Best Post-Workout Supplements and Foods of 2022

Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk has electrolytes and a good carb to protein ratio

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Eating after a workout is essential for muscle repair and overall performance. Many foods and supplements claim to enhance muscle growth and aid recovery, but not all the products live up to the hype. “After a competition or workout, focus on getting carbs and protein into your body,” says Kate McGowan, MS, RDN, a sports dietitian and nutrition communications consultant.

Verywell Fit Approved Post-Workout Foods & Supplements

  • Best Overall: Horizon Organic Shelf-Stable Chocolate Milk has a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, which has been shown to aid in muscle repair and replenish energy stores for athletes. It’s also rich in micronutrients that contribute to overall health.
  • Best for Strength Athletes: Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder tastes great, has 32 grams of protein per serving, and proudly displays the NSF Certified for Sport label.

McGowan explains that the body uses glycogen (a stored form of carbohydrates from the muscles) for energy. She says, “It is essential to add carb-containing food post-exercise to replenish muscle glycogen.” In addition, ingesting protein after a workout helps repair muscle breakdown that occurs during exercise and contributes to muscle protein synthesis. Post-workout electrolytes, such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium, may also be beneficial to replace minerals lost in sweat. Of these, sodium is the most important.

Look for carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes (especially sodium) in a post-workout food or supplement, and if you’re choosing a supplement rather than a food, we recommend selecting one that’s third-party verified. We recommend choosing foods and supplements you enjoy the taste of—flavor was a top priority when we made our list.

Are Post-Workout Foods & Supplements Beneficial?

Eating something post-workout benefits those exercising for longer than 10 minutes. We recommend a food-first approach to post-workout recovery since many people can recover from exercise by simply eating a meal or snack within an hour of completing their workout. Foods like a smoothie, a turkey or peanut butter sandwich, or fruit and yogurt, along with plenty of water, are great post-exercise options.

The convenience foods and supplements recommended in this article may at times be more appealing and convenient than fresh foods, especially for individuals exercising at higher intensities who need higher amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes.

Replenishing carbohydrates: Those engaging in moderate to vigorous aerobic or strength-based training use dietary carbohydrates and the body’s carbohydrate reserves (called glycogen) as the primary fuel source for exercise. As a result, restoring glycogen levels is one of the goals of post-exercise recovery.

Replenishing protein: Consuming protein after exercise helps your body build muscle protein. This is especially important for strength-based exercises that put a large emphasis on muscle strength. Expert recommendations include combining carbohydrates and protein into a post-exercise meal to replace glycogen and aid muscle repair. 

Replenishing fluid and electrolytes: Lastly, most athletes finish exercise with a fluid deficit, and rehydration should include fluid and electrolytes to replace losses from sweat. The most important electrolyte to include is sodium.

Who May Not Benefit from Post-Workout Foods & Supplements

Those who don’t need a post-workout food or supplement include:

Those exercising for short durations: You may not benefit from a post-workout food or supplement if your workout is short (60 minutes or less). 

Those exercising at low intensities: You do not need a post-workout food or supplement if you are completing low-intensity exercise (for example, walking slowly, gentle pilates, or restorative yoga), as you likely did not diminish your glycogen stores or break down much muscle. 

However, it is still important to eat regular meals and snacks, so if the exercise is gentle but lasts a long time, it may be time for a meal or snack afterward.

Best Overall: Horizon Organic Shelf-Stable 1% Lowfat Chocolate Milk

Horizon Organic Shelf-Stable 1% Lowfat Chocolate Milk

Amazon

Pros
  • Contains protein, carbohydrates, and electrolytes

  • Ideal carb to protein ratio

  • Grab-and-go option

Cons
  • Not suitable for those with lactose intolerance

What do buyers say? 93% of 9,200+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.

The 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio in chocolate milk has been shown to aid in muscle repair and glycogen resynthesis, making Horizon Organic Shelf-Stable 1% Lowfat Chocolate Milk our top pick. “The combination of carbohydrates and protein in low-fat chocolate milk appears to be ‘just right’ for refueling weary muscles,” says Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, sports dietitian and lead author of “Nutrition for Sport, Exercise and Health.”

Protein is naturally present in milk, and the carbohydrates come from the milk sugar (lactose) along with some added sugar. “This is also a more affordable on-the-go option [as compared to supplements],” says Spano.

Horizon’s organic chocolate milk does not need to be refrigerated, so you can keep a few in your gym bag for when you need them. They’re 8 ounces each, so many people will find that one does the trick while higher intensity workouts may warrant two cartons.  

Milk is naturally rich in nine essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A and more. An 8-ounce serving of Horizon’s Lowfat Chocolate Milk has 8 grams of protein and 20 percent of the daily value of calcium. It also contains water and 180 milligrams of sodium, the most important electrolyte to focus on for rehydration.

Key Nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5) and cobalamin (B12)  | Vegan: No | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No

Best for Strength Athletes: Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder Vanilla Crème

Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder Vanilla Crème

Amazon

Pros
  • High in protein

  • Third-party tested

  • Excellent source of micronutrients

Cons
  • Not suitable for lactose intolerance

Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder has 32 grams of protein per serving, which may be beneficial for those who are strength training and looking to build muscle. It proudly displays the NSF Certified for Sport label, which ensures that the substance has been third-party tested for more than 270 substances that have been banned by most major athletic organizations. Made with whey protein isolate and milk protein isolate, Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder is an excellent source of calcium and vitamins A, C, and D. 

Spano assures athletes, “This is among the best-tasting protein powders out there.” While it does include 21 grams of carbohydrates per serving, many athletes will need more. “Add carbohydrate on the side (or mix it in 100 percent juice), and you have your post-workout protein plus carbohydrate to build muscle and replace energy stores,” says Spano.

This protein powder does contain some sodium (135 milligrams), but if you are exercising at higher intensities, are a salty sweater, or are exercising in hot conditions, you might need more salt to replenish lost electrolytes.

Key Nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, phosphorus, magnesium | Vegan: No | Gluten-free: No | Organic: No

Best for Endurance Athletes: Skratch Labs Chocolate Sport Recovery Drink Mix

Skratch Labs Chocolate Sport Recovery Drink Mix

REI

Pros
  • Great taste

  • Ideal carb to protein ratio

  • May be suitable for those who are lactose intolerant

Cons
  • Cost

The Skratch Labs Sport Recovery Drink is promoted for refueling, rehydrating, and rebuilding damaged muscles. With 35 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein, it is designed for those exercising at higher intensities and not necessarily for those exercising for a short period of time or at low intensities. 

With a 4:1 carb to protein ratio, it works to replenish glycogen stores and aid in muscle repair after a tough workout, especially an endurance training session like a long run or cycling workout. As a matter of fact, the main ingredients are cane sugar, cow's milk, and cocoa powder, making this sports drink mix very similar to chocolate milk. 

The main difference between Skratch Labs Sport Recovery Drink and chocolate milk is the addition of lactase, an enzyme that helps with the digestion of lactose. Because of that, those who are lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate this mix. 

And since it’s made from milk, it also contains electrolytes that are necessary for hydration with 270 milligrams of sodium, 20 percent of the daily value of calcium, and 8 percent of the daily value of potassium. As an added bonus, it also contains 10 percent of the daily value of iron. Lastly, it tastes great—just add water, shake, and drink for a quick and simple recovery.

Key Nutrients: Carbohydrates, protein, calcium, iron | Vegan: No | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No

Best Protein Bar: Clif Builders Protein Bars, Chocolate Peanut Butter

Clif Builders Protein Bars, Chocolate Peanut Butter

Walmart

Pros
  • Great taste

  • High in protein

  • Plant-based

Cons
  • Longer ingredient list

Clif Builders Protein has 20 grams of plant-based protein and 29 grams of carbs in each bar. Made with more protein than the traditional energy bar, Clif Builders is touted as a post-workout recovery snack to aid in muscle repair.

A combination of soy protein isolate, cane sugar, and brown rice syrup gives this bar protein and carbs for post-workout recovery. It also contains 330 milligrams of sodium, which is a high amount for inactive individuals but may be beneficial to rebalance electrolytes after an intense workout.

Vegetarian and menstruating athletes may benefit from supplemental iron, and this Clif bar has 20 percent of the daily value of iron. Plus, it comes in multiple flavors to suit varying tastes and it’s easy to throw in your gym bag for a grab-and-go snack.

Key Nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, fat, iron, phosphorus | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No

Best Plant-Based: RX Bar PLANT Protein Bar, Chocolate Chip

RX Bar PLANT Protein Bar, Chocolate Chip

RX Bar

Pros
  • Great taste

  • Affordable

  • Plant-based

  • Source of iron

Cons
  • Not suitable for those with a peanut allergy

  • Lower in sodium

There are a ton of protein bars to choose from, but the RX Bar PLANT has a minimal plant-based ingredient list with zero added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Made with real peanuts, gluten-free oats, dates, and pea protein, this bar has 10 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbohydrates to help with muscle recovery. It also has 15 percent of the daily value of iron.

Whereas whey has long been considered the gold standard of protein sources, pea protein has been shown to produce similar desirable effects when the branched chain amino acid levels are comparable. One study of fifteen men following an eight-week high-intensity training program found that whey and pea protein produce similar outcomes in measurements of body composition, muscle thickness, force production, and athletic performance.

One important note is that these bars are low in sodium (50 mg per bar) which is great for those watching their sodium intakes but might not be enough to replenish sodium lost in sweat for those exercising at moderate or high intensities.

Key Nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, iron | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Organic: No

Best Yogurt: Chobani Complete Mixed Berry Vanilla Shake

Chobani Complete Shake

Chobani

Pros
  • High protein

  • Lactose-free

  • Good source of calcium

  • Source of prebiotics and probiotics

Cons
  • Contains sugar substitutes

  • Not suitable for those with a milk allergy

The Chobani Complete line of products is specially formulated to be higher in protein, lower in added sugar, and lactose-free. The Chobani Complete Mixed Berry Vanilla Shake tops our list for best yogurt because it contains 25 grams of complete protein plus 18 grams of carbohydrates. The Chobani Complete shakes are also made without added sugar, however they do contain sugar substitutes including stevia and monk fruit which you may or may not enjoy the taste of.

In addition to providing both carbs and protein, these shakes are an excellent source of calcium with one serving containing 25 percent of the daily value. They also provide three grams of prebiotic fiber thanks to the addition of chicory root fiber. Combined with the live cultures from the yogurt, this shake provides both prebiotics and probiotics for gut health.

Key nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, calcium, potassium | Vegan: No | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No

Best Allergy-Friendly: 88 Acres Banana Bread Protein Bar

88 Acres Banana Bread

Amazon

Pros
  • Free of the nine major allergens

  • Excellent source of iron

  • No artificial sweeteners

Cons
  • 15 grams of carbohydrates

88 Acres makes a variety of seed-based products including seed butters, seed-based granola, and protein bars. The 88 Acres protein bars top our list for the best post-workout snack if you have multiple allergies because they’re made in a dedicated gluten-free and allergy-free facility. 

The bars get their protein from pumpkin seeds and are flavored with a mix of fruit and spices. One serving has 12 grams of protein and is an excellent source of iron, a nutrient that plays an essential role in oxygen transport to muscles and bodily tissues. Female athletes, especially those following a plant-based diet, may not be getting enough iron and may benefit from increasing their iron intakes through food or supplements.

The 88 Acres bars are vegan, certified gluten-free, and while they do contain added sugar, the Banana Bread flavor is lower in added sugar than many other protein bars with just 4 grams per serving making them a good anytime snack choice.

Since each bar contains 15 grams of carbohydrate, an extra carbohydrate source may need to be added with this post-workout snack. You can also pick up this bar in a Dark Chocolate Brownie flavor if you’re not a banana fan.

Key nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, fat, iron | Vegan: Yes | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No

Best Dairy-Free: Over Easy Breakfast Bars

Over Easy Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Bars

Over Easy

Pros
  • Good source of protein

  • Made with whole grains

  • Excellent source of fiber

Cons
  • Not suitable for those with an egg or tree nut allergy

  • Lower in sodium

If you’re looking for a dairy-free, post-workout snack look no further than the Over Easy breakfast bars. We love this bar because it’s made with egg whites, a complete protein, plus almonds which offer both protein and unsaturated fats. One bar contains 9 grams of protein and is an excellent source of fiber at 7 grams per serving. 

The Apple Cinnamon flavor is made with a mix of almond butter, dried apples, and cinnamon and is sweetened with honey which results in the addition of 6 grams of added sugar. If you experience significant sweat losses during your workout then you’ll need to add a higher sodium food or supplement as this bar is a low sodium option with all flavors containing under 100 mg sodium per serving. If you’re not an apple fan, you can choose from multiple other flavors including Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate, Banana Nut, Peanut Butter, and Toasted Coconut.

Key nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, fiber | Vegan: No | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No

Best Frozen: Dole Boosted Blends Protein Smoothie

Dole Boosted Blends Smoothie

Instacart

Pros
  • Good source of protein

  • Good source of fiber

  • Good source of micronutrients

Cons
  • Not suitable for those with a milk or tree nut allergy

  • Lower in sodium

Smoothies are a great way to get carbs and protein after a workout. Dole Boosted Blends make it easy to quickly throw together a smoothie with a balance of both nutrients. Simply add the cubes plus your favorite liquid to a blender, blend, and eat. One serving of the Dole Boosted Blends cubes has 10 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbohydrates. Additionally, these cubes are a good source of micronutrients including vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin K.

The cubes are a low sodium choice, so if you need to replace electrolytes after significant sweat losses during your workout then you’ll need to add an alternative sodium source to your post-workout snack. However, the cubes do contain 8 percent of the daily value for potassium, an electrolyte lost in sweat. As an added bonus, the smoothie cubes don’t have any added sugar and get their sweetness from fruit.

Key nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, potassium | Vegan: No | Gluten free: Yes | Organic: No

Best Sweet: Kodiak Power Cakes Flapjack & Waffle Mix

Kodiak Power Cakes

Kodiak

Pros
  • High protein & versatile

  • Made with whole grains

  • Contain significant sodium to replace losses from sweat

  • Not suitable for those with a milk or wheat allergy

Pancakes are the perfect answer if you’re craving something sweet after a workout. Kodiak Power Cakes are not only a good source of carbohydrates from whole grains (one serving has 30 grams of carbs), they also contain 14 grams of protein per serving thanks to a combination of wheat and whey protein. 

One serving has 380 mg of sodium which helps to replenish sodium losses that occur during high intensity exercise or other activities that result in significant sweat loss. It also has 1.7 mg of iron—remember, athletes may be at higher risk of iron deficiency. As an added bonus, this mix can be used for waffles or pancakes and can be prepared using water, milk, or milk and egg which allows you to make a mix that works for the carbs and protein you need post-workout.

Key nutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, fiber, sodium, calcium, iron | Vegan: No | Gluten free: No | Organic: No

Final Verdict

Horizon Organic Shelf-Stable Chocolate Milk has a high carb-to-protein ratio, which helps with replenishing energy stores after workouts. Muscle Milk Genuine Protein Powder has 32 grams of protein per serving and is NSF Certified for Sport.

How We Select Supplements

Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here

We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. We prioritize products that are third-party tested and certified by one of three independent, third-party certifiers: USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab.

It's important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.

What to Look For in Post-Workout Foods & Supplements

Third-Party Testing 

Supplements that are third-party tested are sent to a lab where they are tested to ensure they contain what they say they contain and are not contaminated with specific high-risk, common contaminants. However, it’s important to note:

  1. Third-party testing does not test to see if a product is effective or safe for everyone, and it does not ensure the supplement will not interact with other supplements or medications.
  2. Not all third-party testing is created equal. It is not uncommon for supplement companies to pay labs for certificates after conducting minimal to no testing. 
  3. The third-party certifications we can trust are: ConsumerLab, NSF, and USP. However, these certifications are difficult to obtain and/or expensive for manufacturers, so many companies choose not to get their products tested by one of these three organizations. 
  4. Sometimes products tested by these three companies are more expensive to try to offset the cost they pay for certification.
  5. Just because a supplement is not tested by one of these three companies does not mean it’s a bad product. We recommend doing some research on the reputability of the manufacturer and calling up the manufacturer and their testing lab to determine their protocols and decide if you feel comfortable consuming the supplement.

Form 

Post-workout foods and supplements come in many forms. Most post-workout supplements, like protein powders, are in powdered form. Mix the powder with water or your favorite beverage and drink immediately. Post-workout foods are available in a variety of forms, such as bars, drinks, and whole foods. 

Ingredients & Potential Interactions

It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included relative to the recommended daily value of that ingredient. Please bring the supplement label to a healthcare provider to review the different ingredients contained in the supplement and any potential interactions between these ingredients and other supplements and medications you are taking.

Post-Workout Food & Supplement Dosage

There is no standard dose for most post-workout supplements, though there are some values to keep in mind:

Carbohydrates: The daily recommendations for carbs are based on a person’s activity levels and size. Individuals engaged in a general fitness program who are not necessarily training to meet any type of performance goal should eat about 45 to 55 percent of calories from carbohydrates. That is roughly 3 to 5 grams of carbs per kilogram (1.3 to 2.2 grams per pound) of body weight per day. For a 150-pound person, that's roughly 195 to 330 grams of carbs each day. 

However, athletes involved in moderate and intense training need greater amounts of carbohydrates in their diet. Those who train intensely (1 to 3 hours per day of intense exercise 5 to 6 times per week) should aim for 5 to 8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram (2.2 to 3.6 grams per pound) of body weight per day. For the same 150-pound athlete, that equals about 330 to 540 grams of carbs each day. 

If your training demands are high—more than 3 hours in 1 to 2 daily workouts for 5 to 6 days per week—you may need to eat 8 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram (3.6 to 4.5 grams per pound) of body weight per day. To use the prior example again, that's 540 to 675 daily grams of carbs for a 150-pound athlete.

Protein: The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) of body weight per day. However, athletes may need anywhere from 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram (0.45 to 0.9 grams per pound) of body weight per day. Some research indicates consuming 1.6 grams per kilogram (0.72 grams per pound) per day is the sweet spot for some athletes.

How Much Is Too Much?

There is no set upper limit for carbs or protein. That said, consuming too much of any one nutrient can cause deficiencies in other nutrients. Some research suggests that 20-40 gram doses of protein after a workout is the maximum amount that can be absorbed at one time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are pre- and post-workout supplements necessary?

    No, pre- and post-workout supplements are not necessary. You can get all the nutrients you need through food alone. But if you have certain dietary restrictions or are missing nutrients in your diet, supplements may help fill the gap.

  • What is the best post-workout supplement for muscle building?

    There is no one supplement that works best for muscle building. That said, there is ample research on the benefits of consuming both carbs and protein after a workout for muscle protein synthesis. Muscle building comes from resistance training, and while some protein supplements can help support this, they will not help build muscle if you don't engage in muscle-building exercises.

  • Is oatmeal a good post-workout food?

    Yes, oatmeal is a good post-workout food since it contains both carbohydrates and protein. “Ideally, after you do a tough workout, you’ll choose a food that is rich in a combination of high-quality carbohydrates and proteins to refuel,” says McGowan. “The carbohydrates in oatmeal will provide longer-lasting energy and help replace carbohydrates used during exercise,” says Spano.

  • Are bananas, eggs, and yogurt good post-workout foods?

    Bananas, eggs, and yogurt are good post-workout foods. Bananas contain carbohydrates and also potassium, which is an electrolyte lost in sweat. Replacing carbohydrates helps with muscle recovery, and replacing potassium losses helps keep you hydrated. Yogurt and eggs are good sources of protein for muscle repair. One large egg has 6 grams of protein. Eat eggs with a slice of whole-grain toast or a side of fruit to ensure you’re taking in protein as well as carbs. Yogurt protein content varies based on the type—Greek yogurt has more protein than other varieties.

  • Is a pre- or post-workout supplement more important?

    Pre-workout and post-workout supplements serve different purposes, but both are equally important. “A pre-workout supplement with carbohydrates can help provide much-needed energy to fuel your workout,” says Spano. She also adds that many people reach for pre-workout supplements for the caffeine, which helps improve alertness.

    McGowan agrees that both are important but says she would prioritize post-workout recovery nutrition if she had to choose. “When you work out, you’re actually creating teeny, tiny tears in your muscles,” says McGowan. “Your body gets right to work repairing and rebuilding those tears, so you need the necessary nutrition to repair and rebuild and set you up for success for your next workout,” she adds.

    In addition, Spano notes that a post-workout supplement is most important for anyone who is training again the same day. “When you train twice a day, you will get the most out of your training sessions if you replace your carbohydrate stores immediately after your first training session and eat enough prior to your second training session,” says Spano.

Why Trust Verywell Fit

Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics who has extensive experience working with athletes. She is the founder of Anew Well Nutrition, a virtual nutrition consulting practice with a focus on fitness and performance nutrition. She has expertise in helping athletes fuel for exercise whether it's before, during, or after a workout.

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a registered dietitian specializing in sports nutrition and plant-based nutrition. She is the founder of Greenletes, which is a nutrition platform that helps endurance athletes fuel their exercise with plants. Natalie has her masters degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University and has many years of experience working in media and serving as a nutrition spokesperson.

Autumn Rauchwerk, MS, RDN, RYT, CIEC is a registered dietitian, registered yoga teacher, and certified intuitive eating counselor who focuses on nutrition and supplement myth-busting and helping folks heal their relationships with food and movement. She is the senior commerce editor of nutrition and supplement content for Dotdash Meredith's health publications and is the co-owner of a private practice, mendinground nutrition and yoga. Autumn has her masters degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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