What you consume after a good workout is important to recovery. A post-workout drink can supply nutrients and hydration to help your body build and repair, so you get the results you want from your exercise efforts.
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So many commercial products are available as recovery drinks and hydration drinks. Learn what components you should look for so you can determine what fits your needs best.
After a workout, you need a combination of hydration and nutrients to replenish lost fluids and boost muscle recovery. Protein and electrolytes are important additions to your post-workout drink.
Protein for Muscle Recovery
You've probably heard how important protein is to post-exercise nutrition. The International Society of Sports Nutrition explains in a position paper published in June 2017 that the combination of muscle-stimulating activity (particularly resistance training) and consumption of quality protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis — the ability of your body to use amino acids to repair and build muscle mass.
Research published in Frontiers in Nutrition in September 2018 notes that protein intake in the post-exercise period plays a potentially useful role in optimizing physical performance and has a positive influence on recovery.
Although it's now sometimes suggested that you don't "need" protein immediately post-workout and that consuming it before would be adequate, researchers note that it's prudent to continue a post-workout protein routine because it will only help and not hurt your recovery, muscle adaptation and strength gains.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition notes that, while eating whole foods (chicken, meat, fish) is the ideal way to get the requisite protein post-workout, it's not always practical, especially when an athlete does high volumes of training.
A small study of 41 men and women published in August 2018 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that, when compared to a nonprotein control post-workout meal, consuming quality sources of protein from meat or whey protein equally contributed to improvements in body composition when consumed after strength training.
So, it makes sense to have a post-workout drink that contains protein. While whey protein, a derivative of milk, is often recommended because of its easy digestibility and optimal amino acid offerings, it's not your only choice. Research shows that pea protein may be just as valuable — and a great option if you're on a plant-based diet.
Sports published a small study of 15 men and women in January 2019 showing that ingestion of whey and pea protein produced similar results when it came to body composition, muscle thickness, performance and strength following eight weeks of high-intensity, functional training. The drinks delivered 24 grams of protein after workouts (as well as at other points during the day.)
Exactly how much protein you should consume in a recovery drink depends on training intensity, duration of exercise, number of training sessions per day and type of exercise. The International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests the optimal level of protein to consume after a workout also depends on age and size, but amounts ranging from 20 to 40 grams are usually appropriate. Mix protein powder into water, milk — cow's, almond or coconut — or juice.
Read more: How Much Protein is Right for You?
A Perfect Recovery Drink
Chocolate milk is a tasty and effective choice for a workout recovery drink. It hydrates you and has nutrients to help you recover, plus it's tasty and palatable. It contains 8 grams of protein per cup and 32 grams of carbohydrates. According to meta-analyses published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2019, multiple studies show that chocolate milk provides similar or superior results when compared to placebo or other recovery drinks in terms of exercise recovery.
Make sure you choose chocolate cow's milk or soy milk rather than almond or another "alternative" milk. The former contain the protein that's helpful to recovery; many plant-based milks do not.
Recovery Drinks and Nutrients
Other compounds found in beverages, such as anthocyanins and flavonoids, help with recovery post-workout, too. Cherry juice in particular contains powerful antioxidants that help you recover quickly and with less soreness from workouts.
In a July/August 2017 issue of Current Sports Medicine Reports, a literature review determined that 8 to 12 ounces of tart cherry juice consumed after exercise (as well as at other times during the day) promotes recovery from workouts and competition by decreasing pain, reducing markers of inflammation and oxidative stress and accelerating strength recovery. Tart cherry juice is especially valuable to those athletes looking to return to training and competition faster after each workout.
Green tea is another valuable post-workout drink that may mildly boost your energy due to its caffeine content and helps you recover with antioxidants. A small study of 20 untrained men published in Physiology & Behavior in October 2018 tested the effects of green tea on exercise-induced muscle soreness, muscle damage and oxidative stress.
The green tea supplementation post-exercise didn't help with muscle soreness, but it did reduce the markers, or evidence, of muscle damage after exercise. You feel the workout, but your muscles aren't nearly as stressed and can recover quickly if you consume a little green tea after your exercise session.
Post-Workout Hydration Drinks
The American Council on Exercise recommends that you drink 8 ounces of fluid 30 minutes following your workout. And, if you were diligent enough to weigh yourself before and after your exercise session, you should consume 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during your workout.
This is in addition to the 20 ounces of fluids you should have drunk two to three hours before your workout and the 8 ounces in the 30 minutes before, as well as the 7 to 10 ounces consumed every 10 to 20 minutes while you exercised.
In the Journal of Applied Physiology's April 2017 edition, a research paper noted that drinking large amounts of plain water for recovery can lead to diuresis (or frequent urination), which can interfere with your long-term hydration status.
The researchers suggest adding sodium to a rehydration solution to help with maintenance of fluid balance. Plus, fluid with carbohydrates and protein can further promote long-term hydration because it assists with absorption and distribution of ingested water.
Many sports drinks include added sodium, carbohydrates (often in the form of sugar) and sometimes protein. You can also make a drink with a mix of these nutrients by creating a smoothie with fresh fruit, protein powder and almond milk (or another milk or water).
- Frontiers in Nutrition: "Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training"
- Sports: "The Effects of Whey vs. Pea Protein on Physical Adaptations Following 8 Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): A Pilot Study"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "The Effects of Beef, Chicken, or Whey Protein After Workout on Body Composition and Muscle Performance"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise"
- Journal of Applied Physiology: "Optimizing the Restoration and Maintenance of Fluid Balance After Exercise-Induced Dehydration"
- Current Sports Medicine Reports: "Tart Cherry Juice in Athletes: A Literature Review and Commentary"
- Physiology and Behavior: "Effect of Green Tea Extract Supplementation on Exercise-Induced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and Muscular Damage"
- American Council on Exercise: "How Hydration Affects Performance"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Chocolate Milk for Recovery From Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Chocolate Milk"
- American Council on Exercise: "Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition for Strength Training"