By Dr. Josh Axe
The world of workout supplements — including pre- and post-workout capsules, powders and liquid extracts — can quickly get confusing, considering the best workout supplement for you depends on your specific goals, body size and exercise routine.
What are workout supplements good for? Whether your goal is to burn fat, put on lean muscle mass or improve exercise recovery and joint comfort between workouts, there’s a supplement that can likely help.
Some of the most popular options include protein powders, such as collagen protein and bone broth proteins, as well as specific amino acids and fatty acids that support protein synthesis and a healthy response to inflammation.
Below are our top picks for the best workout supplements that can give you a boost in energy, support performance and assist in recovery.
1. Bone Broth Protein
Bone Broth Protein (BBP) is a type of superfood protein powder made from dried bone broth. It’s chock full of amino acids, the “building blocks of protein,” including collagen protein, as well as essential minerals and the compounds glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid. These work together to provide support for your joints and muscles, as well as your gut and skin.
Protein powder including BBP can be taken pre-workout, during the day or post workout. You might choose to consume BBP before exercising to help lift your energy by providing your body with fuel, or have a serving as a post-workout supplement since it contains protein that “feeds” your connective tissues and muscles.
While one serving, such as a scooped mixed into almond milk or a smoothie, is a good option following exercise, you can up your intake to 2–3 servings daily if your goal is to build lean muscle. Of course, you should always read the label for suggested use and consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning and dietary or lifestyle regimen. Try BBP flavors such as pure, vanilla, chocolate or turmeric (also try our seasonal pumpkin spice!) in shakes, muffins, pancakes or savory recipes like soup.
Recommendations for protein vary, but a general rule of thumb is to consume one gram of protein for every pound of lean bodyweight you’re working towards maintaining.
2. Multi Collagen Protein
What are the best supplements for recovery? Those that provide protein and collagen — such as Multi Collagen Protein (MCP) that features five types of collagen — since your muscles need protein following exercise to repair themselves and grow strong, while collagen is beneficial for supporting healthy connective tissue.
While there are hundreds of different protein powders available, you can’t go wrong when you choose one that is low in calories and made without added sugar, high in protein and made with only a few high-quality ingredients. MCP fits the bill considering it provides collagen protein from four real food sources: chicken, beef, fish and eggshell membrane collagen.
MCP is high in amino acids including proline, glycine and arginine that provide support for connective tissues including your joints and ligaments, while also supporting a healthy gut.
Ancient Nutrition’s MCP is uniquely powered by a clinically studied fermented collagen, which can help reduce knee stiffness in as little as one week, offer relief from exercise-induced joint discomfort as early as day one, support healthy cartilage and much more.
3. Plant Protein+
For those who follow a plant-based diet, Ancient Nutrition’s Plant Protein+ protein powders are great options for obtaining amino acids needed for muscle recovery and performance.
It’s made with organic seeds and botanicals (such as pumpkin, hemp and chia seeds), energizing adaptogens including ashwagandha, and medium chain triglyceride fats (MCTs) — which together promote a healthy body composition and fat metabolism, and increase muscle recovery.
Flavors include vanilla, chocolate and berry. Add a daily serving of Plant Protein+ to your pre- or post-workout smoothie, favorite beverage or baked goods. It’s also great in warm nut milk for a protein-packed hot cocoa beverage.
4. Ancient Elixirs Superfood Matcha
This energizing superfood powder features some of the world’s healthiest superfoods in one highly convenient instant drink mix. It makes a great pre-workout supplement considering it contains 135 milligrams of caffeine per serving (roughly the same amount as one cup of traditional coffee) from matcha and organic coffee cherry.
Not only does Ancient Elixirs Superfood Matcha contain matcha powder brimming with antioxidants, but it also provides you with coconut MCTs and adaptogenic superfoods like ashwagandha, reishi and chaga for healthy energy support. It can generally help to reduce fatigue, support mental clarity, a positive mindset and concentration, and support a healthy response to stress.
With its light green tea flavor that is naturally sweetened with stevia, this supplement powder can be stirred right into cold or hot water or nut milk, added to smoothies or even baked with.
5. Ancient Omegas
Ancient Omegas are capsules that provide the essential type of fatty acid known as omega-3s, which can help promote a healthy response to inflammation.
Some find that a higher intake of omega-3s, including from natural sources such as fatty fish like salmon as well as capsules, can generally help support healthy joints and muscles and contribute to muscle comfort after workouts. Omega-3s also offer other body-wide benefits, too, such as support for healthy heart and cognitive function, as well as promoting healthy aging by supporting smooth, healthy skin and healthy joints.
Adults can take three softgels daily with 8 ounces of water or juice. A daily serving of 3 softgels provides 1,100 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids.
Cordyceps are a species of “functional mushrooms” that have been consumed for centuries in Traditional Chinese Herbalism due to their ability to support mental clarity, energy and endurance, and a healthy immune system.
In addition to supporting healthy stamina, these powdered mushroom capsules can help promote mental clarity and concentration, support a healthy response to stress, and promote a positive mindset and more restful sleep. All of these benefits may lead to greater stamina during and after workouts.
It’s recommended that adults take one tablet once daily with water or another beverage, either with or without food.
Soil-Based Organisms (SBOs) are a group of probiotics, also called “good guy” bacteria that live in the gut, that are often hardier than other types of probiotics and resistant to harsh environments in the stomach. This allows the probiotics to reach the right parts of the gut where they can deliver support for healthy elimination, reduction of occasional bloating, gas, diarrhea and a healthy inflammation response.
Ancient Nutrition's SBO Probiotic - Men’s formula features a fermented organic botanical blend that is specific to help support the overall health of men. Our SBO Probiotic- Women’s formula also contains select probiotics, fermented botanicals and mushrooms for energy support and a healthy immune system.
Adults can take two capsules daily with 8 ounces of water. We recommend taking the capsules on an empty stomach, either when you first wake up or right before bed.
8. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is needed by the body to synthesize collagen, which is the main structural protein that helps to form and support the health of connective tissues throughout your body. Together, collagen and vitamin C help to give tissues including your joints, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bones the strength and elasticity that allows your body to function.
Because it acts like an antioxidant in the body, vitamin C also offers other benefits as well, like supporting a healthy immune response and, in general, healthy aging including by promoting skin and neuron health.
Each serving of Ancient Nutrition’s Vitamin C + Probiotics features 2 billion CFUs* of Bacillus subtilis probiotics for extra gut support, plus 900 milligrams of vitamin C. It’s recommended that adults take 2 capsules daily with 8 ounces of water or another beverage.
Glutamine is an amino acid that the body makes on its own, plus it can be obtained from supplements and certain protein-rich foods, including eggs, beef, milk and Bone Broth Protein powder.
Your muscles use up glutamine while working hard, so replenishing your body’s supply can aid in the normal bodily repairing of muscles. Other health perks associated with glutamine include support for a healthy immune system and intestinal/gut health.
Glutamine can be found in some protein powders and also taken in capsule form. Dosages range considerably depending on your body size and goals, anywhere from 5 to 40 grams per day. Most often you’ll need to take 1–2 servings daily, either in powder or capsule form.
Glucosamine or glucosamine sulfate is a molecule found in the body that helps support the normal repair of tissues. It’s thought to support healthy joints and may help to promote joint comfort and mobility due to its role in helping to lubricate joints and support healthy cartilage.
Most often glucosamine is taken in capsule form in doses of 500 milligrams, 2–3 times per day. It can be taken with or without meals and sometimes combined with other joint-supporting compounds such as chondroitin.
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that is naturally found in the human body, plus it can be taken in supplement form (powder, liquid, or solids) to help support higher energy levels and physical performance,
When used for helping to enhance performance, it’s intended to help increase production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the form of energy that the body uses to power your muscles and organs. However, one disadvantage of creatine is that it has been linked to digestive issues and more if used in high amounts.
Most often, creatine is taken in powder form before and after workouts, such as with water or added to a smoothie. Dosage recommendations vary depending on your body size and goals, so always read directions and check with your healthcare professional prior to use.
Among the best workout supplements for men are those that provide branch chained amino acids (or BCAAs). BCAA supplements typically include three amino acids called leucine, isoleucine and valine, together which help support overall muscle protein synthesis, muscle repair, strength gains and exercise recovery.
Some find that supplementing with BCAAs before a workout can help them work harder, and others find it reduces the time of exercise-induced discomfort between workouts.
Experts believe that BCAAs work best when taken throughout the day, such as in smoothies/shakes, especially following a tough workout when muscles are “hungriest” for nutrients.
To use BCAAs, try adding a BCAA protein powder to coffee, shakes or smoothies about 30 to 60 minutes before or after workouts (some bodybuilders also use this supplement while working out for extra support). A general recommendation is to consume a starting dose of about 90 milligrams per pound of body weight per day.
L-carnitine is an amino acid that is naturally found in the body, particularly inside muscles and the brain. Normally we obtain some L-carnitine from foods like red meat, avocado and soybeans; however, it’s also taken by some in capsule, powder or liquid forms to increase their intake.
Because L-carnitine plays a role in energy metabolism, it’s often promoted as a supplement that may help promote fat burning and muscle gains. Overall, there’s mixed findings about how well it works, so results seem to vary. However, it may potentially help with things like energy support, having healthy endurance/stamina and building overall strength.
A typical recommended dosage of L-carnitine is between 1 and 3 grams per day, taken in divided doses. It’s best absorbed when taken separately from meals, especially if used pre- or post-workout to support performance and recovery.
*at time of manufacture
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and Ancient Remedies.