The 7 Best Recovery Foods and Drinks for Your Workout

Refuel strategically after exercise with these recovery-focused products

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Best Recovery Foods and Drinks for Your Workout

Verywell Fit / Lecia Landis

After a challenging workout, it’s important to replenish energy stores with a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and a bit of healthy fat. No matter the exercise, the foods you choose to eat post-workout can help promote optimal recovery while building muscle. Your precise nutrition needs will vary based on your nutrition goals, conditioning level, activity intensity, and workout timing, but it's ideal to both refuel and rehydrate due to water loss.

According to Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN, "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 carbs, 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."

If the timing of your workout is such that a meal fits easily into the one-hour window, then opting for a meal that has a combination of whole grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and fat can support your recovery. However, when you’re in a rush or the timing isn't right for a meal right after a workout, there are some excellent packaged foods and beverages that can support your recovery efforts. We chose a variety of foods and drinks that have nutrients to help you refuel right after exercise.

In This Article

Best Drink

Fairlife Chocolate 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk

Fairlife Chocolate 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk


  • Ultra-filtered milk (not a protein shake)

  • Good source of all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat)

  • Good source of sodium and potassium

  • Great source of vitamin D and calcium

  • Not suitable for those sensitive to milk

Fairlife's 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk is a portable and fast way to get appropriate nutrients after a workout to promote muscle recovery. This product does triple duty by replacing fluids and packing in extra protein and carbohydrates. Keep in mind that this drink is not technically a protein shake and is higher in carbohydrates—22 grams. This also makes it much cheaper than a protein shake, but still packs the same benefits.

One drink also includes 350 mg sodium and 500 mg potassium, which are important electrolytes to replenish post-workout. Drinking something with carbohydrates and electrolytes can be more hydrating compared to just water after a workout. We also like that this drink is dairy-based but lactose-free and a good source of calcium. Fairlife's 2% Ultra-Filtered Milk is smooth with just enough sweetness. Try pairing it with fruit for added fiber for a more filling recovery snack.

Price at time of publication: $5 for 52 ounces

Key Specs:

Serving Size: 1 bottle (414 ml) | Protein: 23 grams Carbohydrate: 22 grams | Fiber Per Serving: 1 grams | Fat: 8 grams | Added Sugar Per Serving: 10 grams | Calories Per Serving: 250

Best Water

Harmless Harvest Coconut Water

Harmless Harvest Organic Coconut Harvest, 16 Fl. Oz.


  • Rehydrating

  • Good source of potassium and phosphorus

  • Organic and Fair Trade certified

  • Not a good source of protein or fat

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 help restore fluids and electrolytes. 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 natural source of carbohydrates and a variety of electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

While there are some organic electrolyte powders and beverages available, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water is completely natural with nothing artificial. It’s made from one ingredient: organic coconut water. Harmless Harvest is not only 100% 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.

If you want something that has a slightly different taste, they also offer coconut water with watermelon juice and a coconut smoothie made from coconut water and coconut pulp.

Price at time of publication: $56 for a 6-pack of 32-ounce bottles

Key Specs:

Serving Size: 1/2 bottle (8 ounces) | Protein: 0 grams Carbohydrate: 15 grams | Fiber Per Serving: Less than 1 gram | Fat: 0 grams | Added Sugar Per Serving: 0 grams | Calories Per Serving: 60

Best Juice

R.W. Knudsen Organic Just Tart Cherry Juice



  • Anti-inflammatory

  • No added sugar

  • Organic and non-GMO

  • Not a good source of protein or fat

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, we recommend 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 or seltzer can improve palatability while still allowing you to reap the benefits of the recovery drink. Plus, if you mix it into a smoothie, it can be a part of a more balanced post-workout meal.

Price at time of publication: $10 for 32 ounces

Key Specs:

Serving Size: 8 ounces | Protein: Less than 1 gram Carbohydrate: 31 grams | Fiber Per Serving: 0 grams | Fat:  0 grams | Added Sugar Per Serving: 0 grams | Calories Per Serving: 130

Best Sweet Snack

Navitas Organics Organic Power Snacks Chocolate Cacao

Navitas Organics Organic Power Snacks Chocolate

Courtesy of Amazon

  • Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free

  • Source of iron and potassium

  • Third-party tested

  • May work best for recovery when paired with another snack

If you're craving a sweet snack post-workout, these Organic Power Snacks from Navitas Organics may be a good fit. These non-GMO, gluten-free snacks will satisfy your sweet tooth while providing ample nourishment to promote muscle recovery. With four different flavors, including blueberry hemp, cacao goji, chocolate cacao, and coffee cacao, there's something for everyone. These nutrient-dense bites are grab-and-go snacks that don't need to be refrigerated and can be kept in a bag or desk drawer.

If you're a chocolate lover, try the chocolate cacao variety. The decadent, plant-based bites feature a variety of nutrient-dense 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 a Greek yogurt with some fruit. Each two-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. They also provide a source of iron, vitamin C, and potassium. The bites taste so good that you likely won't stop at two.

Navitas states this product is third-party tested, which can be rare to find for snack foods. They also have no additives added or filler ingredients. While we like that they can easily be paired with other snacks, they may not support recovery enough on their own after exercise.

Price at time of publication: $18 for a 16-ounce bag

Key Specs:

Serving Size: 2 pieces (20 grams) | Protein: 2 grams Carbohydrate: 12 grams | Fiber Per Serving: 2 grams | Fat: 3 grams | Added Sugar Per Serving: 1 gram | Calories Per Serving: 80

Best Bar

SANS Meal Replacement Protein Bar

SANS PB and J Meal Replacement Protein Bar

Courtesy by Amazon

  • Could be a meal replacement

  • Free of added sugar, sugar alcohols, natural flavors, gluten, dairy, and soy

  • Good source of potassium

  • Good balance of fat, protein, carbs

  • Not suitable for egg allergies

Most bars are appropriate as a snack, but the SANS Meal Replacement Bar is an easy way to get in adequate calories as a meal. If you're someone who rushes to work after a workout or is immediately hungry after a grueling exercise session, these bars can be a good pick to just throw in your bag and go.

Packed with 390 calories per bar, ingredients include whole foods such as dates, egg whites, spinach, flax seed, and oats. They also contain 14 important vitamins and minerals, including 610 mg of potassium for recovery. SANS means "without" in French, and these bars live up to their name; they are free of gluten, dairy, soy, natural flavors, and added sugar.

Some flavor options include peanut butter cacao, PB&J, and coconut almond butter. These bars are higher in total sugar, with 23 grams per bar, but this amount after a workout will help restore muscle glycogen.

Key Specs:

Serving Size: 1 bar (85 grams) | Protein: 15 grams Carbohydrate: 36 grams | Fiber Per Serving: 7 grams | Fat:  23 grams | Added Sugar Per Serving: 0 grams | Calories Per Serving: 390

Best Breakfast

Oats Over Night Oatmeal

Oats Over Night Oatmeal


  • Can be used as a shake or in a bowl

  • Convenient single-serve packets

  • Both vegan and whey-based varieties

  • Gluten-free and non-GMO

  • Needs to sit in the refrigerator for optimal texture

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 a full, balanced breakfast after a morning workout, but Oats Overnight makes it simple.

The convenient, single-serve packets feature creamy oats mixed with nutrient-rich flax seeds, chia seeds, protein, and flavors. Simply add milk in either a shaker or bowl and pop it into the refrigerator for four hours or overnight.

Oats Overnight comes in a variety of flavors, such as cinnamon roll, banana bread, maple pancakes, and more. Plus, they also come in a plant-based or whey-protein-based version, so they can fit a variety of dietary needs.

Price at time of publication: $34 for a pack of 8

Serving Size:

Key Specs:
1 packet | Protein: 20 grams Carbohydrate: 38 grams | Fiber Per Serving: 6 grams | Fat: 5 grams | Added Sugar Per Serving: 4 grams | Calories Per Serving: 280

Best Versatile

Good Culture 2% Milkfat Classic Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese

Good Culture

  • Can be eaten as savory or sweet, depending on add-ons

  • Certified gluten-free, keto, and kosher

  • Comes from pasture-raised cows

  • Not a good source of carbohydrates and fiber on its own

Snack foods tend to be more savory or sweet, but the Good Culture Classic Cottage Cheese can be used as a base for both! If you're in the mood for something savory, try adding chopped vegetables and an everything bagel seasoning. However, if you're craving something sweet, you can't go wrong with some fruit and cinnamon.

What makes cottage cheese a recovery food is its leucine content. Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) that plays an important role in muscle repair and building. You'll also be getting all nine essential amino acids, as cottage cheese is a complete protein.

While this does require refrigeration, it's a simple base for a variety of snacks or meals after workouts.

Price at time of publication: $2 for 5.3 oz

Key Specs:

Serving Size: 1 container (142 grams) | Protein: 18 grams Carbohydrate: 3 grams | Fiber Per Serving: 0 grams | Fat: 3 grams | Added Sugar Per Serving: 0 grams | Calories Per Serving: 110

What to Look for in a Recovery Food or Drink


If you have any food allergies or sensitivities, always check 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 healthcare provider or a professional if you have questions.


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 might find this to be especially important for keeping their energy levels and strength at the levels they need. 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 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.

Drinking fluids with electrolytes after a workout can also be important for recovery, especially if you have a lot of sweat loss, worked out in the heat, or exercised for over 60-90 minutes.


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 carbohydrates and fat, is an excellent way to rehydrate and refuel.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is food important for recovery?

    Food after exercise is important because it replenishes glycogen stores and begins healing muscle damage from tiny tears that happens with exercise. Food after exercise can help you return to exercise faster and prevent injuries.

    Carbohydrates help bring muscle glycogen stores back to pre-workout levels, which is important for keeping blood sugar stable and fueling the energy-making process. Whether after a high-intensity gym workout or a 5-mile walk on a treadmill under a standing desk in the office, consuming protein within two hours of exercise is important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and repairing muscles, joints, and tendons.

  • What takes place in your body during recovery?

    Recovery allows the body to adapt to the stress put on it during exercise, repair body tissue, and therefore build stronger muscles over time. During exercise, your muscle cells are damaged with tiny tears, and inflammation increases from the soreness that you feel after a workout. The recovery process allows this damage to heal and inflammation to decrease, all while improving cardiovascular health and muscle strength. Eating protein and carbohydrates during recovery helps heal muscle damage, increases muscle glycogen, and promotes muscle protein synthesis.

  • What should you avoid while recovering?

    On recovery days, it is important to do just that: recover and rest. You don’t want to do heavy cardio or weight training to allow your muscles time to heal. However, for those who do sedentary work, it's perfectly fine to do some light exercise during the day, like on an under-desk bike, to get the body moving and blood pumping. Additionally, it is important to not decrease your food intake just because you are less active. Listen to your body for its hunger and fullness cues, and be sure to consume adequate protein for your muscles to heal, along with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

7 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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