Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for six years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.
By Jill Levy
If you’re dedicated to fitness and staying in great shape, then you probably want to make the most of your workouts by eating in a way that supports exercise recovery.
What is an ideal post-workout recovery drink and how can it help?
When you consume nutrients including carbohydrates and protein after a workout, it helps your body refuel and support your muscle tissue. This allows your muscles to be replenished, meaning the next time you work out it can help with your performance.
While there are lots of convenient bottled “sports drinks” available, many are not actually beneficial overall, even if you’re active and can afford to consume a lot of calories.
A much better option may be to make your own after-workout drink using some basic ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, along with certain nutrient-packed workout supplements (mainly those that provide protein).
Of course, before starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation, you should always consult your healthcare practitioner
The Science of Healthy Muscle Recovery
When you work out your muscles are put under stress, which is actually a good thing. Overall, this causes them to become stronger over time, as long as you provide them with the correct nutrients and enough rest.
The problem with many commercial sports drinks is that they provide carbs (and sugar) but typically not enough protein, which is a critical nutrient for healthy muscles and joint health.
While carbs replenish your muscle glycogen stores and restore their energy, protein (made up of amino acids) actually promotes the natural replenishing of muscle fibers that are typically and normally broken down during exercise. Another name for this process is “protein synthesis,” which is key for supporting the natural repair and growth of healthy muscle tissue.
This explains why studies have found that athletes recover better from workouts when they consume beverages providing a combination of carbs and protein following exercise compared to when they only consume carbs post-workout.
Best Post-Workout Nutrition
Based on the science above, here’s what your body may crave in terms of the ideal after-workout drink depending on your goals:.
For overall recovery
Consume a mix of healthy carbs and protein after exercise. Aim for about 10 to 30 grams of protein after a workout, depending on your body weight and how intense your workout was, plus about 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates (roughly the amount in one cup of cooked unsweetened oatmeal).
For supporting healthy muscle recovery and growth
If your main goal is to put on muscle mass and gain strength, be sure to eat enough protein and calories in general right after exercising, and throughout the day.
Right after a tough workout, have about 30 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs.
About 20 percent to 30 percent of your daily calories should come from protein, meaning you may be eating as much as 120 to 150+ grams of protein per day depending on your size.
Athletes typically need to consume between 0.5 to 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day for the best recovery and performance. Those looking to gain mass with help from exercise can even eat up to their current weight in grams of protein per day.
For overall comfort and energy
Some occasional discomfort after a workout is normal, but too much along with an energy slump is not ideal.
While protein is important for becoming strong and lean, carbohydrates and protein together are needed to help promote overall comfort and energy. A balance of carbs and protein also supports a healthy metabolism and supports the healthy function of important organs and glands, including the thyroid and adrenal glands.
If you seek more comfort and energy after exercise, aim for a carb to protein ratio in your diet of about 3:1 to help replenish energy stores. Try a post-workout smoothie with about 10 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs.
Remember to eat enough calories in general each day, since calorie restriction can zap your energy, and to take rest days throughout the week.
For hydration and electrolyte balance
For those who've just gone through a grueling cardio workout, especially if it’s outdoors and/or in the heat, refueling with plenty of water and electrolytes (like sodium and potassium) is crucial.
Electrolytes, which are electrically charged minerals that help maintain proper fluid balance, neural activity and muscle contractions, are found in fruits, veggies and drinks like coconut water, green juice made with powdered supergreens, and bone broth.
Best Post-Workout Drinks
So what is the best drink to have after a workout? You may have heard that chocolate milk is a good post-workout drink. There’s some truth to this, considering that it contains both carbs and protein.
However, store-bought chocolate milk is also full of added sugar and sometimes other artificial flavors and ingredients. Plus, dairy isn’t always easy for many people to digest properly.
Why not make your own health-minded version instead (such as this Dark Chocolate Protein Smoothie) using high-quality chocolate protein powder and an easy-to-digest milk alternative, such as unsweetened almond milk?
Below are other ideas for health-focused workout drinks you can make at home:
- Smoothies made with berries, almond milk (or another milk substitute) and vanilla protein powder — try this Berry Collagen Protein Smoothie.
- A chocolate protein powder almond butter smoothie made with water or your favorite unsweetened milk. You can also add cocoa powder, sea salt and vanilla extract for extra flavor.
- Green vanilla smoothie made with a powdered supergreens supplement and vanilla protein powder. This is also a great source of antioxidants.
- Smoothie made with organic milk and your favorite fruit.
- Savory broth made with Bone Broth Protein powder and a bit of sea salt and pepper.
Considering that many sports beverages and protein powders contain lots of fillers, additives and sugar, are post-workout drinks worth it? The key is to choose quality after workout supplements, including protein powders, that include quality nutrients and are made without any junk. See below for top recommendations.
Best Post-Workout Supplements
We recommend the following Ancient Nutrition protein powder workout supplements if you’re looking to make health-minded post-workout drinks that support both healthy muscle repair and performance:
Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein (MCP) supplements feature 10 types of collagen protein from four food-sources: chicken, bovine, fish and eggshell membrane. This hydrolyzed, bioavailable formula makes it easy for your body to absorb collagen protein, which is the main protein the body uses to help form and promote healthy connective tissues.
All of our MCP formulas are Non-GMO and sourced from only grass-fed and pasture-raised, cage-free and cruelty-free sources. They are also free of added sugar, additives and fillers.
Multi Collagen Protein comes in several flavors, including pure/unflavored, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry lemonade and cucumber lime. One scoop contains 9 grams of protein, so use between 1–2 scoops depending on your needs.
Collagen peptides are a source of protein that’s available in powder form (which can be mixed with liquid) and capsule form. They feature “hydrolyzed collagen,” meaning collagen that has already been broken down into smaller, easy-to-digest particles.
Ancient Nutrition’s Collagen Peptides are made from two sources: clinically studied fermented eggshell membrane collagen and bovine collagen. Use these supplements to support joint comfort and to help joints recover faster, and to promote overall healthy muscles.
The unflavored formula provides 18 grams of protein per 2 scoop serving (20 grams of collagen). Collagen Peptides also come in vanilla and orange flavors.
Post-workout smoothies with Collagen Peptides can include this delicious Piña Colada Collagen Smoothie.
Bone Broth Protein (BBP) is a dried form of bone broth that contains not only protein and collagen, but also a wider mix of nutrients, including glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid and minerals that provide support for healthy muscles and joints.
One scoop of BBP contains 20 grams of protein to support joint health and joint comfort, while also supporting a healthy inflammation response and overall healthy muscles. BBP comes in several sweet and savory flavors including vanilla, chocolate, caramel and turmeric.
4. Plant Protein+
For those who prefer plant-based protein sources, this formula is made with a blend of organic, protein-packed seeds (including organic pumpkin, flax, chia, hemp and sunflower seeds) along with energizing adaptogens and botanicals.
Plant Protein+ can help curb stress-induced cravings, promote healthy body composition and fat metabolism, and increase muscle recovery.
Plant Protein+ comes in vanilla, chocolate and berry flavors and provides 15 grams of protein per one-scoop serving.
What Should You Not Drink or Eat After a Workout?
Although carbohydrates help support the recovery process, consuming lots of added sugar is not the best approach. The same can be said for protein: all protein sources are not created equal.
Limit or avoid these inflammatory foods in order to support your body’s overall health:
- Added sugars (cane sugar, syrups, fructose, etc.)
- Processed meats
- Conventional dairy, if you have trouble digesting it
- Protein powders made with fillers, added sugar and artificial sweeteners