5 Pills That Can Boost Your Workout Safely

5 Pills That Can Boost Your Workout Safely

You've got your pre- and postworkout routines down to a T. You eat early enough that you have plenty of time to digest before exercising. You whip up a protein shake after strength training. You hit the sack early the night before a morning session. Moves like these can optimize the benefits you get from exercise efforts, says Christopher Keroack, MD, medical director of the Pioneer Valley Weight and Wellness Centers in Springfield, MA. But you could be getting even more from your workouts by taking a few key supplements, he says. "Of course, nothing can substitute for the foundation of a healthy diet—but once that's in place, certain supplements can help give you a boost."

Here are five that'll do everything from cutting back on next-day muscle soreness to helping you feel more energized midworkout.

Vitamin C
You know you had a good workout when you wince getting out of bed the next day from sore muscles you never even knew you had. Vitamin C can help pave the way to a smoother recovery and quicker return to your routine, says Scott Michael Schreiber, a chiropractic physician in Newark, DE. "Vitamin C promotes collagen production, which repairs tissue all over the body," he says. It's also a powerful antioxidant, which helps cool inflammation—the byproduct of sore, overworked muscles—that causes aches and pains. According to one study, taking vitamin C before exercise could decrease the likelihood of upper respiratory issues developing during or after exercise; another study of adolescent boys found that supplementing with 70 mg of vitamin C improved oxygen intake during exercise.

Take: 90 mg a day for men and 75 mg a day for women, with an upper limit of 2,000 mg a day

Vitamin D
This wonder vitamin has received a lot of attention in the past few years for good reason, says Keroack: It affects every pathway in the human body and acts as a regulator of hormones. "Vitamin D promotes a healthy balance between testosterone and estrogen," he says, "which is crucial because estrogen is pro-inflammatory and can actually cause you to hold on to weight, whereas muscle-building testosterone helps you shed pounds." It also plays a role in bone health, says Marci Clow, RDN, a dietitian in Santa Cruz, CA, and research shows it has an effect on maintaining muscle fibers. "This could lead to improvements in muscular functioning," says Clow. "Vitamin D also seems to reduce falls and fractures in the elderly, and scientists believe the reason it helps is improved muscle strength."

Take: 1,000 IU a day. Talk to your health care practitioner about getting tested and increasing that dose if you're deficient (some practitioners recommend as much as 5,000 IU of vitamin D a day).

Creatine
Imagine the cells in your body getting an extra hit of energy as you slog through your 30 minutes on the treadmill or push to the end of your water aerobics class. That's what creatine does, says Keroack: "It pulls water into muscle cells so they're ready for action." While this is a popular supplement among those looking to build muscle, studies show it can also help the average exerciser as well—particularly postmenopausal women. One recent study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that postmenopausal women participating in a resistance-training program who took creatine gained significant muscle and bone strength. Keep in mind, however, that you'll want to make sure you're drinking plenty of water if you supplement with creatine. "Since water is being shuttled into your muscles to be used there, you need to replenish that by drinking a little more than usual," says Keroack.

Take: 500 mg to 1,500 mg a day, keeping in mind that the less you weigh, the less you need. (The general guideline is to take 10 mg per kg of your body weight, says Keroack.)

Omega-3s
Study after study suggests that essential fatty acids (aka omega-3s) can support heart, brain, and joint health. These "good" fats seem to be anti-inflammatory, says Clow, and for that reason they can help prevent muscle soreness after exercise. "Research has demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammatory markers and increase blood flow during exercise," she says. One study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that supplementing with omega-3s led to improved neuromuscular function and less muscle fatigue; another study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that omega-3s reduced men's levels of perceived pain and increased range of motion 2 days after a workout.

Take: 500 mg to 1,000 EPA/DHA mg a day

Carnitine and Taurine
You have every intention of hitting the gym after work, but by the end of the day, all you can think of is cooling your heels on the couch. Sound familiar? We've all been there. Try supplementing with carnitine and taurine for some easy energy, says Keroack. "While these aren't stimulatory like caffeine, they do turn on the mitochondria—your cells' energy center—which makes your cells work better," he says. "Essentially, these supplements can offer a supercharge because they make you feel more energized."

Take: 1,500 mg of carnitine and 600 mg of taurine. Keroack recommends taking these 20 to 30 minutes before you exercise to get the energy surge when you need it most.