Post Workout Drinks: Six Options That Help With Recovery

If you just finished a tough workout and aren’t exactly thrilled about the idea of chugging down a bottle of water to rehydrate, we’ve got good news. The best drinks to recover after your workout are delicious, nutritious, and can help you recover from your workout more quickly while building muscle. When considering post workout drinks, try these six options that help with recovery. 

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals in the body that dissolve in water, carry either a positive or negative charge, and conduct electricity. Fruits, beverages, and certain natural beverages, such as unpurified water,  coconut water, and milk, naturally contain electrolytes, but many people do not receive enough electrolytes through their diets alone. Instead, many people use electrolyte supplements to keep their electrolytes and fluids balanced. Electrolytes are essential in order to maintain proper function of the body and keep the fluids balanced, and they are primarily found in the blood, sweat, and urine. The body relies on electrolytes to perform a number of essential functions, including: 

  • Proper hydration
  • Nervous system function
  • Balancing internal pH levels
  • Muscle function

There are seven different electrolytes found in the human body, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate; however, sodium, potassium, and magnesium are found in the body in the largest quantities.

What are the signs of dehydration?

Electrolyte imbalances and poor fluid intake can lead to dehydration, which is a condition that occurs when the levels of fluids in the body become depleted because more fluid is lost than taken in. As a result, people who experience dehydration may be unable to perform certain functions properly or at all. Children and senior citizens are the two age groups considered most at risk of experiencing dehydration, but people of any age can become dehydrated. If you only drink water or other fluids when you feel thirsty, you may be at risk of experiencing chronic dehydration, as thirst is actually a sign of significant dehydration instead of early dehydration. Common signs of dehydration include:

  • Diminished urine input
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Dark yellow urine

When dehydration reaches severe levels, the condition can be very dangerous. Signs and complications of severe dehydration include:

  • Reduced elasticity of the skin
  • Confusion
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Quickening heart rate
  • Fever
  • Sunken eyes
  • Shock
  • Seizure
  • Lethargy
  • Coma

Should I drink electrolytes before or after my workout?

Let’s face it: given what a large role electrolytes play in hydration and the body’s overall function, there’s never a bad time to use an electrolyte supplement. However, the choice to drink electrolytes before, during, or after your workout will vary depending on what type of workout you are doing, how long the workout will be, and how much you normally sweat. Some people don’t sweat much at all, even during intense workouts, while other people are profuse sweaters or excrete a large amount of salt when they sweat. Not sure if you’re a salty sweater or not? If your skin or clothing is covered in a salty residue after your workouts, you are a salty sweater. People who are profuse or salty sweaters should drink electrolytes before they work out in order to stave off any potential imbalances, especially when they will be exercising for an extended period of time, at a high intensity, or in a hot or humid environment. 

Most people won’t need to consume electrolytes, carbohydrates, or calories during their workout unless they are planning on working out for longer than an hour or an hour and a half, unless they are profuse or salty sweaters. However, for longer workouts, such as long runs while training for a marathon, you’ll need to replenish electrolytes during your workout. Some people may also need to consume some carbohydrates during longer workouts as well, but you don’t need to get carbohydrates from added sugars in your electrolyte drink. Instead, try eating a small snack that contains complex carbohydrates instead, as these will be less likely to cause an upset stomach while working out.

While some people consume electrolytes before or during their workout, it is far more common for people to use an electrolyte drink after exercise in order to replace electrolytes that the body has lost through sweat. When recovering from a workout that is short, low intensity, or doesn’t cause you to work up much of a sweat, plain water may be enough to rehydrate. However, people who are salty or excessive sweaters or who have worked out for a long time or at a high intensity should boost their hydration levels by using an electrolyte supplement. This is particularly important for individuals who are training for endurance events, such as a marathon, half marathon, or triathlon, because doing intense or long workouts each day can quickly lead to chronic dehydration.  When engaging in these activities,  be sure to properly replace electrolytes in order to ensure that you do not enter your workouts depleted and dehydrated.

What are the best post workout drinks for recovery?

After a tough workout, it’s time to replenish, rehydrate, and refuel your body. Although conventional wisdom might tell you that water is the best choice for rehydrating after a workout, the best post workout drinks for recovery are actually far more varied. Depending on the type of workout you’re doing and how long you exercised, your body probably needs an electrolyte boost in order to restore minerals that are lost through sweat. Electrolytes help build your muscles after a workout and speed up your recovery, so making sure you replenish your electrolyte stores post workout is critical. The best post workout drinks for recovery include:

  • Electrolyte drinks: Electrolyte drinks are one of the best ways to recover from a tough workout because they are packed with everything your body needs to properly rehydrate. It’s recommended that you choose an electrolyte drink that keeps calories, carbohydrates, and added sugar to a minimum, as well as artificial colors and flavors, because your body doesn’t need these ingredients to rehydrate. If you’ve had a tough workout and need to refuel, get your carbs and calories from sources of food instead of electrolyte drinks. 
  • Chocolate milk: Chocolate milk is not only delicious, it’s also one of the best recovery drinks around if you want to load up on carbohydrates and protein after your workout. Milk naturally contains electrolytes, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and chocolate milk contains double the carbohydrates of plain milk. 
  • Tea: Tea is more than just a relaxing morning beverage. Both black tea and green tea have been shown to help with fat oxidation, which is the process of breaking down fat into smaller molecules that are stored and later used for energy. Tea is also full of antioxidants that help flush soreness from the body and speed up the recovery of muscle strength. Drinking tea after a workout was found to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, for athletes that participated in a 2010 study. It should be noted that drinking large quantities of caffeinated tea can act as a diuretic, which can cause further dehydration. Therefore, keep your servings of tea to one or two 8-ounce cups.
  • Coconut water: Coconut water is naturally rich in electrolytes, including potassium and magnesium, making it excellent for recovering after a tough workout. However, some people experience bloating and an upset stomach when drinking coconut water compared to when drinking electrolyte drinks or water, so people with sensitive stomachs should sip on coconut water slowly. Coconut water also contains less sodium than other electrolyte drinks, so while it is a good option for recovering from a short workout, it is not well suited to helping athletes recover from long or particularly intense efforts where you’re sweating profusely.
  • Cherry juice: Cherry juice and other tart juices are rich in antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation and improve muscle function and recovery. One study showed that runners who drank cherry juice before and after their workouts had faster muscle recovery than those who did not as a result of reduced inflammation. 
  • Beer: Drinking a beer at a post workout happy hour isn’t a bad thing - it can even help with recovery. Beer is packed with electrolytes and carbohydrates, and drinking one beer will not negatively impact hydration. Nonalcoholic beer offers the same benefits and has been shown to reduce inflammation and upper respiratory tract illness incidence in one study. However, drinking too much alcohol can be dehydrating and can suppress muscle protein synthesis, undoing some of your hard work. 
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