The Best Post-Exercise Recovery Foods and Drinks to Buy in 2018

After-exercise recovery foods and drinks can help athletes recover quickly after a workout and get ready for the next workout or competition.

The following list includes tips to help endurance athletes quickly replenish depleted glycogen stores, rehydrate, and repair muscle tissue after exercise. You'll learn some of the better choices in recovery foods and recovery drinks and the optimal timing for consuming recovery foods.

Ideal Recovery Food Have a 4:1 Carb/Protein Ratio

milk with berries on top
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Research shows that consuming between 2:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein after exercise results in higher glycogen stores than consuming carbs alone. Consuming more protein, however, slows rehydration and glycogen replenishment, so the 4:1 ratio seems ideal for endurance athletes who train daily.

Sports recovery foods and drinks are handy but expensive. You can get similar benefits with a snack or meal comprised of whole grains, fruit, and dairy. Try these snack options after exercise:

  • 1 medium banana and glass of low-fat milk
  • A bowl of granola with 1 C low-fat milk
  • A bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk
  • Almond butter on whole wheat toast
  • Low-fat yogurt with 1/2 C of fresh berries
  • Low-fat/fat-free chocolate milk

Recovery Tip: Eat Within 30–60 Minutes

Woman eating cereal bar after training and holding smart phone
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To get the most out of your post-exercise meal, consume the magic 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio within 30–60 minutes of finishing the activity or the closest time to post-workout that is tolerated.

Research shows that eating a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate-to-protein within 30 minutes after exercise helps athletes store three times as much glycogen as those waiting for 2 hours to eat.

Recovery Tip: Hydrate with Water

Woman drinking water after exercising on city street
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After your workout, drink enough water to replace any water lost through sweat. The best way to determine how much to drink is by weighing yourself before and after each workout. Then, for every pound of body weight you've lost, you'll need to consume about 3 cups of fluid or 16-24 fluid ounces.

If you forget to weigh yourself, you can use the "color check" to get a rough idea of your level of hydration. This check simply refers to checking the color of your urine in the hours after exercise. Your urine should be a light tint of yellow (clear urine is over-hydration and isn't recommended). If you have dark, concentrated urine, you may be dehydrated and need to consume more water.

Recovery Tip: Don't Exercise on an Empty Stomach

Man handing banana to biker during race
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You will recover faster after exercise if you don't let yourself run out of fuel during exercise. This means you need to stay on top of your food and fluid intake as you exercise.

Proper hydration during exercise depends on your exercise intensity, time, fitness level and even the weather conditions. But to keep it simple, drink about a cup of water every 15 minutes of exercise.

A sports drink including carbohydrates and electrolytes may also be needed. After a 2% body weight loss, your performance begins to decline. If dehydration causes a 4% body weight loss, that's when heat illness may begin.

If your workout takes about an hour, you probably can get by on water alone, but if you exercise hard for more than 90 minutes, you'll need to replenish lost carbohydrates. Consider stashing a sports drink, an energy bar, or other easy-to-digest foods, such as bananas or fig newtons in your gym bag or back pocket.

Recovery Tip: Eat Well Each Day

Salmon with vegetables and rice dinner
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To exercise consistently, you need to provide a good supply of high-quality energy to your working muscles. The easiest way to to this is to eat a balanced breakfast and continue eating a variety of high-quality foods throughout the day.

Carbohydrate in the form of glycogen is the fuel that makes exercise possible, so adequate carbs must be eaten each day if you hope to train consistently. Protein and fat also have a place in your diet and should be consumed daily. In general, each meal should contain a varied combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Recovery Drink Idea: Chocolate Milk

Two glass bottles of chocolate milk with red and white striped straws
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Chocolate milk has the right combination of carbs to protein, which makes it an ideal exercise recovery drink.

A study comparing the recovery rates of college soccer players using either a sports drink or low-fat chocolate milk found no difference between the two drinks.

The details of a small study involving 13 male soccer players showed similar levels of muscle soreness and fatigue, but after drinking chocolate milk the players had less creatine kinase (which indicates of muscle damage) than they did after drinking a typical sports drink.


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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. S Potgieter BScDietetics, MNutrition (2013) Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26:1, 6-16. doi:10.1080/16070658.2013.11734434

  2. Kerksick, C.M., Wilborn, C.D., Roberts, M.D. et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendationsJ Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 38 (2018).

  3. Gilson SF, Saunders MJ, Moran CW, Moore RW, Womack CJ, Todd MK. Effects of chocolate milk consumption on markers of muscle recovery following soccer training: a randomized cross-over study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:19. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-19

Additional Reading
  • Kammer L, Ding Z, Wang B, Hara D, Liao YH, Ivy JL. Cereal and nonfat milk support muscle recovery following exercise. [] J Int Soc of Sports Nutr. 2009;6:2-12. .

  • Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S; American Dietetic Association; Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: nutrition and athletic performance. J Amer Diet Assoc. 2009;3:509-527