The Best Recovery Drink For Your Workout (2018)
Should you reach for plain water after a run or that lemon-lime Powerade? What’s best to drink before a run? What won’t cause a churning stomach if you drink it midway through a long run? Resident Experts Amanda Casanova & Rich Stead give us the inside scoop on the different hydration and recovery drinks available, and which is the best recovery drink for your workout!
We all know the hydration basics— Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Drink until your urine is pale yellow or clear. But what are the differences in the many hydration products out there for athletes and what do they provide?
Some are boosted with electrolytes and caffeine. Others have tasty flavors. Should I have protein? Some drinks have only recently become more popular. The landscape can be very confusing depending what you read.
Runners need both a balance of fluids and electrolytes to maintain energy during a run and they need those things replenished following a run. With warmer months approaching, proper hydration will become more critical to a runner’s routine. Here’s the lowdown on some of the top hydration drinks and what they offer, so you know what’s best, and when.
This thirst-quenching staple is best downed before or during a run, particularly ones lasting less than an hour (although runs lasting less than an hour don’t necessarily require you to drink fluids). Water after a run isn’t as beneficial as other drinks because it doesn’t contain any significant electrolytes and can dilute your system even more. But, since water has no sugar, it doesn’t trigger any GI distress the way a sports drink might. You want to start each run in a euhydrated state, which is the normal state of body water content.
Aim for adequate daily hydration, and with exercise aim to consume 16-20 ounces (2-2½ cups) of fluid for every pound lost during exercise to help achieve normal fluid state. Whilst water is a good option, especially before and during exercise, it may not be the best recovery drink for your workout.
How much to drink: Aim for up to 16 ounces two hours before you run.
Sodium content: 0
If you’re planning on running longer than an hour, and especially in warmer temperatures, stash a sports drink somewhere along your route or fill your waist pack bottle with your favorite sports drink. You might need to test different varieties to find one that sits well in your stomach. Make sure you test this during your training sessions, not on a race day! A sports drink is a great way to hydrate during a run because it offers both fluids and the electrolytes (sodium and potassium) you’ve lost. The carbs in the drink will also keep you from hitting the wall as your run stretches past 60 or 90 minutes. You can also drink a sports drink after a run to replace lost electrolytes and carbs. Don’t worry about the calories in the drink. On longer runs, your body needs those extra calories.
Most of these drinks are isotonic, which makes them perfect for intra-workout and means they contain between 4g and 8g of sugar (carbohydrates) per 100ml, and have a similar osmotic pressure to bodily fluids. As a result, the isotonic drink is taken up taken up by the body quickly, making them perfect for endurance sports- the glucose can be utilized quickly which provides the body with additional energy resources whilst the electrolytes help to quench thirst. On the negative side, some people find them too sugary and can cause GI distress/bloatedness. So be sure to find one that works well for you.
Popular choices include: Gatorade, Powerade, Lucozade (U.K).
How much to drink: 16 oz. every hour past initial 60 minutes
Sodium content: ~ 100 mg per serving
Carbs: 15-22 carbs per serving
This is a newer fixture on the hydration market. Coconut water is packed with potassium and has fewer calories than a traditional sport drink. Some coconut water producers also don’t add any additional sugar, relying on its natural sugar only. But coconut water only boasts about 30 mg. of sodium per serving compared to sports drinks. If you’re looking for something other than water to keep hydrated with, you can swap in a few glasses of coconut water. For light workouts lasting less than an hour, you can also drink coconut water for rehydration. Different brands taste very different, and those with no added sugar can be an acquired taste.
How much to drink: As desired for daily hydration
Sodium content: 30 mg per 8 oz.
Carbs: 9 carbs per serving
Long considered a running fad that has endured, pickle juice is mostly used for treating muscle cramps, but the tangy juice is also filled with sodium— 2 ounces provides about 200 mg of sodium. If you can stand the taste, that’s a quick way to restore the body’s lost electrolytes. Most experts agree that water or sports drinks are better choices over pickle juice, but it’s still being used.
How much to drink: 1 to 2 ounces
Sodium content: 200 mg per 2 ounces
Electrolyte tablets are similar to sports drinks without the added sugar. These can be a little easier on the stomach. These tablets are specifically formulated with calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and other minerals so they can help you maintain your electrolyte levels during your races and workouts. Like sports drinks, you can drink these during a workout or after. Some can be a bit on the expensive side. You can also get products like Propel, which is essentially pre-made electrolyte water.
Popular choices: Nuun, Skratch, Ucan
How much to drink: 1 tablet per 16 oz of water
Sodium content: ~360 mg per serving
Carbs: ~4 grams per serving
These are your drinks that contain significant doses of caffeine and sugar. In addition, they are often carbonated. They can give you a quick high but beware the crash later on. The carbonated water can cause GI distress/bloatedness and are not really ideal during a workout. Their heavy carb content will probably upset your stomach or skyrocket your already pumping heart rate from the caffeine and make you feel jittery. If you like energy drinks or really need a pick me up, take one on a full stomach before or after a run for a kickstart to your energy levels. Of note, given caffeine is a diuretic, you might need to pee more- not ideal if you are about to do a long run!
Examples would include: Monster, Rockstar, Red Bull
How much to drink: Limit to one serving.
Sodium content: 30 – 180 mg per serving
Carbs: 30 – 40 carbs per serving
Chocolate Milk (or even just milk)
A good post-run drink replenishes glycogen stores in the muscles and starts the recovery process. Because chocolate milk is loaded with carbs and protein, it’s a good post-run drink and no longer just relegated to the elementary school cafeterias. It’s the perfect beverage to jump-start the muscle recovery process after a tough workout or long run, so drink this when you need a protein boost after a particularly hard, hot or long run. Definitely a contender for the best recovery drink for your workout after the gym or a long run, and is an excellent choice.
How much to drink: 12 oz. after a run
Sodium content: 165 mg per serving
Carbs: 26 grams per serving
Another tart choice to add to the list is cherry juice. Drink this up to two times a day during intense training to help minimize inflammation and pain from the workout grind. You can also drink cherry juice before a run. Steer clear of options that have cherry flavoring and look for ones that have added protein. There are even some that offer vitamins and electrolytes for added hydration. The key here is the antioxidants in the cherries, which help with recovery.
How much to drink: 1 to 2 servings daily during training
Sodium content: 25 mg per serving
Carbs: 30 grams per serving
If you have been doing a heavy gym session or are primarily concerned about muscle repair and adaptation, kick-starting that process with a protein-based recovery drink is a great idea. Unfortunately many of these drinks are not great for rehydration and often neglect electrolyte properties, but BCAA and protein-based drinks can be a great way to get the nutrients your starving body needs post-workout. Combine with carbs to increase the uptake and you have a great option. Coincidentally, this is yet another reason why Chocolate Milk comes out as a top choice for recovery.
Popular choices include: Muscle Milk, Optimum Nutrition, Musclepharm
How much to drink: Typically 1 scoop added to 16 oz of water
Protein Content: 24-30 grams
Sodium content: Varies
Related: Click here to see our straightforward supplement guide lowdown
What is the best recovery drink for YOUR workout? Got a suggestion of your own that you love? Add it below!