10 Best Recovery Drinks for Runners Tested & Compared
Browse through our selection of best recovery drinks for runners and find out why, and if, each of these products are worth a shot here in this review.
As an avid runner, your body is put under a lot of stress and quickly uses up its energy. While this doesn’t sound ideal at first, it’s still a fact you have to deal with as a runner. In fact, it’s something every one athlete that partakes in intense and strenuous exercises has to deal with. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it is important that you always keep this in mind.
Just how can you go about ensuring that you’re keeping your body in the best condition possible after an especially difficult run? While there are many different ways to go about this, one of the most effective ones is by using recovery drinks. Recovery drinks have long been one of the most popular products for runners, as it helps to deliver your body with the nutrients and energy it needs after your most intensive runs.
- Body Armor
- Gluten & nut free
- Labrada BCAA Power
- Amino acids assist recovery
- Gatorade Recover Protein Shake
- Protein helps rebuild muscle
10 Best Recovery Drinks for Runners
Body Armor Sports Drink
Instead od additional sugar or high fructose cornsyrup, BodyArmor utilizes natural sweeteners and flavors to deliver the perfect flavor. They also cutout ingredients like gluten, caffeine, nuts, additives, and preservatives--making it user friendly to all athletes. So, if you are looking for an effective, healthy and organic this is the perfect recovery drink for you.
- 704mg electrolyte blend
- Contains Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B9, B12
- Contains Antioxidants
- Utilizes natural flavors and sweeteners
- Replenishes what you lose during your workouts and keeps you hydrate.
- A variety of flavors
- Low calorie options
- Affordable price
- Gluten and nut free
- Although it uses natural sugars, it does have a little bit more sugar in it than sports drinks who use artificial sugars or high fructose corn syrup.
2. Labrada Nutrition BCAA Power
BCAA's are important because they provide your body with necessary supplements that aid your body's recover. Many athletes and runners focus on replenishing their electrolyte levels (which is imperative as well) but neglect to incorporate an amino acid formula. Long-distance runners, CrossFit Athletes, Power Lifters, and all athletes who either exert their muscles, or are working specific muscle groups out frequently, need to make sure they provide their bodies with the proper amounts of BCAA post workouts in order to adequately--and efficiently--heal.
- High-quality fermented amino acids
- Allows your muscles to recover much quicker
- Helps you build lean muscle
- Several flavors available.
- High cost
3. Gatorade Recover Protein Shake
- Gatorade provides 20 grams of protein for every serving of this shake that you have, so you can rest easy knowing that you’re filling up your body with a healthy dose of the stuff every time you drink a bottle.
- The shake itself is already made up for you, so you don’t have to worry about mixing powder or anything like that like you have to do with many other options on this list.
- Some of the best taste out there that you’re going to find for a recovery drink for runners.
- While the majority of users of Gatorade’s Recovery Protein Shake love the flavor that it brings to the table, some users have complained that the taste is far too sweet for them.
4. Mike’s Mix Recovery Drink
- Mike’s Mix uses all natural ingredients, so you aren’t dealing with any artificial sweeteners or colors, heavy metals, preservatives, or harmful additives.
- Super easy to mix with your favorite drink.
- Extremely great taste.
- Features an exceptional amount of quality whey protein that allows for extremely efficient recovery of muscles within your body.
- When mixing with water, Mike’s Mix has a tendency to clump up quite a bit.
5. Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1
- Thanks to the 2:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, your muscles will be able to regain the fuel they lost during your run at an incredibly fast and rapid pace.
- GMP certified to ensure that you’re only getting the best of the best possible ingredients.
- Very good taste when compared to the competition.
- Extremely competitive price.
- Because of the clumpy nature of the mix, it’s a bit difficult to mix with a regular spoon.
6. Osmo Nutrition Women's Hydration Powder
Osmo also uses natural sugars and flavors.
While the active Hydration is used during workouts it is also an excellent post workout option. Like any sports drink, it will replenish and revitalize you if taken throughout your workout and will do the same if taken post workout--it all depends on what your body needs and what you are looking for.
- Formulated for women
- Uses Sucrose, Glucose, and Sodium for maximum electrolyte absorption
- Utilizes natural sweeteners and flavors
- Not many flavor options
- Not sweet enough for some users
7. Nuun Hydration tablets
They are low in calories and not too sweet. They also utilize Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium for electrolyte replacement and provide athletes with the adequate amount of electrolytes they need post-workout.
- Highly affordable
- A large variety of flavors available
- Low in Calories
- Not too sweet
- Replenishes electrolytes with sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium
- Not sweet enough for some users
8. Hammer Recoverite
- Helps to reduce the overalls soreness that your muscles feel after a good workout or running session.
- Thanks to the why protein base, Hammer Recoverite is incredibly easy to digest. This isn’t something that every post-workout recovery drink can say, so that’s definitely a nice addition to have.
- 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio for some of the most enhanced recovery out there.
- Quite expensive
9. Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator
- Ingredients are entirely plant-based, ensuring that you’re getting some of the best and most natural ingredients possible.
- 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio allows your muscles to effectively replenish glycogen more quickly and effectively than other brands.
- Total of 23 ingredients to help increase the effectiveness of your post-workout recovery.
- Vegan, glute, dairy, and soy-free.
- Although the ingredients are plant-based, they are not organic or products of whole food.
10. Legion Recharge
- Contains nothing but natural and healthy ingredients so you can rest easy knowing that you’re only putting the best possible substances into your body that you work so hard at maintaining.
- Some of the most notable ingredients for Legion Recharge include creatine monohydrate, l-carnitine and l-tartrate, corosolic acid, and naturally sweetened flavors.
- If you don’t completely love Legion Recharge, the company gives you 60-days to return the item for a 100% money-back guarantee.
- Lass around 4 to 6 weeks depending on how often you drink it.
- Has a great taste!
- Gassy side effect
Since so much energy is used by your body after a long and intensive running session, you need to be sure that you’re refueling your body with the stuff that it needs to energize yourself once again after an especially long session. While not every run will require that you do this, ones that require you to work your body extra hard most definitely will.
The Criteria We Used to Find the Best Recovery Drinks for Runners
Mom always told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and to always eat your veggies. And mom is right! But if you are a runner (as well as an endurance athlete, or serious weight lifter) and are concerned with recovering your body properly and growing stronger and faster, you need to make sure you are also getting the right amount of protein and carbohydrates, in the magical window of time following your tough workout. Nutrition is a HUGE component of muscle repair and body composition. In fact, you may have heard of the 70/20/10 rule when it comes to body composition – our diet makes up 70 percent of the reason our body compositions are what they are, with only 20 percent being from exercise and ten percent from genetics. The post work out recovery snack, meal, or drink can make all the difference in helping you reach your goals, and we have provided you a great list of some of the best recovery drinks to help you get started! Below is a list of some of the criteria we used to judge different recovery drinks when finding the right ones to include in our list.
1. Quality and Effectiveness of the Drink in Promoting Recovery
In order for a recovery drink to adequately do its job in helping you recover, a few essential things need to happen. First, timing is everything. Studies suggest that the golden window of opportunity to get the most out of your post-exercise recovery drink or snack is within 20 to 30 minutes after completing your workout. The longer you wait to properly nourish yourself, the more your body’s ability to refuel and repair itself diminishes. (And we all know what can happen to our moods and general demeanor when we let ourselves get overly “hungry”… the “hangry” becomes all too real!)
Secondly, it is all about what is going into your recovery drink, which in turn, goes into you! You might have heard of the 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, and were just never sure what exactly that meant. This ratio of 4:1 (though some studies suggest 3:1 works equally as effectively) is what allows for the most efficient recovery of the muscles and body after a hard workout, and refers to the totals (in grams) of each in your recovery meal. So, for instance, a post workout drink that contains 40 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein fits well into the 4:1 ratio. But why this ratio? Well, both carbohydrates and protein help restore your energy levels. Energy is stored in the form of glycogen (“glucose”) which is part of the reason why more carbohydrates are necessary. Studies also show that protein, aside from directly growing and repairing the muscle fibers, actually assists in helping the body more efficiently absorb the energy from carbohydrate. One benefit of purchasing recovery drinks and protein powders is that they come conveniently pre-made with the proper ratio of carbs to protein – giving you the most effective post-workout recovery fuel you can have. But it is also important to not settle for a recovery drink of subpar quality. Specifically, the drinks in our list use high-quality protein and carbs. The best, most effective type of carbohydrates in a recovery drink is simple carbs (as opposed to complex) because they can be effectively digested in the short window of time after a workout that you should drink them. Check and see which type of protein is in your recovery drink as well. There are two types of protein that are most commonly consumed as post-workout protein supplements, and both are natural dairy byproducts, derived from milk. (It is important to note that you can also consume other types of protein from other animal or plant sources in your recovery snack or drink and still reap the benefits of muscle recovery, healing, and repair. Milk proteins just happen to be the most commonly used in recovery drinks on the market today). The first, casein, is a slow digesting protein. Upon entering the acidic environment of the stomach, casein peptides become denatured and form a kind of gelatinous ball of casein. For that reason, many athletes choose to consume casein just before bed so that their bodies might have a slow digesting protein source to tap into to refuel and recover throughout the night while sleeping. The second, whey protein, is more commonly consumed as a post-workout recovery supplement because it is emptied from the stomach faster and the body more readily absorbs it. Therefore, it works to recover and rebuild muscles more quickly because it has higher levels of leucine (a critical amino acid in building muscle). Whey also tends to be cheaper than casein. You also might see recovery drinks and protein powders that are marketed as containing “whey protein isolate.” This is just a “purer” form of whey protein, in that more fats, sugars, vitamins and minerals, and lactose are stripped out of the whey. So what if you want to reap the fast acting recovery benefits of whey and the slow digesting recovery benefits of casein, without having to remember to take multiple forms of protein and recovery drinks every day? Simply mix your whey protein powder with milk (in which casein is the most abundant protein) after a workout and speed up the refueling and healing process all day!
2. Other Ingredients That May Be In Your Recovery Drink
We have talked about the importance of the right amounts of protein and carbohydrates in your recovery drink to best help in healing and refueling your body, to get it ready for your next intense track workout or long run. But the best recovery drinks, like the ones included in our list, will also contain additional ingredients that further assist in the recovery process. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are specifically helpful in the recovery process, and many recovery drinks and powders are fortified with BCAAs. Having an efficient amount of amino acids in your diet (the building blocks of protein) ensures that your cells deliver these amino acids where they need to go during protein synthesis: to recovery muscle fibers to stimulate growth and repair after a workout. BCAAs are especially helpful amino acids in protein synthesis, as long as you have at least three grams present in your recovery drink. The three branched chain amino acids, isoleucine, leucine, and valine, are all found in milk products (another reason why milk-derived proteins like whey and casein are the most common form of protein used in recovery drinks). When consumed with a carbohydrate, BCAAs are the most efficient amino acids to repair and refuel your body after a workout. They also have been proven to decrease overall soreness caused by an intense run, and when paired with exercise, they may help promote fat burning and weight loss because leucine specifically helps you to feel fuller by improving your sensitivity to the hunger hormone leptin.
Aside from BCAAs, two other critical ingredients to look for in a recovery drink are antioxidants and creatine. Antioxidants block free radicals, which cause a cellular breakdown. Therefore, protecting against free radicals means protecting against muscle cell breakdown. The fewer muscle cells that are broken down, the less damage that is done to your muscles, and so will result in a faster recovery period. As for specifically helpful antioxidants, vitamin C is specifically beneficial in reducing inflammation and fatigue, and may even help reduce muscle pain brought on in subsequent hard workouts. Vitamin E is also helpful; when taken along with vitamin C, studies suggest it may help reduce a bad case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) in the days following a bad workout because it works to actively break down lactic acid (the suspected cause of DOMS). For those of you wondering about creatine (a supplement typically promoted as a PRE workout supplement), hear us out. Creatine provides quick digesting energy, and thus makes sense as a pre-workout supplement. But consider your muscles right after you just had a tough run – they are tired (which is why you need a recovery drink in the first place). But just like you need a cup of coffee in the morning to get going to perform at your best, your muscles need a source of energy in order to most effectively carry out the protein synthesis process and be able to most efficiently use the carbohydrates, protein, and BCAAs to recover and repair.
Aside from the ingredients that are good for you and that you definitely want to see listed on your label, there are some ingredients that you probably DON’T want to be added in your recovery drink. Added sugars, while they do provide a carbohydrate source, often times will just end up adding unwanted calories (that might just negate all the calories burned from your workout) and potentially have an overly sweet taste. You might also be trying to avoid sugar substitutes like sucralose and aspartame; even though they are calorie free, many people have a strong aversion to the taste, and some have experienced unwanted bloating, gas, and stomach cramping from sugar substitutes.
3. The Overall Value of The Recovery Drink
For our intents and purposes, we gauge the value of a product off of more than just cost. While price is certainly important, (hey, we know how expensive being a runner can become once you start investing in high-quality gear, attire, nutrition, and supplements) we also consider how much of the product you will get out of a one time purchase, the quality of the product, the convenience of each product (saving time adds a ton of value!) and in this case of recovery drinks, the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and other important ingredients that are contained in each. The price range of the recovery drinks on our list range from just over $20 to nearly $60. This is the total price you will pay for one unit of the recovery drink (i.e. one container or a case of individual bottles). However, this overall cost does not tell the full story. It is important to pay attention to per serving or per unit cost as well. Knowing the per serving cost of your recovery drinks can really help you find the one that gets you the most for your money. For instance, the cheapest container of recovery powder on our list is about $22. However, there are only 12 servings in the whole case, so you are looking at a per serving cost of $1.78. Compare this with another brand on our list that retails for $55 per container, but has a whopping 74 servings, and comes in at under 75 cents per serving! That can mean a huge difference in cost to you in the long run, especially if you are a daily (or even twice daily) runner and want to consume a recovery drink after each workout. And for recovery drinks, choosing ones with as close to a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is key, and definitely adds to the overall value of the product. Several on our list have close to perfect ratios, including the Vega Sports Recovery Accelerator (technically it has a 5:1 ratio) and Melissa’s Mix Recovery Drink for Women (38 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein). As for convenience, only one on our list is a pre-made recovery drink that will save you the time of having to mix yours up yourself, and that’s the Gatorade Protein Recovery Shake. Its nutrition stats are great too, as it has 45 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein, and 50 percent of your recommended daily amount of calcium. The bottom line is to first check per serving costs of the product you are interested in, and then read the labels and know what you are getting!
4. The Taste and Texture of the Recovery Drink
The functionality of your recovery drink is definitely important. It has to do its main job and help you recover from your tough workout. And from its total cost and convenience level, it needs to fit well into your lifestyle. But all that is to say that you don’t need to sacrifice taste and a pleasant food experience. While taste is individually preferential and everyone’s preferences are different, one way to gauge taste is accuracy. Or in other words, does the flavor actually taste how it should? Does the strawberry recovery taste actually taste like strawberry? Chocolate like chocolate and french vanilla like french vanilla? The products on our list are true to their flavor and taste like they are marketed. Another important factor, and often a deterrent for many folks especially when it comes to powders, is texture. First off, the texture simply has to be palatable because not only is it are to swallow an unpleasantly textured drink in general, but especially so right after a workout. Secondly, powdered drinks that you have to mix yourself can be clumpy, chalky, and still powdery if not mixed well. That is definitely not ideal. If you opt for a powder for your recovery drink, it should mix easily and mix well (with both water and milk). And it should not take an overly fancy blender to mix it well either – you are too busy for that! It should mix easily with a shaker or Blender Bottle. Overall, the recovery drinks on our list go down smooth and taste great.
Other Important Factors Worth Considering
1. Other Recipes To Use Your Recovery Drink In
One of the great benefits of most recovery drink powders is their versatility. Getting creative in the kitchen can be fun, and with the right tools and ingredients, you can whip up a delicious meal, snack, or dessert with your recovery drink that can satisfy your refueling needs in a new, exciting, and delicious way! Most of the recovery drinks on our list can be used as the base of or added into smoothies and shakes, can be incorporated into desserts to give your sweets a boost of nutrients, or spooned into your morning bowl of oatmeal or other breakfast. A great snack hack is to make a spread out of your protein powder. Level out a scoop or two into a bowl and then slowly add milk or water until it begins to slightly thicken, but not so much that the powder gets dissolved (usually about 2 or 3 tablespoons of water to a big heaping scoop of powder). Then spread onto your favorite bread, toast, or English muffins, or serve atop yogurt or oatmeal. And with so much protein, recovery drinks typically have “staying power” so they can be consumed themselves as snacks or small meals if you are on the go.
2. Other Sources of Protein and Carbohydrates Included In Your Diet
The window of time following a workout is critical for consuming your recovery drink if you want to maximize its refueling and repairing benefits. However, it is also good to consider your diet as a whole, and think about how much protein and carbs you are getting in during other meal and snack times as well. If you tend to have a protein and carb-heavy diet, then you are more likely to have enough in your glycogen stores to have “spare” protein and carbs that can assist your recovery drink in protein synthesis and recovery. And even if you are not as concerned about the post-run recovery phase, it is still a good idea to aim for snacks and small meals that have the 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. If you are a runner, chances are you have heard the rave around a simple glass of chocolate milk as excellent recovery fuel. Other great snack ideas include fruit and low fat or fat free Greek yogurt, peanut butter and toast or rice cakes (or a banana!), cottage cheese and grapes (don’t knock it ’til ya try it!), and an egg and cheese sandwich.
3. Your Gender
On the whole, protein is protein and the human body breaks it down and uses it all the same, regardless of gender or what form the protein comes in. Still, a powder that is marketed as a man’s product will likely have higher serving amounts, more protein, and subsequently, higher calories. Female products will have less calories but may contain more sugar substitutes (aspartame, sucralose, stevia, etc) and will usually highlight itself as having added ingredients that are more quintessential for women’s health than men’s health. These include such ingredients as folic acid (especially helpful for pregnant women, women looking to get pregnant, or for women who are breastfeeding because it has been proven to reduce the risk of Neural Tube Defects in children), Vitamin B6 (known to create and help maintain a healthy immune system) and iron (women are much more prone to have lower iron levels and suffer from anemia than men, especially because of menstruation; athletes and runners, in particular, are in need of iron supplementation because it supplies tired bodies and muscles with oxygen, and thus, more energy). From our list of best recovery drinks, Melissa’s Mix Recovery Drink for Women is a great option for female runners. As a general rule of thumb, know your gender’s specific health needs, as well as your own individual health needs, and opt for a recovery drink that helps you meet your health, wellness, and nutrition goals.
4. If You Prefer Pre-Mixed Liquids or Powders You Mix Yourself
You might prefer the convenience of a pre-mixed drink – simply chill it ahead of time and you can just grab it and go in the busy mornings or immediately after a workout. In this way, you don’t have to worry about having a blender or remembering to bring a blender bottle, dealing with the ickiness of the smell, or the hassle of cleaning it. But these pre-mixed drinks are generally more expensive. On the other hand, recovery powders allow for more versatility for use in different recipes, and can be easily added to other meals. But the texture of powders also tends to be less palatable, especially if not mixed thoroughly or correctly.
5. If You Have the Right Equipment
Recovery drink protein powders don’t necessarily require a fancy blender or mixer (though they do guarantee a smoother consistency) but you will definitely need a Blender or Spider bottle to mix up your recovery drink to avoid clumps or chalkiness. These can be purchased fairly cheaply online, at sporting goods stores, and even at some grocery stores.
6. If You Are Lactose Intolerant
If you are diagnosed lactose intolerant or typically have an aversion to lactose in dairy products, be wary before committing to a recovery drink. Typically, the common recovery proteins of casein and whey are derived from dairy products and may contain lactose. However, the good news is that products containing whey protein isolate (as opposed to whey concentrate) are typically free of lactose, and safe for individuals with a lactose allergy to consume. Read the labels on your product and know what type of protein it contains. Other types of animal proteins found in meat, poultry, and plant products will be proteins like collagen and myosin.
7. Recovery Drinks That Don’t Have Any Protein
So this may seem confusing, but some recovery drinks don’t actually contain complete sources of protein. For instance, the Legion Recharge Post workout Supplement on our list only contains three ingredients – creatine monohydrate, l-carnitine l-tartrate, and corosolic acid – none of which are complete proteins. Yet creatine is a key supplement in assisting in muscle growth: it provides extra ATP to muscles, which increases overall energy and allows you to exert even more power in your stride, run for longer, and ultimately go further. In sum? Creatine is one of those under-the-radar supplements that can boost muscle growth, recovery, and repair in dramatic ways, and has an added benefit of remaining stored in muscles for days after consumption, so it’s ready to go when you choose to (literally) hit the ground running. Carnitine has been proven to increase the body’s testosterone levels, which will also speed up muscle recovery (however, be cautious of over-consumption of carnitine if you’re a female). And corosolic acid is known for helping maintain blood sugar and glucose levels, which ultimately allow your muscles to have a constant source of energy.
1. How Does Protein Help Build Muscle and Help in Recovery?
The building blocks that comprise protein molecules are amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that, when strung together in different sequences and lengths, create different proteins that have different molecular structures. Of the 20 amino acids, nine are essential meaning humans MUST get them from diets or supplements because it doesn’t create them. The other nine ARE created naturally by the body. Eating protein from animal sources will provide you with “complete” proteins that contain all essential amino acids – so the casein and whey protein found in recovery drinks, because they are from animal products, are complete proteins.
When you workout, you push your muscles to their limits both physically and figuratively speaking. They become literally stretched so much that they develop small tears, which is what causes soreness but is also what amino acids in protein come in to repair. The amino acids consumed in a recovery drink following your run will travel through the bloodstream straight to the damaged muscle fibers and start rebuilding the muscle back, growing stronger than before.
2. What Is the Optimal Time Frame After A Workout To Consume A Recovery Drink?
If you’ve never heard about the “anabolic window,” it’s the magical time frame following the end of your workout that it is critical to get in proper nutrition in order to best recover and refuel. It refers to the window of time in which the body switches over from a catabolic state (when glycogen stores are being broken down) to an anabolic state, (when glycogen stores are used to refuel and build muscle mass) and it typically lasts about only 30 minutes after your workout is finished, though some studies have shown that it may last up to two hours.
3. How Much Is Protein Recommended After a Workout?
The optimal range of protein to consume for runners and athletes trying to bulk up and gain muscle is .72 – .81 grams per pound of weight per day. For those only trying to maintain, consume .54 – .64 grams per pound of weight per day. Multiplying your weight by these numbers will help you find the right amount of protein to shoot for, depending on your goals. As far as a post-workout recovery drink is concerned, aim to get in 20 to 30 grams of protein after you’ve finished exercising within the time frame we mentioned earlier.
4. Why the 4:1 Ratio of Carbohydrates to Protein? How Does it Work?
The 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the perfect post-workout nutrition ratio to shoot for because of the way in which it helps replenish your body’s glycogen stores. Glycogen stores are what help provide your body with energy to use and burn while you’re out hitting the trails, pavement, or treadmill. More carbohydrates are needed than protein because carbs are what fill up your glycogen “tank” but protein is still important, obviously, because of its leading role in protein synthesis and muscle repair.
5. What is the Difference Between Casein and Whey Protein?
When you look at the protein in your recovery drink, it will likely be either casein or whey/whey isolate, and even more likely that it will be whey. These two proteins are derived from milk products and dairy and thus are animal source proteins. Whey is more commonly consumed immediately after a workout because it is a fast digesting protein. It is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and can begin the muscle recovery and growth process more quickly than whey. Thus, it’s nearly perfect for that short window of time following a workout that is suggested for consuming recovery drinks. Casein protein is more commonly taken before bed because it slowly digests and is broken down by the stomach. In this way, it can be a steady source of protein and amino acid to your muscles while you sleep. Casein will also keep you fuller for longer because of how slowly its broken down, so many athletes prefer to take it before a long fast (again, before bed or before a stretch of time that you are too busy to worry about meals and snacks). To get the most out of your recovery and refueling regimen, opt for a schedule that combines both whey and casein.
Check out a few of our sources:
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- Post Workout Carb to Protein Ratio, Running Nutrition Article , Sep 15, 2015 ,
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