pepper extract referred to as piperine. Bioperine and piperine are the same, but Bioperine is the trademarked name.
In particular, research8 shows that Bioperine can increase the absorption of the next supplement on this list, curcumin.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric known for its yellow pigment. Often, vegetables and spices with bright colored skins contain large amounts of antioxidants. Curcumin is no exception. Antioxidants can help reduce metabolic damage in your body. For people who are active, it’s even more critical to get enough antioxidants in their diets.
Study: A study published in Alternative Medicine Review9 found that curcumin is particularly beneficial for osteoarthritis pain.
Curcumin is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that can reduce inflammation in your joints and reduce chronic pain.
According to Dr. Stephen Zeisel, choline was officially recognized as an essential nutrient in the year 1998. Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which your body needs for many functions including memory and muscle control.
Pro tip: Choline is neither a vitamin or a mineral. Instead, it is classified as an essential micronutrient.
Research on choline supplementation for improving exercise performance is limited at the moment. However, one study10 shows that choline may benefit athletes who need to lose weight quickly.
9. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine monohydrate is one of the best workout supplements to take. Over 60 studies11 support creatine monohydrate as a supplement that can increase power production and lead to strength gains.
Bottom line: Over 20 studies show that creatine can increase your lean muscle mass.
If you’re primarily trying to build muscle and are looking for the best bodybuilding supplements, creatine would be high on that list too. Over 20 studies show that creatine can increase your lean muscle mass.
L-arginine is an amino acid that produces nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, meaning that it signals your blood vessels to expand to increase blood flow.
Bottom line: Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, meaning that it signals your blood vessels to expand to increase blood flow.
Most research on L-arginine consumption shows that it has a minor effect on nitric oxide production in healthy adults. If you’re an athlete looking to get the edge on your competitors, it may be worth trying.
11. Aspartic Acid
Study: Research is mixed on the effectiveness of aspartic acid as a testosterone booster, but one study found it increased testosterone and sperm quality in healthy men.
Most people know that testosterone is important for men, but it’s also critical for women. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means it’s responsible for building muscle and bone tissue. Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthrosis than men. Increased testosterone levels can help ward off brittle bones.
L-carnitine is an amino acid responsible for maintaining the health and fat-burning ability of your mitochondria. It also inhibits the build-up of lactic acid after anaerobic exercise.
Study: Research published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism found that L-carnitine taken with L-tartrate may boost recovery from intense exercise.
There’s not enough research on young, healthy individuals to show that it can improve performance, but L-carnitine may increase the energy levels of elderly people.
Research published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism12 found that L-carnitine taken with L-tartrate may boost recovery from intense exercise.
13. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is critical for the normal function of your brain and nervous system. It’s also necessary for the formation of red blood cells.
Pro tip: We can only get vitamin B12 through meat, animal fat and fortified products.
According to Patrick Skerrett, the former executive editor at Harvard Health, vegans and strict vegetarians are at high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency if they don’t eat grains fortified with vitamin B12.
Post Workout Supplements to Crush Your Fitness Goals
Without a doubt, zinc is one of the best workout supplements you can take. Research consistently shows that it has benefits for improving immune function. Also, sports nutrition research supports zinc as a potential testosterone booster.
Study: One study published in Neuro Endocrinology Letters13 found that daily zinc supplementation can reduce the inhibition of testosterone and thyroid hormone in elite wrestlers.
15. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D is a common deficiency in people who work indoors or who live in climates that don’t get year-round sunshine. The two biggest ways vitamin D can help you is by strengthening your bones and immune system.
Study: Researchers at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania14 claim that 41.6 percent of American adults may be deficient in vitamin D3.
There’s nothing worse than getting sick and missing a week of workouts. Vitamin D can help with that. Although amounts up to 10,000IU per day appear safe, there’s no benefit to taking more than 4,000IU per day.
Ashwagandha is an herb also known as Indian ginseng that has been used for centuries in Indian medicine.
One reason you may want to take ashwagandha is for its ability to reduce stress. According to this study15, ashwagandha supplementation was extremely effective compared to other supplements for improving resistance to stress.
Pro tip: Modern research supports that it’s one for the best gym supplements for anybody looking to maximize their weight room gains.
17. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a vital antioxidant that we get in our diet through citrus fruit and bell peppers. Since vitamin C is water soluble, you can’t overdose on it.
Pro tip: Athletes may benefit from taking vitamin C because of they endure added stress from training16.
Vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy. Although scurvy is rare in most Western countries, your immune system can still benefit from vitamin C supplementation. Athletes in particular may benefit from taking vitamin C because of added stress from training.
If you feel a cold coming on, grab a bottle of vitamin C to keep it from getting worse.
Boron isn’t as well-known as other essential minerals like zinc or magnesium, but recent evidence suggests that it may be able to boost testosterone.
Study: One study17 found that 6 grams of boron a day was enough to significantly boost testosterone.
Although more research needs to be done before making any definitive statements about boron, it still may be worth supplanting. One study found that 6 grams of boron a day was enough to significantly boost testosterone.
Foods that are naturally high in boron include chickpeas, almonds and apples.
19. Korean ginseng
Korean ginseng, otherwise known as Panax ginseng, is most famous for its libido enhancing benefits. However, research shows that it can do a lot more than that.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling sluggish in the weight room, add some ginseng to your stack to keep your motivation high.
According to a recent study18, it may be able to fight against tiredness and fatigue.
20. Glutamic Acid
Glutamic acid, otherwise known as glutamine, is a non-essential amino acid. Whey and casein protein powder contains large amounts of this beneficial compound.
Pro tip: Some athletes supplement glutamic acid to address digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome.
According to this study19, glutamic acid is ineffective at increasing muscle mass for most people. However, it can aid in muscle gain for people with burns or muscular wounds.
21. Fish Collagen Protein
Collagen is the protein that makes up your skin and connective tissue. Fish collagen is an extremely bioavailable form of collagen. By consuming it regularly, it can help your own body synthesize this protein.
Bottom line: The peptides in fish collagen are known to have the best absorption and bioavailability because of their smaller particle sizes, compared to those of other animal-based collagens.
According to a study conducted in Singapore, fish collagen can speed up wound healing as well.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s critical for regulating the function of muscle cells and nerves. This study20 found that magnesium can reduce symptoms of asthma.
Pro tip: You can lose magnesium through your sweat or urine. If you are exercising in a warm climate, you may benefit from taking a magnesium supplement.
Research21 also shows correcting a magnesium deficiency also improves insulin sensitivity.
23. Cinnamon Bark Extract
Cinnamon doesn’t just smell good; it also has benefits for your insulin sensitivity.
Pro tip: There are two types of cinnamon: Ceylon is known as “true” cinnamon, while cassia is what people commonly refer to as cinnamon.
According to a 2013 meta-analysis22 of 10 studies on cinnamon, researchers found that it can lower fasting levels of blood glucose and cholesterol. Stabilizing your blood sugars can increase your energy throughout the day and lead you to feel more motivated to work out.
We all know the importance of proper sleep for recovering from exercise. Tryptophan is an amino acid that may help.
Study: One study23 found that tryptophan significantly increased sleep quality compared to a placebo.
It’s often blamed for causing drowsiness after Christmas dinner. Although, it’s actually the insulin spike caused from overeating that causes the sleepiness.
L-theanine naturally occurs occurs in green tea, and it’s known for its calming properties.
Pro tip: Many athletes supplement L-theanine to aid in exercise recovery.
Researchers in Australia found that dosages of L-theanine of at least 250mg are enough to improve sleep quality. Their study also asserts that it can increase feelings of relaxation without causing drowsiness.
No supplement can make up for poor sleep, workout planning and nutrition. However, these 25 great workout supplements can help you take your progress to the next level if you already have a solid workout routine in place.