It's important to refuel within 30 minutes to two hours after your workout with protein and carbohydrates, according to Amy Gorin, MS, RDN. "This combination of nutrients helps your muscles repair and grow stronger," she says. Post-workout drinks are the easiest—and quickest—way to do so. But with all the different options available, which do you choose? Here, three experts break down the most popular post-workout drinks.
The most popular post-workout drinks, ranked from best to worst
1. Chocolate milk
Is there a better post-workout reward than chocolate milk? According to the experts, it's not just the best tasting—it's also the best option. "Chocolate milk is a great post-workout beverage, as it combines high-quality protein and carbohydrates. In fact, one glass of low-fat chocolate milk provides about 8 grams of protein," says Brittany Modell, MS, RD, CDN. "Both protein and carbohydrates are important to help refuel and replenish your body after a workout. Chocolate milk also provides important nutrients and electrolytes, such as calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium that are commonly lost through sweating."
2. Protein shake
Next up, protein shakes, which basically have everything your body needs after a sweat sesh. Modell says it's just important to make sure the one you're choosing has all the right elements.
"Make sure your protein shake incorporates all the macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. Especially protein when the drink is used as a recovery aid," she says. "Post-recovery, you want to aim to get around 20 to 30 grams of protein, depending on your size and needs. Many store bought protein shakes tend to be full of additives. Therefore, when possible, it is best to create your own using wholesome ingredients such as fruit, ice, milk, nut butters, and high-quality protein powders."
3. Orange juice
Orange just isn't just a breakfast drink. It's also a great choice post-workout, no matter what time of the day your sweat session is. "Many people don’t know about all the nutrients you get from 100 percent orange juice. In addition to immunity-helping vitamin C, it provides potassium, an electrolyte that you lose through sweat," says Gorin. "It’s important to replace electrolytes after a workout—and sometimes during, depending on the intensity of the workout."
Modell also says another perk of orange juice is that it's hydrating and contains quick-digesting carbohydrates. With that being said, Mona S. Cabrera, MS, RD, recommends combining OJ with protein powder so you'll have the carbs and protein you need post-workout. You could do this in a smoothie or shaker bottle—whichever method you prefer.
Classic. Since you're sweating during a workout, it's important to drink water before, during, and after to keep your body hydrated. While normal water is great and often contains small amounts of electrolytes, mineral water is an even better option. "After intense exercise, you need a beverage that contains electrolytes. If you’re going to drink water, mineral water has higher amounts of electrolytes than tap water," says Gorin.
With that being said, if your workouts are intense, drinking solely mineral water may not be enough for post-workout help. "You really need to be taking in fuel that’s going to help your muscles repair themselves. So in addition to electrolytes, you need protein and carbs," she says.
5. Sports drinks
While sports drinks like Gatorade provide hydration, energy, and electrolytes, Cabrera prefers athletes to make their own versions, which can be just as beneficial. "If you look at the ingredients, Gatorade, for instance, is high in added sugars, artificial colors, and flavorings. These ingredients can lead to gastrointestinal distress, bloating, headaches, and other issues," she says.
6. Coconut water
Coconut water isn't just refreshing. It also contains electrolytes, like magnesium and potassium, says Modell. The only issue? "It's not ideal for athletes who do high-intensity workouts because it's low in sodium. Overall, it is not a miracle post-workout drink, but it is hydrating and refreshing," she says. Also, since you're not getting a high enough amount of carbs or protein by drinking it, Gorin says to add it to a smoothie or shake instead of drinking it by itself.
7. beetroot juice
According to Cabrera, beet juice is rich in potassium, an electrolyte that needs to be replaced after exercising, as well as vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, iron, and sodium. "A small research study also showed drinking beetroot juice increases plasma nitrate levels and boosts physical performance," she says. Unfortunately, although there are clearly some perks, it doesn't contain enough protein to make it a stellar post-workout drink. Add it into your shakes and smoothies instead of drinking it plain.
8. Cherry juice
There are some benefits to drinking cherry juice post-workout. "Research shows that drinking Montmorency cherry juice after a workout can help you recover after intense exercise. The juice can help decrease muscle damage and reduce inflammation," says Gorin. But it's still lacking compared to the other options. "You still need to take in the proper amount of carbs and protein post-workout."
While coffee does have some benefits, like helping decrease muscle pain, it's the least helpful option on this list. "Coffee tends to be a bit dehydrating, which is the opposite of what you want for a post-workout beverage," says Modell. "That being said, consuming caffeine pre-workout may improve your performance."
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