The Best Post-Workout Recovery Drinks of 2022

Fairlife Chocolate 2% ultra-filtered milk has equal protein and carbohydrates

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Most people feel tired and sweaty after a difficult workout, and fueling (eating or drinking) is one of the most helpful ways to recover. You need nutrients to replenish what was lost, repair what was damaged, and build your muscles and body to be stronger. As part of the post-workout recovery, you may also require electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. While we recommend getting as much of your nutrition as possible from simply eating a post-workout meal or snack, you may find that a thoughtfully chosen post-workout drink can be helpful to refuel after more intense workouts. 

Reviewed & Approved

  • Fairlife Chocolate 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk tastes fantastic, especially cold. This milk is perfect for post-workouts exceeding 60 minutes to replenish glycogen stores and for building and repairing muscles, which is why it’s our Best Overall pick. 
  • Muscle Milk Knockout Chocolate is our pick for strength athletes, because it tastes great, has 40 grams of protein per serving, and contains some carbohydrates.

Most workout drinks are best for people who exceed 60 to 90 minutes of exercise or need adequate calories, carbohydrates, and protein to meet their daily nutrient needs. “For the general population, a post workout drink isn't necessary; however, it can be a helpful tool if you have trouble consuming adequate protein from whole food sources,” says Austin Bou, RDN, who is a dietitian and spin instructor.  

When choosing the best post-workout recovery drinks for all kinds of athletes, our registered dietitian (who is also a personal trainer!) considered the amount of carbohydrates, protein, sodium, and potassium it has, plus cost and flavor.

The Importance of Plain Old Water

Drinking water and eating a snack or meal that contains carbohydrates, protein, and salt not too long after you exercise may be all you need to recover from exercise lasting under an hour. Even if you’re exercising for a longer period of time and you need additional nutrition, water will always be an important part of your plan—before, during, and after your workout.

Water is free or inexpensive and highly available. Post-workout, you should consume 3 cups of water or sports drink for every one pound weight loss from the workout (this weight loss is connected to the water loss from sweat).

While it may seem obvious that water is essential for the body, many people don’t consume enough. Research shows that about 32 percent of athletes start exercise in a dehydrated state, and about 44 percent of participants are dehydrated in the post-training/competition state.

Best Overall: Fairlife Chocolate 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk

4.7
Fairlife Chocolate 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk

Fairlife

Pros
  • High Protein

  • Moderate Carbohydrates

  • Contains calcium, vitamin D, sodium, and potassium

  • Lactose-free

Cons
  • Limited availability

Fairlife Chocolate 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk is our top pick because it has nearly equal carbohydrates and protein, contains key micronutrients, and is lactose-free. Cow’s milk (especially chocolate milk) is one of the best recovery drinks you can have. Fairlife’s technology has enhanced the nutritional profile of the regular chocolate milk people know and love, with the carbohydrate content of a cup of chocolate milk and the protein content of a typical protein drink.

Milk naturally contains sugar in the form of lactose, but some experts estimate that about 68 percent of the world has some form of lactose malabsorption. This product contains lactase enzymes to break down the lactose, which means it is perfect for people who suffer from lactose intolerance or have an acute lactose intolerance after exercising.

One serving, or 14 ounces of this chocolate milk, contains 50 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium, 25 percent of the DV for vitamin D (which many people don’t get enough of), 10 percent of the DV for potassium, and some iron. It also contains 210 milligrams of sodium, which is helpful for replenishing the sodium lost in sweat during your workout.

Another perk of this drink is that there are several flavor options—if you don’t like the more traditional chocolate flavor, you can get cookies and cream or strawberry flavor instead.

Price at time of publication: $2.99 for 14 ounces

Serving Size: 14 fluid ounces, Calories: 250, Total Carbohydrates: 22 grams, Protein: 23 grams, Sodium: 350 mg, Potassium: 500 mg

Best for Strength Trainers: Muscle Milk Knockout Chocolate

Muscle Milk Knockout Chocolate

Amazon

Pros
  • 40 grams of protein per bottle

  • Contains sodium and fiber

  • Good source of important micronutrients

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Lower in carbohydrates

  • Extensive ingredient list, including artificial flavors

With 40 grams of protein in a 14-ounce bottle, Muscle Milk Knockout Chocolate offers a powerful source of protein in each bottle. Our experts chose the chocolate flavor versus the others because it has a few more carbohydrates and more potassium, an important electrolyte. If chocolate isn’t your flavor of choice, it’s also available in vanilla, strawberry, and banana.

Muscle milk also contains 45 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin D, 50 percent of the daily requirement for calcium, and 25 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin A, iron, and niacin. It contains 800 mg, or 15 percent of the daily requirement, of potassium. It also contains 230 milligrams of sodium to help replenish losses from sweat during your workout.

The high amount of protein may be helpful if you just finished a difficult strength workout and are hoping to build muscle mass. While very high in protein, Muscle Milk lacks carbohydrates. Although it contains 12 grams of carbohydrates, six of those grams come from inulin, a form of fiber, which is beneficial for health but cannot be used by your body for energy. We recommend eating another form of carbohydrates after your workout, like a banana or pretzels, since strength training also uses up those carbohydrate energy stores quickly.

Take note that Muscle Milk is a more processed post-workout drink option, containing many ingredients, including artificial flavors. Consider how this fits into your lifestyle, depending on your goals and nutrition preferences. 

You can also buy this shake in other sizes (such as an 11 ounce bottle) which will have slightly different nutrition than the 14-ounce bottle. 

Price at time of publication: $37 for 12 14-ounce bottles ($3.08 per serving)

Serving Size: 14 fluid ounces, Calories: 220, Total Carbohydrates: 12 grams, Protein: 40 grams, Sodium: 230 mg, Potassium: 800 mg

Best for Endurance Exercisers: Gatorade Thirst Quencher

Gatorade Thirst Quencher

Amazon

Pros
  • Contains electrolytes (potassium, sodium)

  • Great source of carbohydrates

  • Widely available in many flavors

Cons
  • Lacks protein

  • Contains artificial flavors

Gatorade Thirst Quencher contains high amounts of carbohydrates to replenish your energy stores and electrolytes to replenish your sodium and potassium levels. Post-exercise, endurance athletes need to carefully focus on carbohydrates.

You can also use this drink to replenish yourself during exercise. If you are completing endurance workouts, like long runs or bicycle rides, you may need to consume carbohydrates during exercise lasting 60 minutes, and it’s universally recommended to consume carbohydrates during exercise lasting 90 minutes or longer.

For endurance trainers, sodium is a very important electrolyte to consume to prevent low sodium levels in the blood, or hyponatremia. On the flip side, it is also essential to avoid high sodium levels, also known as hypernatremia or dehydration. Both pose a health risk for endurance trainers and competitors because of the time spent exercising. Even a little imbalance may hamper performance. This drink will help you avoid either state, by offering hydration with proper amounts of sodium.

Endurance athletes also benefit from consuming protein post-workout, at about .25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which, for reference, is about 17 grams for a 150 pound athlete. It can be beneficial to pair a post-workout Gatorade with a source of protein, such as a serving of Greek yogurt.

Price at time of publication: $16 for 12 20-ounce bottles ($1.33 per serving)

Serving Size: 12 fluid ounces, Calories: 80, Total Carbohydrates: 21 grams, Protein: 0 grams, Sodium: 160 mg, Potassium: 50 mg

Best for Plant-Based Exercisers: Soylent Creamy Chocolate Protein Nutrition Shake

Soylent Creamy Chocolate Protein Nutrition Shake

Amazon

Pros
  • Good source of protein and carbohydrates

  • High amounts of electrolytes

  • Good source of numerous vitamins and minerals

  • Low in sugar & contains fiber

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Long list of processed ingredients

  • Higher fat content may not be suitable for all

“Some people prefer not to have any dairy at all for different reasons, and there are plenty of valid options out there besides milk,” says Nick Snow, BS, NASM-CPT, FNS, a nutritionist and fitness director. Soylent gets its name because the protein source is soy protein isolate. It is a plant-based alternative to dairy milk, as it is a complete protein, which can be especially beneficial for building muscle.

We like this product because of its relatively balanced nutritional profile, containing 20 grams of protein and 36 grams of carbohydrates per bottle. One serving also contains 3 grams of fiber and 20 percent of the daily value of numerous vitamins, such as vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K. It also contains necessary minerals such as calcium, zinc, iodine, and iron, as well as essential electrolytes sodium and potassium. Many of these vitamins and minerals are important for supporting sports recovery.

Take note that each serving contains a relatively high amount of fat, 24 grams, from seed oils (sunflower and canola oil). This means Soylent contains 54 percent of its calories from fat, which may or may not be a good fit for you.

Soylent was created to serve as a nutritionally balanced meal replacement. While this can be a good choice if you are short on time, it is made with highly processed ingredients and added vitamins and minerals rather than from food closer to its natural state. 

Price at time of publication: $42 for 12 14-ounce bottles ($3.50 per serving)

Serving Size: 14 fluid ounces, Calories: 400, Total Carbohydrates: 36 grams, Protein: 20 grams, Sodium: 300 mg, Potassium: 850 mg

Best for Exercisers with Food Allergies: OWYN Only What You Need 100% Vegan Plant-Based Protein Shakes | Cold Brew Coffee

OWYN

 Courtesy of The Vitamin Shoppe

Pros
  • Vegan & free from common food allergens

  • Good source of iron, sodium, and potassium

  • Contains fiber

Cons
  • Low potassium

  • Low Carbohydrate

If you have one of the eight most common food allergies, including dairy, wheat, and soy, OWYN 100% Vegan Plant-Based Protein Shake may be the best for you. The protein comes from a pea and pumpkin seed blend. Pea protein may be comparably effective to whey (which is commonly considered the protein gold standard) for repairing and building muscle after a workout. However, more research is needed to validate pea protein's ability to promote strength, performance, muscular adaptations, and body composition.

This post-workout drink also contains 40 percent of the daily value for iron, which comes from the pea and pumpkin seed protein rather than separately added iron fortification. It contains 240 mg of sodium to help replenish sodium losses from sweat. OWYN contains 6 grams of fiber from added soluble fiber, though it is not clear what type of soluble fiber. It also contains a greens powder blend that includes broccoli, spinach, and kale, though it is unclear how much additional nutrition this blend adds.

The drawback of this post-workout drink is the lower carb content. We recommend pairing this post-workout drink with a fruit or a bar with carbohydrates. 

Price at time of publication: $35 for 12 12-ounce bottles ($2.92 per serving)

Serving Size: 12 fluid ounces, Calories: 180, Total Carbohydrates: 10 grams, Protein: 20 grams, Sodium: 240 mg, Potassium: 72 mg

How We Selected the Post-Workout Drinks

We reviewed dozens of post-workout drinks to select the best ones for all kinds of athletes. Our registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer used his sports nutrition expertise to evaluate the nutritional information for each product during the selection process. In addition to nutrition facts, we considered several factors, including the amount of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein, plus flavor, availability, and price. 

What To Look For in Post-Workout Drinks

Flavor Profile

Flavor definitely plays a role in what post-workout drink you choose–it shouldn’t be a chore to drink. If it is, you won’t get all the necessary nutrition because you likely won’t want to finish it. We opted for crowd-pleasing options like chocolate and vanilla.  

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are vital for replenishing glycogen (carbohydrate or energy) stores that were depleted during workouts. Carbohydrates are especially essential if you’re doing long bouts of endurance training. If you’re training for 2 to 3 hours per day for five to six days per week, you’ll need about 5 to 8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of weight. Otherwise, simply eat some carbohydrates post-workout. 

We did not consider any products with “zero-sugar” for this reason, but, since low carb is all-the-range, it can be harder to find options with enough carbohydrates. For the options we found that were low carb, we suggested pairing them with a carbohydrate source, like a piece of fruit or a bar.

Protein

To calculate how much protein you need, athletes and avid trainers should opt for around 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of weight. Around 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram is a good place to start.(1) You should aim to consume around 20 to 40 grams of protein every 3 to 4 hours. Keep this recommendation in mind when choosing a post-workout drink, especially for strength training. We chose products that were high in protein.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is milk a good post-workout drink?

    Milk, and more specifically chocolate milk, is a great post-workout drink. “Chocolate milk is a great post-workout drink for those who can tolerate dairy, as it contains protein, carbs, fluids, and electrolytes,” says Tiffany Hsu, MS RD, CD, CSSD, a performance dietitian. In a 2018 review of the research, chocolate milk came out to be similar or superior to other recovery drinks or water. It’s our top pick because it is less processed than other options, with most of the nutrition coming from a simple ingredient—cow’s milk. 

    Chocolate milk also contains numerous essential nutrients, including potassium, vitamin D, and calcium which are nutrients of public health concern based on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  • When should I drink a post-workout drink?

    Post-workout drinks are vital if you’re working out longer than 60 to 90 minutes or if you are not consuming enough carbohydrates or protein within a 24-hour period of working out. “I usually tell clients to get in a post-workout drink as soon as possible, especially after long or intense training sessions or if they have another key training planned within 24 hours,” says Hsu.

  • Do I need a post-workout recovery drink?

    Most people who exercise less than 60 minutes will not need a post-workout recovery drink. But it is generally beneficial to consume something after working out, and avoiding eating post-workout can have negative consequences.

    If you sweat a lot, didn’t consume enough pre-workout food, or are an athlete with greater nutritional needs, then a post-workout recovery drink may be beneficial. “If you are an athlete whose calorie and protein needs tend to be higher, then a post-workout drink can be beneficial to help you recover faster after training or performing in an event,” says Bou. In most cases, water will be the best option for workouts less than 60 minutes.

  • What should I not drink after a workout?

    Avoid alcohol at all costs after a hard workout. “It will be prudent to avoid alcohol till [after] a post-workout meal and proper rehydration,” says Hsu. Research shows drinking alcohol reduces muscle protein synthesis, alters hormones, and decreases metabolism. Overall, you know your body best, so avoid any drinks that may upset your stomach.

Why Trust VeryWell Fit

Jonathan Valdez, RDN, CDCES, CPT has been a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer for eight years. He has also been on the nutrition and fitness medical review board for VeryWell Fit since 2019 and is an avid runner and tennis player.

When examining post-workout products, Jon looks at macro- and micro-nutrient profiles and other supporting ingredients to aid his recovery, whether it is endurance training or resistance training. Then he looks at the flavor profile because if it doesn't taste good, he isn't going to drink it. Finally, he looks at the carbohydrate, protein, and electrolyte profiles.

His favorite product is Fairlife Chocolate 2% ultra-filtered milk because of its overall nutrient profile and satisfying chocolatey flavor.

12 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.
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