While experts agree that you can sip your way to post-exercise relief, traditional sports drinks aren’t always the best choice. New research suggests drinking a natural beverage such as fruit juice, milk, or even beer after exercise could be more effective than highly-engineered beverages designed specifically to aid in workout recovery. The question remains: Which should you drink after your workout?
The typical rule of thumb is to save recovery drinks for after exercise sessions that last at least an hour. (That way you’re likely to have burned enough energy to warrant replenishing.) The formula you choose should match your workout, says Brian Parr, Ph.D., associate professor of exercise and sports science at the University of South Carolina Aiken. After strength training you need protein; after a bout of endurance your body craves fluid and carbs.
But after workouts of almost any kind, some experts believe, you can help your body bounce back with antioxidants. “There’s one theory that exercise-induced muscle damage is related to the free radicals in your body, which are actually generated while working out,” says Parr. “Antioxidants help prevent damage from free radicals.”
Here are four antioxidant-packed drinks that’ll help you recover from any workout.
How it works: Scientists suspect antioxidants are the key to limiting the inflammation and muscle damage after a half-marathon or other endurance event, and tart cherries are considered one of the most antioxidant-dense super fruits. Athletes have found it’s best to start “recovery” work a week early, and a number of studies, including a recent one from the UK, have found that regular consumption of tart cherry juice before and after a grueling workout will help your body fight off some of the wear and tear and your strength return more quickly.
Recovery Rx: Drink two glasses a day for the 5 days before event, on the big day, and on the next day.
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How it works: Nutritionists have long touted milk as a magical muscle-building drink—by ingesting protein after a strength training workout, your muscles have the proper fuel to recover and grow. Add sugar to the mix (in this case, chocolate) and protein is digested even faster, meaning your muscles bounce back—bigger and stronger than ever—even more quickly than after drinking regular milk.
Recovery Rx: Drink one glass of low-fat milk immediately after your workout.
Video: A Better Post-Workout Drink
How it works: After a soggy sweat session, your body needs to replace the fluids that it's lost. Drinking a Gatorade-like beverage made from a combination of fluid, salt, and sugar will help to prevent dehydration, restore electrolytes, and deliver carbs that your body can easily absorb and burn as post-workout fuel. To increase the effectiveness, serve it up cold. A recent study from Korea found that cold sports drinks hydrate better than lukewarm ones or water at any temperature. Scientists are still trying to decipher what role temperature plays in hydration, but the reason sports drinks beat out water is clear: Salt in sports drinks enhance thirst, meaning you drink more of it, and the combination of salt and glucose helps your body absorb water more easily.
Recovery Rx: Drink an ice-cold bottle (try Gatorade, Powerade, Ironman, Perform, All Sport, or Propel) right after your run.
Hydrate your body with these 5 Sports Drinks That Actually Work.
How it works: Those once-in-a-blue-moon, really intense events—the marathon you spent months training for or the century ride you pushed through—are intense enough to raise the body's inflammation levels and also weaken the immune system. That's why so many marathoners get respiratory infections after a big race. But researchers in Germany found that drinking non-alcoholic beer in the weeks before and after a strenuous event increased the body's immune function, making post-exercise illness less likely. The secret is in the drink's innate polyphenolic compounds, which are antioxidant, antipathogenic, and anti-inflammatory.
Recovery Rx: One liter a day for the three weeks prior and two weeks following an event.
Search: Nonalcoholic beers
(For more ways to use food as fuel for your workouts, check out 26 Ways to Feed Your Body for Results.)