8 Best Recovery Drinks for Runners – 2021 Buying Guide
These blends often contain BCAAs (Brain Chain Amino Acids) that aid in muscle recovery to cut down on soreness so you can get back on the trails sooner. Many also contain a modest serving of sodium, and electrolytes to boost absorption.
We also made sure to select blends that are low in sugar, because the last thing your body needs is a donut’s worth of sugar!
In this guide, we have rounded up some of the best recovery drinks for runners to keep your body replenished after a brutal run.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
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. 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 on 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 is 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!
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.
If you are 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 to your recovery drink.
Added sugars, while they do provide a carbohydrate source, oftentimes 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.
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.
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.
Top 8 Recovery Drinks for Runners
1. RUN Finishline
The best tasting option
This blend from 6AM RUN packs in all of the things that you need to replenish your tired body after a brutal run. This blend is not only great for casual joggers and long-distance runners, but it is also something you can take to the gym as well. It not only works to rehydrate, but it contains ingredients to help your muscles more quickly and cut down on soreness.Read more
This blend contains a modest serving of sodium, potassium, and Vitamin B6 to help replenish lost levels after a long and sweaty run. When mixed with a full serving of water, this blend helps to rehydrate you, and the boost of amino acids helps nutrients absorb into your system more quickly.
These amino acids found in this blend will help cut down on soreness after the end of a long run. They work by helping to repair micro-tears that occur in the muscles, and it also helps to sent blood and nutrients right to the muscles that need it most. We love that this blend comes in a wide variety of flavors that dissolve easily into a glass of water.
If you are in the market for something that not only tastes great and helps to quench your thirst at the end of a long run, but can also aid in muscle recovery and cut down on soreness, this is a great option. We love the blend of this formula is not only great for running, but the BCAAs make it a great option for sports, weightlifting, and HIIT as well!
2. XTEND Sport
The affordable option
This blend from XTEND is made for runners that lose a lot of nutrients through sweat. It contains a blend of electrolytes as well as BCAAs to help return balance to your body as well as help heal tired muscle groups. Users love that this blend dissolves easily into water, and comes in at a super affordable price point that won’t break the bank.Read more
The blend contains a modest serving of sodium (to help replenish lost sodium levels), potassium, and magnesium that are lost when you work up a sweat. One serving contains just 9 percent of lost mineral levels, which will help you regain balance to your system without overdoing it.
We also love that this blend provides users with a good serving of electrolytes which helps water absorb easily into your system. It provides users with an impressive 7 grams of BCAAs, which aid in muscle recovery and prevent you from feeling as sore the following morning.
If you are in the market for something that helps your body regain balance after a good sweat, this blend is a great choice. Whether you are a casual runner, are running for speed, or a long-distance runner, his modest blend helps your body achieve balance and helps water and nutrients absorb more quickly into your system.
3. PowerBar RecoveryMax
Th most fast effective option
If you feel that there is no better post-workout drink than good old-fashioned chocolate milk, you may want to try out this blend from Powerbar. This formula blends easily into water (or milk), and it is packed with beneficial nutrients that will not only rehydrate but also nourish your body and help it to absorb nutrients quickly into your system.Read more
What makes this blend a little bit different when compared to others out there on the market is that it also provides runners with an ample serving of carbs and protein, much like good old chocolate milk. This powder blends easily in water, so you can toss it into your shaker bottle at the end of a long run to quickly replenish lost levels as well as fuel your body to get through the rest of the day.
At the end of a long trail run, your body is most receptive to vitamins and nutrients, which is why we love this blend so much. It contains whey protein which is packed with BCAAs that help your muscles recover and cut down on soreness the following day. It also boasts a modest serving of carbs to prevent you from crashing later in the day
If you are in the market for something that provides a little bit more than many of the electrolyte blends out there on the market, this option from PowerBar is a great choice. Not only does it help replenish your body, but it also provides a little energy boost from the carbs and can help reduce muscle fatigue to get you back out on the trails sooner!
4. Zeal Naturals
The easiest on your stomach
Many electrolyte blends from the leading brands are often bogged down with excess sugar that your body does not need at the end of a run. For long-distance runners, or for those training for a marathon, this blend from Zeal Nutrition is one of your best options. It provides users with a high level of electrolytes as well as supplemental vitamins and nutrients to help your body recover at the end of a long training session.Read more
What we love most about this blend is that it boasts a proprietary electrolyte complex that helps to replenish lost levels in your system, as well as absorb water more quickly into your system. Users love that this blend tastes great, and dissolves easily into a glass of water or shaker bottle.
Users love that this simple formula also provides them with a host of beneficial B Vitamins, and offers a complex blend of BCAAs. The BCAAs in this mix help to repair your muscles at the end of a long training session and also help to cut down on soreness the following day. We also love the BCAAs help protein absorb into your muscle to help build strength as well.
If you are in the market for something that is all-natural and packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals to help absorb nutrients into your system at the end of a brutal workout, this is an excellent choice. We love that it boasts a gentle formula that is easy on your stomach and tastes great.
5. Nuun Hydration
The best selling on Amazon
The Nuun Hydration tablets have been available for a few years now and they are a tried and true form for electrolyte replacement. They are really easy to use; you simply mix them with water and you're ready to go. These tablets are really effective. They provide you with the electrolytes you need post workout and there are several flavors to choose from as well.Read more
Convenient, reliable, powerful, and affordable They are easy to take with you and use anytime, anywhere so you can replenish yourself. If you are looking for an effective, healthy recovery source then this is the one for you.
They are low in calories and not too sweet. They also utilize Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium for electrolyte replacement and provide athletes with an adequate amount of electrolytes they need post-workout.
If you want good nutritional value and a reliable source of restoration nutrients, then Nuun Hydration tablets may be the perfect on the go supplement for when you are out for a run.
These tablets are highly affordable, easy to use, and come in several different flavors.
The best organic option
100% vegan & gluten free. Owyn is made from plants and has amazing health benefits for athletes. This shake has all 9 amino acids and helps muscle recovery. Has an 18-month shelf life and doesn't need to be in the refrigerator unless it is opened.Read more
The best run or workout in the world is of little use if you deplete your nutrients and vitamins and cannot replenish them and keep your body functioning properly. The Owyn protein shake does all of this for you! This a good recovery drink that helps restore the body and replenish nutrients lost during your runs and workout sessions. It works well for many levels of activity and performance and is a great thing to have on hand for runners.
This recovery drink is made of organic ingredients that you can trust. It is completely vegan and gluten-free--so it can be consumed by most athletes and runners out there!
You can take this drink with you on the go or keep it at home when you get back from your workouts. You don't have to mix or blend it--just open it up and drink. However, if you want to mix it up with one of your favorite smoothie ingredients, go for it.
This option is a little on the pricey side--but it is definitely not too expensive, especially if you want something convenient and perfect for those of you on the go!
The best value
The powdered formulas give you the biggest bang for your buck but are just not as convenient as stocking your fridge with pre-packaged cans. These cans for LIFEAID are a cinch to grab and toss into your pack before heading out for a run and are packed with beneficial vitamins and nutrients to quench your thirst, provide a bit of an energy burst, and replenish lost levels in your system after a long run.Read more
What makes this blend a little bit different than some of the other options that we have seen out there on the market is that it is packed with a modest serving of green tea-derived caffeine. One can host about 45 grams of caffeine, which is about the same as half a cup of coffee.
We also love that this blend is packed with essential vitamins and nutrients to help replenish lost levels in your body. One can provide runners with not only BCAAs but also electrolytes and essential Omega-3s, as well as B complex and turmeric.
If you are in the market for something that is comprehensive and convenient, you can’t go wrong with this blend from LIFEAID. This blend may cost a little bit more than some of the others out there on the market, but runners love that it tastes great and is easy to take with them on the go.
8. Body Armour
The all natural option
BodyArmor is an easily accessible and highly affordable sports drink that will provide runners and athletes of all types with adequate nutrition and supplements to replace what they lose during their workouts. It is also one of the healthier and more organic options currently available.Read more
This drink is perfect for all athletes--and the best part is that it tastes great. While some users may find that it is too sweet, you will love to hear that it use all natural flavors and sweeteners, so there is nothing artificial about it.
Since it is made of Coconut water, you can count that it is packed with electrolytes. It is free of artificial colors and flavors and also uses cane sugar as a sweetener.
While it isn't the most versatile, it is definitely perfect for during and post workouts. You can't use this one as a meal replacement, but you can certainly hydrate with it throughout the day as well.
This is definitely one of the more affordable options on our list and it is totally worth it.
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