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Sports and Fitness Support: Enhancing Recovery

There are many methods used to help boost athletic performance. People who exercise intensely also need to give their bodies time to recover. Not doing so can cause problems with an athlete's training plan.

There are natural therapies that may help. Most of the studies were done with small groups of high-intensity athletes who are fit and healthy.

Natural Therapies

May Be Effective

These therapies may be effective:

  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are found in protein-rich foods and can be taken as a supplement. They may ease muscle pain and improve healing.A1-A8
  • Cherry juice may help with muscle repair, strength, and function B1-B4
  • Cocoa flavanol may improve vascular function, reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress, and alter fat and carbohydrate use during exercise.K1
  • Ginger is a flowering plant that may speed recovery after resistance exercise and ease inflammation after aerobic exercise.O1
  • Massage may help with short-term recovery after intensive training.N1
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are founds in foods, such as fish and flaxseed. They can also be taken as a supplement. They may help with muscle repair.C1-C4
  • Probiotics are healthy microorganisms that may promote muscle repair and recovery.D1-D5
  • Protein supplements may increase muscle mass and strength gains during prolonged resistance exercise.P1-P3
  • Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, which is the liquid created from making cheese. It may promote muscle repair and rebuilding.E1-E4

Unlikely to Be Effective

These therapies are unlikely to provide benefit:

Not Enough Data to Assess

  • β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate Free Acid L1
  • Acupuncture R1
  • Cow's milk I1
  • Creatine M1, M2
  • Pomegranate J1

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some can interfere with treatment or make conditions worse, such as:

  • Vitamin C— Excessive vitamin C may be associated with kidney stone formation. Do not take vitamin C with iron supplements or blood thinners. Use caution when taking vitamin C and acetaminophen.
  • Vitamin E— Excessive vitamin E may cause problems for people who take blood thinners, are diabetic, or are taking chemotherapy for cancer treatment.


Branched-chain Amino Acids

A1. Koba T, Hamada K, et al. Branched-chain amino acids supplementation attenuates the accumulation of blood lactate dehydrogenase during distance running. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2007;47(3):316-322.

A2. Howatson G, Hoad M, et al. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9:20.

A3. Kim DH, Kim SH, et al. Effect of BCAA intake during endurance exercises on fatigue substances, muscle damage substances, and energy metabolism substances. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2013;17(4):169-180.

A4. Kephart WC, Mumford PW, et al. Post-exercise branched chain amino acid supplementation does not affect recovery markers following three consecutive high intensity resistance training bouts compared to carbohydrate supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016;13:30.

A5. Gee TI, Deniel S. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation attenuates a decrease in power-producing ability following acute strength training. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2016;56(12):1511-1517.

A6. Waldron M, Whelan K1, et al. The effects of acute branched-chain amino acid supplementation on recovery from a single bout of hypertrophy exercise in resistance-trained athletes. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017;42(6):630-636.

A7. Jackman SR, Witard OC, et al. Branched-chain amino acid ingestion stimulates muscle myofibrillar protein synthesis following resistance exercise in humans. Front Physiol. 2017;8:390.

A8. VanDusseldorp TA, Escobar KA, et al. Effect of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on recovery following acute eccentric exercise. Nutrients. 2018;10(10).

Cherry Juice

B1. Howatson G, McHugh MP, et al. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(6):843-852.

B2. Bowtell JL, Sumners DP, et al. Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(8):1544-1551.

B3. Levers K, Dalton R, et al. Effects of powdered Montmorency tart cherry supplementation on acute endurance exercise performance in aerobically trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016;13:22.

B4. McCormick R, Peeling P, et al. Effect of tart cherry juice on recovery and next day performance in well-trained Water Polo players. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016;13:41.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

C1. Heaton LE, Davis JK, Rawson ES, et al. Selected in-season nutritional strategies to enhance recover for team sports athletes: a practical overview. Sports Med. 2017;47(11):2201-2218.

C2. Philpott JD, Donnelly C, et al. Adding fish oil to whey protein, leucine, and carbohydrate over a six-week supplementational period attenuates muscle soreness following eccentric exercise in competitive soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018;28(1):26-36.

C3. Black KE, Witard OC, et al. Adding omega-3 fatty acids to a protein-based supplement during pre-season training results in reduced muscle soreness and the better maintenance of explosive power in professional Rugby Union players. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018;18(10):1357-1367.

C4. Jakeman JR, Lambrick DM, et al. Effect of an acute dose of omega-3 fish oil following exercise-induced muscle damage. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017;117(3):575-582.


D1. Cox AJ, Pyne DB, et al. Oral administration of the probiotic Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-003 and mucosal immunity in endurance athletes. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(4):222-226.

D2. Jäger R, Shields KA, et al. Probiotic Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 reduces exercise-induced muscle damage and increases recovery. PeerJ. 2016;4:e2276.

D3. Jäger R, Purpura M, et al. Probiotic Streptococcus thermophilus FP4 and Bifidobacterium breve BR03 supplementation attenuates performance and range-of-motion decrements following muscle damaging exercise. Nutrients. 2016;8(10).

D4. Rawson ES, Miles MP, et al. Dietary supplements for health, adaptation, and recovery in athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018;28(2):188-199.

D5. Nichols AW. Probiotics and athletic performance: a systematic review. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2007 Jul;6(4):269-273.

Whey Protein

E1. Hansen M, Bangsbo J, Jensen J, Bibby BM, Madsen K. Effect of whey protein hydrolysate on performance and recovery of top-class orienteering runners. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015;25(2):97-109.

E2. Rindom E, Nielsen MH, Kececi K, Jensen ME, Vissing K, Farup J. Effect of protein quality on recovery after intense resistance training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016;116(11-12):2225-2236.

E3. West DWD, Abou Sawan S, Mazzulla M, Williamson E, Moore DR. Whey protein supplementation enhances whole body protein metabolism and performance recovery after resistance exercise: a double-blind crossover study. Nutrients. 2017;9(7).

E4. Davies RW, Carson BP, et al. The Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on the Temporal Recovery of Muscle Function Following Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 16;10(2). pii: E221.


F1. Teixeira VH1, Valente HF, et al. Antioxidants do not prevent postexercise peroxidation and may delay muscle recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(9):1752-1760.

F2. Ranchordas MK, Rogerson D, et al. Antioxidants for preventing and reducing muscle soreness after exercise: a Cochrane systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Jul 27.


G1. Buford TW, Cooke MB, et al. Protease supplementation improves muscle function after eccentric exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(10):1908-1914.

G2. Shing CM, Chong S, et al. Acute protease supplementation effects on muscle damage and recovery across consecutive days of cycle racing. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(2):206-212.


H1. Moreira A, Kekkonen RA, et al. Nutritional modulation of exercise-induced immunodepression in athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007;61(4):443-460.

H2. Ramezani Ahmadi A, Rayyani E, et al. The effect of glutamine supplementation on athletic performance, body composition, and immune function: A systematic review and a meta-analysis of clinical trials.Clin Nutr. 2018 May 9.

Cow's Milk

I1. Alcantara JMA, Sanchez-Delgado G, et al. Impact of cow's milk intake on exercise performance and recovery of muscle function: a systematic review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2019 May 6;16(1):22.


J1. Ammar A, Bailey SJ, et al. Effects of pomegranate supplementation on exercise performance and post-exercise recovery in healthy adults: a systematic review. Br J Nutr. 2018 Dec;120(11):1201-1216.

Cocoa Flavanol

K1. Decroix L, Soares DD, et al. Cocoa Flavanol Supplementation and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2018 Apr;48(4):867-892.

β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate Free Acid

L1. Silva VR, Belozo FL, et al. β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate free acid supplementation may improve recovery and muscle adaptations after resistance training: a systematic review. Nutr Res. 2017 Sep;45:1-9.


M1. Kreider RB, Kalman DS, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 13;14:18.

M2. Mujika I, Padilla S. Creatine supplementation as an ergogenic aid for sports performance in highly trained athletes: a critical review. Int J Sports Med. 1997 Oct;18(7):491-496.


N1. Poppendieck W, Wegmann M, et al. Massage and Performance Recovery: A Meta-Analytical Review. Sports Med. 2016 Feb;46(2):183-204.


O1. Wilson PB. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) as an Analgesic and Ergogenic Aid in Sport: A Systemic Review. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Oct;29(10):2980-2995.

Protein Supplements

P1. Pasiakos SM, Lieberman HR, et al. Effects of protein supplements on muscle damage, soreness and recovery of muscle function and physical performance: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2014 May;44(5):655-670.

P2. McLellan TM, Pasiakos SM, et al. Effects of protein in combination with carbohydrate supplements on acute or repeat endurance exercise performance: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2014 Apr;44(4):535-550.

P3. Cermak NM, Res PT, et al. Protein supplementation augments the adaptive response of skeletal muscle to resistance-type exercise training: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Dec;96(6):1454-1464.


Q1. Borsa PA, Larkin KA, et al. Does phototherapy enhance skeletal muscle contractile function and postexercise recovery? A systematic review. J Athl Train. 2013 Jan-Feb;48(1):57-67.


R1. Urroz P, Colagiuri B, et al. Effect of acute acupuncture treatment on exercise performance and postexercise recovery: a systematic review. J Altern Complement Med. 2013 Jan;19(1):9-16.

Last reviewed December 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC