The best post-workout drink depends on what type of exercise you perform and what your body needs to refuel. While sports drinks and smoothies are often promoted as post-workout necessities, much of their popularity is grounded in marketing hype. Think about your fitness goals and whether the liquid you're consuming will actually help you reach them.
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When you're working out hard and sweating a lot, you need to replace the fluids lost with water. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes and exercisers replace fluid at the same rate that it's lost. This means taking regular breaks during your routine to drink water, and making sure to replace fluids after your workout. Water is free, easily accessible and perfect for fluid replenishment. If you perform weightlifting routines that significantly increase your heart rate and have you pouring sweat, water replenishment is particularly important.
Milk can help you build muscle and burn fat more effectively than other post-workout drinks, studies by Canada's McMaster University found. In the studies, both men and women who drank two glasses of skim milk after a strength-training workout developed more muscle and burned more fat than individuals who drank soy-based drinks or sports drinks, the EurekAlert! website reports.
Generally speaking, sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade aren't the best drinks to consume after a weightlifting workout, but there are a few instances in which you might want to imbibe. If you're participating in an extra-long workout, lasting longer than an hour, while outside in the heat, sports drinks may be in order. Sports drinks provide electrolytes like sodium, potassium and chlorine that help you maintain proper fluid balance. If you're exercising for long periods of time, particularly in a hot environment that causes you to lose more fluids than usual, you may need to make sure that you're replacing electrolytes along with fluid. This will help prevent heat-related illness like heat stroke.
Choosing the best post-workout drink really hinges on the purposes of your workout and providing your body with what it needs most. For workouts shorter than an hour where you've lost a lot of sweat, water should be your go-to drink. If you don't lose an excessive amount of sweat during a workout and you're trying to build muscle, milk should be your drink of choice. And if you workout in the heat for long periods of time, replenish your electrolytes with a low-calorie sports drink.