Ingredient players in ‘post-workout’ supplements

Research has shown benefits that whey protein isolate, creatine, amino acids, tart cherry extract and collagen have on helping athletes recover from workouts.

5 Min Read
Ingredient players in ‘post-workout’ supplements

Whether thought of as “post-workout” or “sports recovery,” demand for supplement ingredients and formulations designed to support the body after periods of physical exertion are on the rise.

2016 marked the first year that more than half of Americans reported receiving the recommended amount of daily physical activity in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health Interview Survey’s 19-year history. At the same time, the last few years have also marked a period of significant growth among American supplement takers, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements.

Driven, at least in part, by a large cultural shift toward mental and physical wellness built upon good nutrition, both of these trends—the increase in physical activity and the demand for high-quality supplements—have resulted in a kind of sports nutrition renaissance.

Thanks to other innovations (namely the widespread availability of the internet and smart devices), more consumers have access to the driver of marketplace innovation: knowledge.

Consumer demand has been able to drive new ingredients and formulations, while solidifying the popularity of some of the most fundamental staples in sports nutrition and recovery.

Sports recovery formulation staples

Considered a true classic in the world of sports nutrition, whey protein isolate has been recognized for decades thanks to its status as an amino acid-rich complete protein. Research has suggested a shake containing 20 to 30 g of whey protein isolate can provide sustained amino acid levels for two to three hours.1

Along with normal amino acids, whey protein isolate contains high levels of BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids), which have been recognized for their potential to support the body during a post-work out recovery period.2

According to a report published by the U.S. Dairy Export Council in 2017, three key consumer demographics responsible for driving demand for whey protein isolate are middle class fitness enthusiasts, health conscious seniors and parents caring for their infants and toddlers.

Creatine has been recognized for the role it plays in the body’s ability to create and utilize adenosine triphosphate (ATP), especially during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. Scientific research has suggested creatine supports anabolic signaling, which serves as a key component of post-workout recovery.3,4

In one 2009 study, researchers examined the effects of regular creatine supplementation on untrained male volunteers over the course of a 20-day trial.5 Though the researchers focused exclusively on muscles located around the knees, their conclusion was that supplementation with creatine supported the rate of muscle recovery and sustained function of the muscle following damage obtained during a resistance exercise session.

Like whey protein and creatine, amino acids have a longstanding history as a staple of the sports nutrition universe. When it comes to recovery and post-workout applications, amino acids are most often recognized for the roles they play in the body’s ability to grow, heal and maintain muscle mass.

Thanks in part to their potential to support recovery and potentially reduce overall recovery time, demand for BCAAs over the last 10 years has seen significant growth. According to Google Trends data collected in 2016, interest in the term “branched-chain amino acids” grew at an average rate of 22% a year during the period spanning from August 2011 to August 2016.

Anecdotally, consumers have been touting the benefits of tart or sour cherry juices and extracts for decades. From a scientific standpoint, modern research has been able to confirm that the fruit’s naturally occurring antioxidants and flavanols may be able to support oxidative stress and inflammation responses during periods of athletic and physical recovery.6

A 2010 study published by The International Society for Sports Nutrition reviewed the effects of a concentrated tart cherry extract on 54 healthy volunteer runners.7 During the trial, participants ran an average of 26.3 km over the course of a 24-hour period. Researchers concluded that, when compared to the placebo group, participants who had supplemented with the tart cherry concentrate reported feeling less discomfort during the post-trial recovery period.

Despite gaining a lot of attention in recent months as a rising star of the “beauty from within” movement thanks to its role in skin, hair and nail health—collagen has also been recognized for its potential as a component of sports nutrition and recovery formulations.

Research has suggested collagen may be particularly well suited for sports recovery applications thanks to its ability to support the repair of connective tissues, as well as overall bone, joint and ligament health.8,9

Ingredients like these continue to demonstrate the ability to meet the needs of consumers looking to incorporate sports nutrition supplements into their health and wellness routines. When paired with other formulation specifications like “clean,” vegan or paleo, supplement companies and brands have the resources they need to continue providing their customers with innovative and well formulated nutraceuticals.

Melissa DellaBartolomea is a content marketing specialist for NutraScience Labs. Based in Farmingdale, New York, NutraScience Labs is dedicated providing companies and brand owners with excellent customer service and a full suite of dietary supplement manufacturing capabilities.


  1. Bilsborough S, Mann N. “A review of issues of dietary protein intake in humans.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Apr;16(2):129-52.

  2. Nilsson M, Holst JJ, Björck IM. “Metabolic effects of amino acid mixtures and whey protein in healthy subjects: studies using glucose-equivalent drinks.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):996-1004.

  3. Nilsson M, Holst JJ, Björck IM. “Metabolic effects of amino acid mixtures and whey protein in healthy subjects: studies using glucose-equivalent drinks.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):996-1004.

  4. Burke DG et al. “Effect of creatine supplementation and resistance-exercise training on muscle insulin-like growth factor in young adults.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Aug;18(4):389-98.

  5. Cooke M et al. “Creatine supplementation enhances muscle force recovery after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 Jun 2;6:13. DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-6-13.

  6. Bell P et al. “Montmorency cherries reduce the oxidative stress and inflammatory responses to repeated days high-intensity stochastic cycling.” Nutrients. 2014 Feb 21;6(2):829-43. DOI: 10.3390/nu6020829.

  7. Kuehl K et al. “Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial.” J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 7;7:17. DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-17.

  8. Schepetkin I et al. “Anti-Inflammatory Effects and Joint Protection in Collagen-Induced Arthritis after Treatment with IQ-1S, a Selective c-Jun N-Terminal Kinase Inhibitor.” J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2015 Jun;353(3):505-16. DOI: 10.1124/jpet.114.220251.

  9. Clark K et al. “24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain.” Curr Med Res Opin. 2008 May;24(5):1485-96. DOI: 10.1185/030079908X291967.

About the Author(s)

Melissa DellaBartolomea

Melissa DellaBartolomea is a content marketing specialist for NutraScienceLabs. Based in Farmingdale, New York, NutraScience Labs is dedicated providing companies and brand owners with excellent customer service and a full suite of dietary supplement manufacturing capabilities.


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