Post-Exercise Pain and Recovery: What Supplements Really Work?

Acknowledgment and Disclaimer:

This article cites research compiled by other sources. These include Natural Medicines Database, the Fullscript organization, and others. Individuals are advised to consult a healthcare professional about diet and nutritional supplement intake.

Muscle Building Can Involve Post-Exercise Pain and Inflammation

Many dietary supplements are marketed to athletes to reduce pain and inflammation after exercise and to improve recovery. Much of the local inflammation and muscle soreness occurs within 24 to 48 hours after exercise. This article discusses the supplements that have been found in research to be helpful for athletes encountering post-exercise pain.

These include:

  • Collagen improves the strength and elasticity of connective tissues. (Dressler 2018)
  • Curcumin reduces inflammatory markers and might shorten recovery time from exercise. (Fang 2020)(Suhett 2021)
  • Magnesium is shown reduce inflammation and cortisol levels.
  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs have been found to help to reduce blood chemical markers of exercise-related damage. (Khemtong 2021)

Collagen

Usual Dosage-5 to 15 g per day for 3 months.

  • Collagen makes ligaments and tendons stronger and more elastic. That is important for holding your muscles and joints in place. Ankles are almost 70% collagen. (Dressler 2018)
  • Researchers found that taking collagen at 5 to 10 grams per day over 12-24 weeks improved knee issues in young athletes. (Clark 2008)(Zdzieblik 2017)
  • Dressler found that 5 to 15 grams per day of collagen improved ankle instability in athletes over 3 to 6 months and improved the number of ankle sprains over a 6 month follow-up. (Dressler 2018)

Curcumin

Usual Dosage- 180 mg Theracurmin® for 7 days (Suhett 2021)

  • There have been 2 review studies that have shown curcumin to reduce inflammatory markers, decrease pain, and improve muscle recovery in athletes. (Fang 2020)(Suhett 2021)
  • Curcumin dosage contained in supplements varies widely depending on the specific product extracts and formulation. (Suhett 2021
  • Although curcumin is “generally recognized as safe” by the US FDA, there are reports of mild problems including gastrointestinal disturbances, fever, pitting edema, and throat infection in a study of people taking curcumin supplements. (Sahebkar 2016)

Magnesium

Usual Dosage- 300 to 500 mg per day for 7 weeks (Heffernan 2019)

  • There are over 300 enzymes in cellular metabolism that depend on magnesium. Cells can’t reproduce, build protein molecules or produce energy without it. So it makes perfect sense that it should improve performance in athletes.
  • Athletes are probably at greater risk of magnesium deficiency than the general population since many don’t meet the estimated average requirement and higher intensity exercise may cause an increased magnesium requirement. (Molina-López, 2012
  • Not all studies show a benefit from magnesium supplementation, but a 2019 systematic review found that magnesium supplementation improved measures of strength, inflammation, DNA damage, and cortisol when provided in doses of 300 to 500 mg per day. (Heffernan 2019)
  • Although it is not often a problem, it is important to know that doses at or above 360 mg per day can contribute to diarrhea. (IOM 1997)

Omega-3 fatty acids

Usual Dosage- (EPA/DHA), 3 g of EPA+DHA in 2:1 ratio for 8 weeks (Ochi 2018)

  • EPA and DHA each have unique anti-inflammatory effects. (Calder 2017). Research is mixed on whether they decrease post-exercise muscle soreness and improve range of motion. A 2020 review found that trials showing improved recovery tended to have a dose of over 2 g EPA+DHA with a duration over eight weeks, and study populations of untrained participants rather than elite athletes. (Thielecke 2020
  • A 2020 review of studies in athletes showed that most randomized trials of fish oil showed reduced inflammation and, muscle soreness. (Thielecke 2020
  • Adverse effects are mostly involving nausea and fish oil taste, but it’s important to consider that high omega-3 consumption may prolong bleeding time (Meydani 1991). On the other hand, the FDA has recognized that intakes of up to 3 g per day of omega-3 fatty acids is generally recognized as safe even with these effects on bleeding risks. (US FDA 2004)

BCAAs

Usual Dosage ~440 mg/pound/day (i.e., 14 g for a 160 pound athlete) for 3-10 days (Fouré 2017)

  • There is some contraversy about whether BCAAs help athletes build new muscle, (Fouré 2017) (Wolfe 2017)(Churchward-Venne 2014), but they have been shown to cut down on muscle soreness and markers of oxidative damage.
  • A 2017 systematic review of athletes take 440 mg per pound of body weight for 10 days beginning before exercise, there would be reduced markers of skeletal damage. (Fouré 2017)
  • A recent meta-analysis, (Fedewa 2019), showed a fair reduction of post-exercise muscle soreness with supplementation of BCAAs.
  • No adverse effects of have been noted when BCAAs are supplemented at these levels.

Supplement Products

Fullscript products:

Collagen: Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. Take 1-2 scoop, once / day for 3 months

Curcumin: Take 2 capsules, once / day for 1 week

Curcuminoids 475mg
  • Magnesium: Magnesium (Glycinate) Pure Encapsulations. Take 2-4 capsules, once / day for 2 months in divided doses, with meals.
  • Omega 3: ProOmega® 2000 Nordic Naturals. Take 1-2 gel, once / day for 2 months.
  • Branched Chain Amino Acids: Pure Encapsulations. Take 1 scoop, once / day for 10 days mixed with of water or juice.

Amazon Products:

About the Author

Stephanie Figon, MS, RDN, LD

Founder of NutriScape.NET. As a dietitian since 1992, Steph Figon has had experiences in consulting, 15 years in clinical, and has operated a private practice nutrition counseling office for since 2011. The RDNutriScape Instagram