The best recovery drink for runners is one that is specially formulated to meet all your nutritional and hydration needs.
You’ll definitely need a recovery drink after you fight your way through a particularly grueling run. Sometimes you just run a faster pace than you’re used to or you put more mileage than you typically do. That’s when it’s time to break out a recovery drink.
What Is a Recovery Drink?
When you work out, you’re expending energy and you’re losing fluids through your sweat. Recovery drinks help you recover the energy and hydration that you’ve lost.
Many people think of sports drinks, like Gatorade, when they think of recovery drinks. And while you can use that as a recovery drink, there are better choices out there.
You might want to find something with a little more oomph, especially if you can really feel the exhaustion starting to set in before the run is even over.
Do I Need a Recovery Drink for Every Run?
Recovery drinks aren’t necessary for every run. Some days, you just feel like going out for a slow, shorter-mileage run. You don’t need recovery drinks for that because you haven’t really given your body much to recover from.
But, if the weather during your run is hot and humid and you can tell you’ve been sweating profusely, you should go ahead and have a recovery drink. Likewise, if you’ve run longer or harder than you have for a while, it’s a good idea to have a recovery drink.
A good benchmark to use is that if you have been running for an hour or more, you should reach for a recovery drink when you stop. But, don’t judge your need for it just by the time you’ve run. If you’ve only been running for 45 minutes but you feel like you haven’t worked out that hard in a while, it’s fine to grab a recovery drink.
Sometimes, especially if you’re running to lose weight, it’s hard to have the desire to drink some of those calories you’ve just burned. But, in the long run, you’re doing something that is going to benefit your body.
What Benefits Are There To a Recovery Drink?
In addition to rehydration for those really sweaty workouts, recovery drinks offer a host of additional benefits.
You’ll have a shorter recovery time between your workouts. Your muscles won’t be as sore for as long. Sometimes, muscle soreness is the one thing that makes you skip your runs -- you may find yourself running longer, harder, and more often with the addition of recovery drinks.
Recovery drinks have way more carbohydrates than protein, but you definitely want some protein in there as well. What you want in a recovery drink is a ratio of approximately 3-to-1 when it comes to carbohydrates compared to protein.
When Should I Drink It?
Some people feel like chugging down a drink right after they finish a workout. Some prefer to have a glass of water and do their stretches first. Others like to do their stretches and get a shower before even thinking about drinking anything more substantial than water.
You can do any of these scenarios with recovery drinks, but you should try to drink them in the first 30 minutes after a workout. If that isn’t possible, make sure to drink them in the first two hours after your workout ends.
During this time, your liver is busy making glycogen, a form of glucose, faster than it usually does. If you have a drink containing carbohydrates during this time, your body will release insulin and that signals your cells to absorb the glucose. That begins the healing process.
If you’ve had a hard run, you might be feeling queasy afterward, so it’s nice to know that you can calm your stomach for a while before demanding anything else of it.
But, the sooner you can stomach your energy drink, the quicker your body can start recovering. So if you can drink it in the first 30 minutes, it’s best to do so.
What To Look For in a Recovery Drink
In addition to the proper balance of carbohydrates to protein, you should also look for the following criteria in your recovery drinks.
- Taste: Sometimes you’ll stumble across a recovery drink that tastes truly awful. You’d rather use a race day Porta Potty all day than take one sip from your horrible recovery drink. But don’t give up -- there are tasty drinks out there.
- Check the ingredients: Make sure the ingredients don’t contain allergens you can’t have or anything that has been known to upset your stomach. After hard workouts, many athletes have sensitive stomachs for a while -- you don’t want to make that worse.
- Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Carbs: Following that ratio of proteins and carbs is important. Make sure you’re finding a drink that offers a minimum of 1.5 grams of carbs for every one kilogram of body weight you have. One kilogram equals 2.2 pounds in case you need a refresher.
- Determine if you want specific ingredients: Some ingredients, like tart cherry juice, can help reduce inflammation and soreness for runners. If you look hard enough, you should be able to find recovery drinks featuring the special ingredient you can’t live without for your training program.
The chocolate drink this produces is a bit watery and thin, so some runners may not like the flavor or consistency.
This recovery drink has four 12-ounce cans, so you’ll get enough for four workouts with this. It has light carbonation for people who like recovery drinks to taste a little more like soda.
- This recovery drink includes green tea as one of the ingredients, which may be appealing to people who try to incorporate tea into their diets for the health benefits.
- One can only has 15 calories, which is great for runners who are watching their weight.
- This drink doesn’t use artificial sweeteners, sugar, or agave.
- It’s a non-GMO product.
- It doesn’t have artificial colors or flavors.
- It’s gluten free.
- This drink has a great flavor and it contains electrolytes, enzymes, and vitamins B, C and E.
- A Navy SEAL created this drink and some of the money from every sale goes to supporting those soldiers and their loved ones.
- It’s more expensive per serving than many other recovery drinks are.
- It doesn’t have any protein in it, so you’ll have to add a protein source like a piece of cheese or a few nuts. But, since this drink doesn’t have many calories, you’d have the wiggle room as far as calories go if you want to do that.
3. First Endurance Ultragen Recovery Drink
This recovery drink has a perfect 3 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, with 20 grams of protein and 60 grams of carbs. The container has 15 servings.
- This brand has several flavors to choose from -- there are even vanilla and orange creamsicle for people who aren’t fans of chocolate.
- It also contains amino acids for runners who would like that extra nutrient burst.
- These drinks don’t contain caffeine, which is nice for runners with sensitive stomachs who can’t handle caffeine very well.
- It mixes easily, even without an electric blender, which is handy for runners who want to mix their recovery drinks up quickly without a big clean-up afterward, especially when traveling for a race.
- It’s lactose-free so people with milk sensitivities can have it.
- Runners who are trying to lose weight may want to stay away from this -- it has 320 calories per serving.
- It is also on the pricier side.
- The flavor is good, but it definitely tastes better chilled, so you’ll either want to put it over ice or mix it before you go and keep it in the refrigerator.
4. Pacific Health Endurox R4
This formula has a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, which is great for recovery after endurance runs. You can mix it with either juice or water.
- This recovery drink has antioxidants to help repair muscle damage after your runs.
- Your muscles will feel much less sore, even after a hard workout with this drink.
- The ratio of carbohydrates to protein is just what a runner needs.
- The taste isn’t as powerful or overly sweet as some recovery drinks are, which makes it a good choice for people who don’t have much of a sweet tooth.
- This drink contains milk, which is bad news for runners who have sensitivities to that.
- It does have a slight chalky taste to it that may take some getting used to.
- This doesn’t have as many all-natural ingredients as some of the competitors do.
The drink can taste a bit gritty, even when well mixed.
This is a drink you can feel good about -- it is non-GMO, organic, and contains antioxidant supplements to help you maintain lean muscle mass and cut down on soreness after your workouts.
There are 30 servings per container.
It’s a vegan drink, which should be appreciated by runners who avoid meat.
It’s gluten, dairy, and soy free.
This recovery drink only has 60 calories, which is good for weight-conscious runners.
The ingredients are plant-based, which runners who try to eat a clean diet may like.
It’s easy to make -- you just mix a scoop with eight ounces of cold water right after your workout.
The flavor is good -- it’s light and not overwhelming at all.
This drink is gentle on your stomach.
It won’t give you any post-drink jitters like some recovery drinks do.
It has a 5 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, with each serving being a little light on both -- it only has 11 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of protein.
The drink can taste a bit gritty, even when well mixed.
And the Winner Is …
First Endurance Ultragen gets our nod for the best recovery drink for runners. The 3 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein will help runners recover faster than they would on their own.
You’ll get several flavors to choose from and there’s no caffeine in the formula, which is great for runners who have problems consuming caffeine. This won’t give you a jittery feeling after you drink it.
It’s nice that this mixes well without a blender because you can take it with you when you’re doing races outside of your home town.
It does contain a significant number of calories, so if you are watching your weight you’ll want to make sure you only use it on heavy workout days.