Post Workout Recovery Drink for Runners

Post-Workout Recovery Drink for Runners

Post-Workout Recovery Drink for Runners

Following a run, a well-planned recovery drink can help runners with meeting their sports nutrition needs. Let’s take a look at the key nutrients that runners should include in a recovery drink. Then we will explore a variety of recovery drinks that runners can enjoy.

What Should Be Included in a Recovery Drink for Runners?

Following a run, athletes should focus on consuming nutrients that will support their bodies with rehydrating, refueling, and recovering from the workout.

When athletes run, they deplete their energy (carbohydrate) stores, breakdown muscles, and sweat. Therefore, the three key areas runners should focus on following a run include:

  1. Hydrating – Replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat during the run.
  2. Carbohydrates – Refill energy stores used during the run.
  3. Protein – Consume protein to help build and repair lean muscle mass.
Recovery Drink for Runners

Recovery Drink After a Run: Rehydrating

During exercise, the body sweats to help dissipate heat. To replace fluid losses, runners need to drink more fluid (125%-150% more) than the amount lost in sweat (1).

Runners can determine the amount of fluid to consume by weighing themselves before and after the run. For each pound of weight lost during the activity, athletes should aim to drink 20-24 oz of fluid (1). 

Replacing Electrolytes Following a Run

In addition to fluid, runners should also focus on replacing the electrolytes lost in sweat.  The main electrolyte lost in sweat is sodium.  Thus, consuming food and drinks that contain sodium and other electrolytes following a run can be beneficial.

Sports drinks are formulated to contain fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. The fluid and electrolytes in the sports drink help replace sweat losses. The carbohydrates can contribute to refilling the energy stores depleted during the run.  

In addition to sports drinks, vegetable juice, tomato juice, and broth-based soups all contain sodium and can help with replacing sodium sweat losses following a run. Finally, fruits, vegetables, milk, and yogurt are all natural sources of electrolytes and beneficial to consume following a run.

*Note: Talk with your doctor or a sports dietitian nutritionist about staying hydrated if you are required to limit your fluid or sodium intake.

Rehydrating After a Run

Recovery Drink After a Run: Carbohydrates

When runners need to refuel quickly to prepare for the next workout session or run, it is important to focus on replenishing their carbohydrate stores. To optimize recovery, it is recommended that runners aim to consume 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight for the first 4 hours after activity (1). For a 165-pound athlete, this would be 75 – 90 grams of carbohydrates. 

Runners will want to ensure their recovery drink contains carbohydrates to help refill their energy stores.  Drinks such as chocolate milk, 100% fruit juice, fruit smoothies, and sports drinks all contain carbohydrates and can contribute to a runner’s recovery nutrition needs.

If the recovery drink selected is low in carbohydrates, the runner should consider enjoying a carbohydrate-rich snack with the drink to support their training needs.

Recovery Drink After a Run: Protein

When individuals run, they breakdown their muscles. Thus, including protein in a recovery drink following a run will support the repair and building-up of lean muscle mass.

Following activity, it is recommended that athletes consume ~0.25 grams of protein per kilogram body weight (2).  In general, this calculates to be in the range of 20-40 grams of protein, with larger athletes needing more protein than smaller athletes.

Do I Need a Recovery Drink After Every Run?

Focusing on recovery nutrition is particularly important for runners when time between workouts is limited. This includes runners who are doing multiple workouts in a single day or back-to-back days of intense running sessions.

If you are going out for a low-intensity or short-duration run, a recovery drink may not be necessary. Rehydrating and following your sports nutrition meal plan including healthy meals and snacks may be sufficient.

Also, if you plan to eat a meal immediately after a run, a recovery drink may not be necessary. For example, if you plan to eat a nutritious breakfast after your run that meets your recovery nutrition needs, there is generally not a need to drink a protein shake as well.

Also, runners who are working on weight loss goals should consider how the recovery drink fits into their overall weight loss plan.

Recovery Drink Ideas for Runners

Now that you understand what should be included in a recovery drink for runners. Let’s explore several recovery drink ideas athletes can enjoy following a run.

Chocolate Milk

Chocolate milk can be an easy post-run drink option to help runners meet their recovery nutrition needs. A 1-cup serving of chocolate milk provides 8 grams of complete protein and 26 grams of carbohydrates (3). 

Chocolate milk is 90% water, which can help athletes rehydrate following activity.  In addition, chocolate milk contains calcium and Vitamin D for strong bones, along with B Vitamins, Vitamin A, potassium, and phosphorus making it a nutrient-rich choice for runners.

Chocolate Milk Following a Run

High-Protein Milk

If looking to further boost the protein content of your recovery drink following a run, consider purchasing an ultra-filtered, high-protein milk.  Ultra-filtered milks, are filtered to remove the lactose and have a concentrated protein content. 

For example, a cup of Fairlife® ultra-filtered, chocolate milk has 13 grams of protein, 50% more than regular milk. For runners who are lactose-intolerant, ultra-filtered milk is lactose-free and an option they can enjoy following a run.

Fruit Smoothie – Nutritious Recovery Drink for Runners

A fruit smoothie can be another nutritious option to help runners meet their recovery nutrition needs. Some runners do not have an appetite after exercise. For these individuals, a post-workout smoothie can be a cool and refreshing recovery drink option following a run.

When preparing your smoothie, make sure to include a variety of frozen fruits, which will provide carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Also consider throwing in a handful of leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, for their anti-inflammatory benefits.

There are numerous ways runners can increase the protein content of their fruit smoothie, including:

Fruit Smoothie After a Run

Protein Powder – Convenient Recovery Drink Option for Runners

When time is limited, using protein powders to make a shake can be a convenient option to assist runners with meeting their recovery nutrition needs.

Third-Party Testing of Protein Powders

Keep in mind when purchasing a protein powder, that sport supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that food is.  Dietary supplements may contain banned substances that could potentially be dangerous to your health and/or make you ineligible for competition.   

Due to this, look for supplements that have been third-party tested.  Supplements that are third-party tested have an outside organization evaluate the supplement for accuracy of ingredients.  Two companies that evaluate sports supplements are  NSF International Certified for Sport and Informed Sport

As a reminder, supplements are intended to “supplement” your diet – not take the place of whole foods and a well-balanced sports nutrition meal plan.

Evaluating Protein Powders

Aside from third-party testing, there are other considerations to make when purchasing a protein powder, including:

  • Type of protein
  • Amount of protein in one scoop of the powder
  • Added ingredients aside from protein
  • Carbohydrate content of the powder

When selecting a protein powder, I suggest looking for one with limited added ingredients aside from the source of protein. Runners can easily blend the powder with milk, 100% fruit juice, frozen fruits, leafy greens, and nut butters to increase the carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral content of the recovery drink.

Evaluating Protein Powders

Recovery Drink for Runners

You are now set with a variety of ideas for recovery drinks runners can enjoy to meet their sports nutrition needs. Remember, following a run it is important to rehydrate, refill your carbohydrate stores, and consume protein to build and repair muscle mass.

For additional sports nutrition tips for runners, check-out my blog: What to Eat Before a Morning Run.

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About the Author

Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine.  Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.

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