Recovery Drinks 101: What To Choose And When To Use It

You stumble through the front door, exhausted, sweaty, and eager to look at your training data. But before you worry too much about the cadence of today’s ride, or your pace on that local run loop, give a thought to your post training nutrition.

 

Recovery starts with your choice of food (and drink) in the hours after your training session or race. You wouldn’t fuel up for a key training session using whatever you can find in the back of the fridge. Be strategic about your recovery nutrition, too.

 

What Does Your Body Need For Recovery?

 

A healthy, nutritious diet will always be the foundation of your sports performance and recovery. But there is a time and a place for supplemental recovery nutrition. The truth is, it’s difficult to get precise amounts of carbohydrates, protein, electrolytes, and digestive support in a meal. And the challenge is compounded if you need to eat your recovery mini meal whilst you’re travelling, or rushing to get somewhere.

 

That’s why it’s important to talk about recovery drinks.

 

Recovery drinks are developed as an easy and reliable way for you to get the nutrients your body needs in that post-training window. A good recovery drink will contain quality ingredients that will help replenish glycogen stores, repair muscle tissue damaged during the session, and replace fluids. Using a recovery drink rather than a mini meal is a no-brainer for getting extra fluids into your diet when your body really needs them.

After a training run, ride, brick session, or a race, your body needs energy, protein, and replenishment. The first thing you have should contain carbohydrates (fast carbs to replenish glycogen stores, and complex carbs for longer term energy), protein (from a bioavailable source that will digest quickly), and digestive enzymes (so your body can easily absorb the nutrients without extra stress).

 

Guidelines suggest that you get at least 0.8g carbs per 1kg body weight, and 0.2g protein per 1kg body weight. For a 70kg athlete, this is a minimum of 56g carbs and 14g protein in your post-training recovery shake. It’s much easier to get precise doses from a recovery drink, where you can mix as much as you need to reach your macronutrient numbers.

 

Recovery Drinks vs Solid Food

 

There’s nothing wrong with solid food - it should be the cornerstone of your daily diet as an endurance athlete. But there are definitely situations in which sports drinks are actually better than real food. Recover drinks deliver the blend of smart carbohydrate sources, easily digested protein, and bioavailable amino acids your body needs. And importantly, it lets you get them in the exact ratios your body needs to repair and recover. Liquid options, like recovery drinks, will be digested and absorbed more quickly than a whole food meal. This is a bonus when your body needs those nutrients ASAP.

 

One of the key benefits that a recovery drink has over real food is amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and are responsible for supporting cell growth, tissue repair, and recovery. Some of the amino acids are essential - meaning our bodies can’t synthesise them, and we have to get them from our diets. A premium recovery drink, with quality ingredients, will cover your amino acid basis. It’s difficult to know whether a real-food meal has the right combination of amino acids, in the correct ratios. And it’s even more difficult to be sure that they will be absorbed quickly. A recovery drink takes the second-guessing out of it.

 

How To Choose A Recovery Drink

 

The best choice of recovery drink will contain more than one source of carbohydrate, with no pointless filler or thickener. The protein will either come from whey or whey isolate (the best source of amino acids), or from a blend of whey and a slower-digesting source of protein. Look for added extras, too, like a digestive enzyme complex to help your body absorb the nutrients you are feeding it.

 

Don’t skimp on quality in your recovery shake. Think about cost-per-serving, and calculate how much of the product you need to hit your macronutrient intake. A better quality product will have a higher concentration of the ingredients that matter (with no fillers or unexplained extras), so you actually need to use less - making it more cost-effective in the bigger picture.

 

The final choice is flavour, and this is where it gets fun! A recovery shake is your opportunity to enjoy a treat after training. Have you got a sweet tooth, or do you prefer a milder, less flavoured option? Once you’ve identified a recovery shake that has the ingredients you need in the ratios you want, select the flavour that you will enjoy!


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