Post-Workout Muscle Recovery Drinks

What you consume right after your workout directly affects your results and recovery. When eaten within an hour of your workout, a combination of protein and carbohydrates helps your body start the repair and refueling process. Although whole foods can be beneficial, you don't always have a serving of chicken and brown rice in your gym bag. A muscle recovery drink is much more convenient when it comes to post-workout nutrition.

Long workouts require more than just water afterward. (Image: matthewennisphotography/iStock/Getty Images)

Recovery After Exercise

Carbohydrates consumed after exercise help to refill the glycogen, or energy, stores in your muscles. This is especially true if you've just done a long cardio endurance bout, such as a 10-mile run, or have spent several hours cycling; however, resistance training can also deplete energy stores. A serving of protein also assists recovery by providing amino acids to facilitate healing of micro muscle fiber tears that occur during exercise. When these fibers regenerate, they become stronger and denser, translating into greater physical strength and muscularity. Consuming protein post-workout prevents your body from going into a negative protein balance, where protein breakdown exceeds the amount of protein regenerated for muscle growth.

Why Drinks?

Muscle recovery drinks provide an immediate, easily-digested dose of protein and carbohydrates to worked muscles. Pre-packaged drinks or protein powders that you blend with water don't need refrigeration, making them more portable than many whole foods. If you tend to feel squeamish after a tough workout, you may prefer sipping a recovery drink rather than eating solid food. When you consume carbohydrates and protein in liquid form, your body easily processes the nutrients, meaning your cells receive the nutrition expediently.

When to Have One

You don't need a muscle recovery drink after every workout. Light exercise sessions, such as brisk walking or gardening, don't require extra post-workout nutrition. If you've just run a 60-minute session of all-out intervals, sustained a two-hour bike ride or lifted heavy weights for 45 minutes or more, you're probably due a recovery drink. Try to consume this drink as soon as possible after your workout, especially if you haven't eaten for several hours. Follow up your muscle recovery drink an hour or two later with a full, balanced meal that contains lean protein, whole grains and vegetables.

What to Look For

A muscle recovery drink that contains between 15 and 20 grams of protein and approximately 30 grams of carbohydrates is sufficient post-workout. Go with a pre-mixed version or make your own by blending fruit and protein powder with milk, water or juice. The International Society for Sports Nutrition says whey protein is your best choice for a post-workout protein supplement because it provides a complete array of necessary amino acids and digests quickly, but soy, casein or egg protein are possible alternatives.

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