The 8 Best Recovery Foods and Drinks of 2021, According to a Dietitian

Refuel strategically with these recovery-focused products

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After a challenging workout, it’s important to replenish muscles with a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and a bit of healthy fat to promote optimal recovery. Your precise nutrition needs will vary based on your activity level and workout timing, but it's ideal to refuel and rehydrate within one hour of completing your workout.

Getting a combination of protein and carbohydrates in after a workout is ideal. If the timing of your workout is such that a meal fits easily into the one-hour window, then opting for a combination of whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables, and fat is great. However, when you’re short on time or the timing doesn’t support having a meal right after a workout, there are some excellent packaged foods and beverages that can support your recovery efforts. 

Here, the best recovery foods and drinks:

Best Trail Mix: Gorilly Goods Trail Mix

Gorilly Goods

When it comes to a post-workout snack, having an individually-packaged, protein-packed option is a game-changer. These grab and go trail mix snack packs from Gorilly Goods are a tasty way to get the nourishment you need after a sweat session, without any fuss. The organic and vegan trail mix snack packs contain soaked and sprouted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and other nutritious ingredients depending on the flavor. Each blend contains a balance of plant-based protein, fats from nuts and seeds, and carbs from dried fruit to help replenish your energy stores.

The delicious trail mix comes in three flavors—Hillside, Trail, and Coast. Hillside is a salty and spicy mix, Coast is a sweet and savory curry blend, and Trail is a superfood twist on traditional trail mix. With vitamin C-rich goji berries and magnesium-packed cacao nibs, Gorilly Good's Trail flavor trail mix is a nutrient-packed version of your favorite fruit and nut snack. Each Trail package contains 185 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of plant-based protein.

Remember that just because a certain portion is packaged as a single serving, you should still listen to your body in terms of how much you need. These packets are by no means a meal (but could be turned into one if mixed into cereal and yogurt), and many adults might need to combine the packet with another food or eat more than one packet.

Best Beverage: Harmless Harvest Coconut Water

Harmless Harvest

Rehydration after a workout is just as important as replenishing carbohydrate and protein losses, particularly when it comes to replacing electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Having a meal or snack, along with water, can typically replenish losses. However, in especially intense workouts or exercise in hot temperatures, additional electrolyte replacement might be necessary. Coconut water is a great naturally-occurring electrolyte drink that helps to rehydrate and restore electrolyte balance after a workout. Made solely from coconut water sourced from organic young coconuts grown in Thailand, the thirst-quenching drink provides a variety of nutrients including sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

While there are some organic electrolyte powders and processed beverages on the market, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water is completely naturally occurring. It’s made from one ingredient: organic coconut water. Harmless Harvest is not only 100 percent Organic, but it’s also Fair for Life certified, meaning that the product promotes social and environmental responsibility. The company partners with organic farmers who use sustainable practices without pesticides, sewage sludge, or synthetic fertilizers. It’s good for you, the people who make it, and the environment. 

Best Protein Powder: Sunwarrior Organic Vegan Protein Powder Warrior Blend

Sunwarrior Natural Warrior Blend

A protein shake or smoothie is a portable and fast way to get the protein and carbohydrate in after a workout to promote muscle recovery. A great protein shake does triple duty replacing fluids and packing in extra protein and carbohydrates. When it comes to protein powders, examine the ingredient list to ensure that the powder fits your nutrition needs based on how you'll use it, whether that's by adding fats or carbs. The USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Certified Sunwarrior Warrior Blend is a top pick among protein powders with 19 grams of plant-based protein per scoop. The vegan powder also provides branched-chain amino acids and brain-supporting MCTs.

The high protein blend is allergy-friendly, as it is free of soy, gluten, and dairy. The protein blend is also only sweetened with dried fruit, so its sweetness and flavor won't overpower your favorite smoothie additions. It comes in five flavors, including berry, chocolate, mocha, vanilla, and natural. With only four ingredients: pea protein, hemp protein, goji berry, and ground coconut, Sunwarrior’s Warrior Blend Natural is an excellent choice that'll keep your favorite smoothie blend balanced in flavor.

Best Juice: R.W. Knudsen Organic Just Tart Cherry Juice

Research shows that tart cherry juice has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can improve recovery and decrease inflammation after strength and endurance workouts. If you're looking to ease muscle soreness and bounce back faster, tart cherry juice may be a smart part of your rehydration and recovery strategy post-workout. For a premium, organic tart cherry juice, try R.W. Knudsen's unsweetened juice.

True to its name, the juice is quite tart and can be an acquired taste. Mixing a few ounces of the concentrated juice with sparkling water, seltzer, or a smoothie, can improve palatability—while still allowing you to reap the benefits of the recovery drink.

Best Breakfast: Purely Elizabeth Original Superfood Oats Cup

If you're a morning exerciser, breakfast may be the most important meal of the day in terms of recovery as well as having the energy to tackle your morning tasks. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, replacing carbohydrates and protein within two hours after a workout helps to improve recovery by promoting glycogen repletion and minimizing muscle damage. It's not always easy to get in a full, balanced breakfast after a morning workout, but Purely Elizabeth Original Superfood Oats Cup makes it simple.

The convenient, single-serve oat cups feature creamy gluten-free oats mixed with nutrient-rich flax seeds, chia seeds, quinoa flakes, hemp seeds, and puffed amaranth, plus a crunchy granola topper. Simply add boiling water or microwave, then top with the granola and enjoy. If you're a fan of overnight oats, you can also add your favorite milk and let soak overnight, or for at least fifteen minutes.

It's important to remember that many foods that are packaged as single serving don't provide enough food to be considered a full meal, and this is no exception. You'll likely need to add additional ingredients to this dish or have multiple servings to get enough fuel to be "meal satisfying," especially if you've just exercised. To turn this into a full meal, consider opting for two servings, or mix it with yogurt and a piece of fruit.

Best On-the-Go: Justin's Nut Butter Peanut Butter Squeeze Packs

Justin's Nut Butter Peanut Butter Squeeze Packs

Make on-the-go refueling and recovery easy by throwing a Justin's Nut Butter into your gym bag, purse, or car. The versatile, protein-packed squeeze pack can be eaten on its own for an energy boost or paired with whole-grain bread, fruit, or even a creamy yogurt for a complete recovery snack or meal. The packets contain only a few, simple ingredients including sustainably-sourced palm oil, and are also vegan, gluten-free, and kosher.

No matter what nut butter you prefer, Justin's has you covered. The brand offers flavors in addition to classic peanut, including honey peanut, classic almond, honey almond, maple almond, vanilla almond, and chocolate hazelnut. One packet of the classic peanut butter contains 210 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of healthy fat, and 7 grams of protein with no added sugar.

Best Creamy Snack: Fage 2% Plain Greek Yogurt

Fage 2% Plain Greek Yogurt

Chocolate milk is well-known as a top post-workout beverage, thanks to its combination of protein, carbohydrates, hydration, and electrolytes, but not everyone enjoys drinking milk, especially after a tough sweat session. If you're looking for a creamy, protein-packed snack, choose Fage 2% Plain Greek Yogurt. Like most yogurts, Fage is made with live active cultures to support your gut microbiota. It’s also packed with protein from milk from non-GMO fed cows. One 7-ounce container of the plain low-fat Greek yogurt contains 140 calories, 6 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of protein.

If you prefer a pre-flavored yogurt, the 2% variety also comes in various split cup options where you can mix-in sweet fruit or honey toppings. For an added flavor boost, you can also add your own toppings like berries, nuts, seeds, dried or fresh fruit, cereal, and cinnamon.

Best Sweet Snack: Navitas Organics Organic Power Snacks Chocolate Cacao

If you're craving a sweet snack post-workout, but also want the satisfaction of a heartier snack, these Organic Power Snacks from Navitas Organics may be a good fit. These non-GMO, gluten-free snacks will satisfy your sweet craving while providing ample nourishment to promote muscle recovery. With four sweet flavors, including Blueberry Hemp, Cacao Goji, Chocolate Cacao, and Coffee Cacao, there's something for everyone. The nutrient-dense bites are a satisfying grab and go snack that doesn't need to be refrigerated and can be kept in a bag or desk drawer. The nutrient-dense bites are a satisfying grab-and-go snack that offers sweet flavor while also doubling as a satisfying snack.

If you're a chocolate-lover, try the Chocolate Cacao variety. The decadent, plant-based bites feature tons of superfoods such as chia, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds as well as lucuma, cacao, and maca powder. They're also an easy way to add flavor and texture to plain yogurt or oatmeal. Each 2-piece serving contains 80 calories, 3 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 2 grams of protein with only 1 gram of added sugar. The bites taste so good that it's likely you won't stop at two.

Final Verdict

If you're looking for a thirst-quenching, hydration boost with extra recovery benefits, try R.W. Knudsen's Unsweetened Tart Cherry Juice (view at Amazon). For an easy, delicious snack or meal post-workout addition, recover with Purely Elizabeth's Original Superfood Oat Cup (view at Amazon).

What to Look for in a Recovery Food or Drink

Ingredients:

If you have any food allergies or sensitivities, always take a look at the ingredient list to ensure that the recovery food or drink that you are selecting is safe for you. Some specialized recovery products contain large quantities of added nutrients or other supplements, so it's safest to stick with ingredient lists that do not contain these. If it's in your budget, and it's a product you're going to be eating regularly, you may want to consider opting for an organic version.

Many packaged recovery-focused foods and beverages on the market make lofty health claims. Do your homework— especially when something seems too good to be true—and consult with your health care provider or a professional if you have questions.

Macronutrients:

It is important for all of us to get a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates each day. Athletes and people who are very active each day might find this to be especially true regarding keeping their energy levels and strength at the levels they need when refueling after activity. Carbohydrates are necessary to replace lost glycogen stores and boost energy, while protein primarily helps to build, maintain, and repair muscle. Fats are a great way to provide satiety and lasting energy. Consider your preferences and individual needs when choosing a recovery product. For example, a marathon runner may require more carbohydrates after a long run than a sprinter. A weight lifter who is focused on building muscle will likely have higher protein needs.

Fluid:

Fluid intake and hydration are important to consider post-workout to support optimal recovery. Aim to drink water throughout the day, and increase fluid intake based on physical activity and your individual needs. Fluid replacement is important, as dehydration can hamper recovery and cause issues such as cramping, muscle weakness, and fatigue.

Convenience:

Consider where—and when—you will consume your post-workout recovery meal, snack, or beverage. If you are on the go and don’t have access to a microwave or refrigerator, you may want a portable single-serve item such as nut butter or trail mix. But also keep in mind that what is packaged as a single serving is often not enough to satisfy an adult, so mix and match and combine to create a snack or meal that fits your needs. If you have more time and access to a blender, a smoothie made with high-quality protein powder, in addition to a source of carbohydrate and fat, is an excellent way to rehydrate and refuel.

What Experts Say

"The food and drink you have immediately following exercise play an essential role in muscle recovery and replacing energy stores. Protein helps to repair and rebuild muscle tissue and carbohydrate replaces the energy you used during exercise. To make the most of your recovery nutrition, you should consume a combination of protein and carb, like trail mix, Greek yogurt, or nut butter with an apple, within an hour of finishing exercise. It is also important to replace electrolytes following strenuous exercise, especially in hot and humid climates. Sports drinks and coconut water provide a helpful balance of electrolytes that aid in hydration."—Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

A personal note on my recommendations written above. As a dietitian, I frequently work with athletes to recommend healthy ways to promote recovery and improve performance. In writing this article, I spent time looking at current clinical research and recommendations on sports nutrition. I also looked at multiple products and brands before choosing these particular packaged foods and beverages.

I believe the products in the round-up are made by trusted brands and are composed of high-quality ingredients. I would recommend the above products to friends, family, and clients, and have personally tried all of the products. You can currently find Justin's Peanut Butter Packets in my pantry and Fage 2% Plain Greek yogurt in my refrigerator. Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN

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6 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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