Best Recovery Drinks and Foods After a Workout

What Should You Eat and Drink to Replenish Your Muscles?

Chocolate Milk
Chocolate Milk. Wendy Bumgardner ©

After a long walk or an intense workout, your muscles have expended their available energy stores and need carbohydrates and protein to help them replenish and rebuild. Even if you are walking only to burn off calories, if you have put in a long session of endurance walking of two hours or more you should have a recovery drink or snack. The question is, what is the best recovery snack?

How Much Carbohydrate and Protein are Needed for Recovery Drinks and Foods?

A review of the research says that one gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per hour is needed for recovery.

For a 150-pound person, that is 68 grams of carbohydrates, or what you would find in two Snickers bars or in 36 ounces of original Gatorade. That is a lot of sugar to take in.

Adding protein in a 1:4 ratio allows the body to use the carbohydrates better. If you don't want to eat that much sugar, the sugar you do take in will be used more effectively to rebuild energy stores in the muscles. That would be 17 grams of protein for a 150 pound person.

Many recovery drinks and bars are formulated with the 1:4 ratio. The protein, or amino acids, in some recovery drinks and bars is also used to rebuild and repair muscles.

Recovery Drinks

Low-fat chocolate milk and recovery drinks such as Accelerade and Endurox provide carbohydrate and protein in a ratio of 4:1. Studies have shown that this combination can boost performance and reduce free radicals and muscle damage, versus those sports drinks that only replace carbohydrates and electrolytes, such as original Gatorade.

More: Chocolate Milk as a Recovery Drink

Recovery drinks also help restore water to the body after a workout. It is important to replenish the fluids lost through sweat. Endurance walkers should drink immediately after a long walking workout and continue drinking as long as they feel thirsty.

Recovery Foods and Snacks

Recovery snacks with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate-to-protein can be used in place of recovery drinks, so long as water is replenished too.

Many energy bars containing protein are marketed as recovery snacks. Alternatives using regular foods. Here are some ideas for a quick recovery snack using real food:

  • Bagel with peanut butter or low-fat cheese
  • Smoothie with milk, fruit, nut butter
  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Hummus with pita
  • Banana with nut butter
  • Baked potato or sweet potato topped with low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt, salsa, or beans.
  • Apple or pear with cheese


Karp, Jason R.; Johnston, Jeanne D.; Tecklenburg, Sandy; Mickleborough, Tim; Fly, Alyce; Stager, Joel M. FACSM "The Efficacy of Chocolate Milk as a Recovery Aid," Annual Meeting Abstracts: C-34 - Free Communication/Poster: Post-Exercise Nutrition. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Volume 36(5) Supplement May 2004 p S126.

Betts JA, Williams C. "Short-term recovery from prolonged exercise: exploring the potential for protein ingestion to accentuate the benefits of carbohydrate supplements." Sports Med. 2010 Nov 1;40(11):941-59.

Beelen M, Burke LM, Gibala MJ, van Loon L JC. "Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery." Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Dec;20(6):515-32.

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