October 20, 2017

The Rules of Recovery Drinks

The recovery drink. It’s one of those things that we’re always told to use, but never too clear on the rules. What should I put in it? When should I take it? And for that matter, what is it?

“The recovery drink is generally considered anything that you take post-workout to speed up the body’s ability to recover,” says Sean Casey, a physical preparation coach and registered dietitian with UW Health's Sports Performance Program. “That way, you’re more prepared going into your next training session.”

Recovery drinks are so popular, he says, because “you’re able to get food and nutrition into your system fairly quickly post-workout and it can be much easier on the stomach vs. solid foods. Plus it can assist hydration.”

For a recovery drink to be effective, it should contain protein, carbohydrates, and/or electrolytes, depending on your workout.

Carbohydrates and protein are the big ones. “Getting protein in right away can stimulate muscle recovery,” Casey says. It is consistent among all workouts.

Great sources of protein and carbohydrates for your recovery drink include bananas, berries, milk or Greek yogurt.

The amount of carbs one gets in the diet post-workout depends on the type of workout they are doing. “Let’s say if they’re just doing more of a general resistance training session, nothing super intense; I might do anywhere from 25 to 40 grams of carbohydrates,” Casey says. “But say they’re going out for a long run, that post-workout recovery might have closer to 80 grams of carbohydrates.”

And finally, replenishing electrolytes are necessary because “depending on how hot it is, we’re losing sodium and other electrolytes via sweat during the training session” Casey says.

Timing is also a great concern for many people in terms of when to consume a recovery drink.

“I’ve always found that the sooner you can get the post-workout recovery drink in you, the better you feel, the more prepared you are going into the rest of the day; especially if training twice a day,” Casey suggests.

But that isn’t a hard rule. It’s commonly thought that an athlete needs to get a recovery drink into his or her system immediately after a workout. However, “as long as you have it within that first 20 to 30 minutes, especially if it’s been 3-4+ hours since your last meal, you’ll respond really well,” Casey says.

But what about those of us who are not making our own recovery drinks? What drinks out there are especially beneficial?

“If looking for something basic, chocolate milk can provide benefit,” Casey says. “Tart cherry juice may also benefit muscle recovery by limiting inflammation. Although a certain degree of inflammation is required to stimulate muscle adaptation, too much of it can have negative consequences, especially if you are competing in an important event a few days after a workout.”

Casey says one common misconception is that you need high doses of protein - like 40 to 50 grams. For anyone making their own recovery drinks, Casey recommends 20 grams of high quality protein such as whey protein to maximize recovery.

But the greatest misconception, he says, is relying too much on recovery drinks for results.

“At the end of the day, you can have the best recovery drink in the world, but if you don’t have a workout that stimulates the need for a recovery drink, it’s not going to do you any good.”

Upcoming Sport Nutrition Classes: October 30 and November 6

October 30: Join Sean at his upcoming class, "Cooking and Nutrition for the High School Athlete." Teen athletes can learn how to properly fuel themselves for game day during this hands-on session. Register for the class

November 6: Middle school athletes have unique nutritional demands. Sean will work with attendees to create healthy snacks to fuel up for your game. Register for the class

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