Best Recovery Drinks and Foods After a Workout

Chocolate milk

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After a long walk or an intense workout, your muscles have expended their available energy stores and need carbohydrates and protein to help them replenish and rebuild. Even if you are walking only to burn off calories, if you have put in a long session of endurance walking of two hours or more you should have a recovery drink or snack. The question is, what is the best recovery snack?

Carbohydrate and Protein in Recovery Drinks and Foods

A review of the research says that one gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per hour is needed for recovery. For a 150-pound person, that is 68 grams of carbohydrates, or what you would find in two Snickers bars or in 36 ounces of original Gatorade. That is a lot of sugar to take in.

Adding protein to the carbohydrates in a 1-to-4 ratio allows the body to use the carbohydrates better. If you don't want to eat that much sugar, the sugar you do take in will be used more effectively to rebuild energy stores in the muscles. That would be 17 grams of protein for a person who weighs 150 pounds.

Many recovery drinks and bars are formulated with the 1-to-4 protein to carbohydrate ratio. The protein or amino acids in some recovery drinks and bars are also used to rebuild and repair muscles.

Recovery Foods and Snacks

Recovery snacks with a 1-to-4 ratio of protein to carbohydrate can be used in place of recovery drinks, so long as water is replenished at the same time. Many energy bars containing protein are marketed as recovery snacks. They are convenient if you are away from home and will work for that purpose. But you can use alternatives from your pantry or refrigerator that cost much less. If you use whole foods you can be sure you aren't getting unneeded additives and preservatives.

Here are some ideas for a quick recovery snack using real food:

  • Bagel with peanut butter or low-fat cheese
  • Smoothie with milk, fruit, and nut butter
  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Hummus with pita
  • Banana with nut butter
  • Baked potato or sweet potato topped with low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt, salsa, or beans.
  • Apple or pear with cheese

Recovery Drinks and Chocolate Milk

Low-fat chocolate milk and recovery drinks such as Accelerade and Endurox provide protein and carbohydrates in a ratio of 1-to-4. Studies have shown that this combination can boost performance and reduce free radicals and muscle damage when compared to sports drinks that only replace carbohydrates and electrolytes, such as original Gatorade.

You will see chocolate milk being offered at the finish line of marathons and half-marathons. It is a low-cost alternative to more expensive recovery drinks. Chocolate milk is recommended immediately after exercise and again at two hours after exercise. This appears to help limit muscle damage.

A study of cyclists comparing chocolate milk and a carbohydrate replacement recovery beverage found less of an enzyme that is released when muscles are damaged in those who had chocolate milk. There was no difference in exercise performance by the two groups of athletes at their next workout. The amount of chocolate milk consumed was 1.0 to 1.5 grams per kilogram per hour, which would be less than half a cup each hour for a person weighing 150 pounds.

Recovery drinks also help restore water to the body after a workout. It is important to replenish the fluids lost through sweat. Endurance walkers should drink immediately after a long walking workout and continue drinking as long as they feel thirsty.

A Word From Verywell

When you finish an endurance workout or race, your body needs nutrients to restore cellular energy, repair muscles, and build new systems to keep your muscles supplied. A recovery snack is the first step in the process. Follow it up with a balanced meal and a good night's sleep.

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Article Sources
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  1. MedlinePlus. Nutrition and athletic performance. Updated May 13, 2019.

  2. Beelen M, Burke LM, Gibala MJ, Van loon l JC. Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010;20(6):515-32. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.20.6.515

  3. Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate milk: a post-exercise recovery beverage for endurance sports. Med Sport Sci. 2012;59:127-134. doi:10.1159/000341954

  4. Pritchett K, Bishop P, Pritchett R, Green M, Katica C. Acute effects of chocolate milk and a commercial recovery beverage on postexercise recovery indices and endurance cycling performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009;34(6):1017-22. doi:10.1139/H09-104

Additional Reading
  • Betts JA, Williams C. Short-Term Recovery From Prolonged Exercise: Exploring the Potential for Protein Ingestion to Accentuate the Benefits of Carbohydrate Supplements. Sports Med. 2010 Nov 1;40(11):941-59.