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The Best Post-Workout Supplement You're Not Taking

You felt great after your workout—like you could pick up a bus or take over the world with one arm tied behind your back—that is, until you woke up the next day.

Anyone who's hit the gym hard knows that after a tough sweat session, something as simple as going down a flight of stairs can be painful. And working out again? Forget about it! That's not happening for days. For this reason, muscle soreness can be a game changer—especially if you're aiming for muscle growth or rapid weight loss—and not in a good way. It's bound to slow your progress. However, research suggests that supplementing with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAS) can help. The supplement has been shown to promote muscle repair, reduce fatigue and diminish post-working soreness, getting you back into the game sooner, rather than later. Studies also suggest that aminos can promote muscle growth, which can boost metabolism and aid weight loss efforts.

But what exactly are branched chain amino acids? BCAAs, which are sold in powdered form at health food and supplement stores, comprise three of the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot create on its own: valine, leucine and isoleucine. These three aminos are metabolized a bit differently than the others, which helps them repair muscle more effectively, says registered dietitian and fitness expert Isabel Smith.

Although they may sound like a savior, Smith says BCAAs aren't for everyone. "Valine, leucine and isoleucine are all found in complete protein sources like chicken and quinoa, so if you're hitting the gym a few times a week, eating a balanced diet and consuming protein post-pump, you're likely getting enough of these amino acids already," she says.

(Not sure what to eat after your workout? Check out these 16 Post-Workout Snacks.)

With that said, serious gym rats can benefit from supplementation. According to University of West Florida research, downing a sports drink with BCAAs before hitting the weights can enhance exercise performance and make your workout feel easier, helping you go harder and see results sooner. (If warding off muscle soreness and growing your biceps are also goals, Smith suggests sipping BCAAs both before and after your workout.) How does the supplement work? Exercise boosts fatigue-inducing serotonin levels, and BCAAs counteract that, which wards off that I-can't-do-anymore feeling that creeps in during your third set.

Eat This! Tip

Want to give BCAAs a try? We suggest picking up a container of BSN Amino X. Our editors are big fans of the Fruit Punch flavor, but if you're sensitive to artificial sweeteners, beware: BSM uses acesulfame potassium, a zero-calorie sweetener in their product.

For more weight loss and muscle building tips, check out these 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh