From building strength to boosting your mood, there are all sorts of benefits to exercising regularly. But a tough workout can leave you running low on water or nutrients like electrolytes, both of which can contribute to feeling dehydrated, tired, or sore, says Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian, and nutrition consultant for AI-driven visual diet diary app Freshbit.
Luckily, there are plenty of after-workout drinks to help you replenish following a depleting sweat session. To help you settle on the right beverage for your post-workout snack, Byrdie talked to dietitians to learn which options are the best to help you recover and refuel in time to get your sweat on all over again.
Feeling tired or thirsty during or after your workout? Though it may sound obvious, water is your surest bet to replenish, says Minchen. "Every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies uses water to function," she tells Byrdie. "Our bodies pull water from food and fluids to manage temperature, remove waste, and lubricate joints, so providing plain, clean water directly is the best, fastest way to rehydrate after a workout."
Electrolytes are minerals that your body needs to function well, including sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. But an intense workout—and all the sweating that comes with it—can drain your body of those nutrients, resulting in an electrolyte imbalance that can leave you feeling run down and dehydrated, says Minchen. The solution? Restore that balance with the help of an electrolyte-packed beverage. Although Minchen advises sticking to the low-sugar varieties to rehydrate most efficiently, sports drinks are one common option.
Love water but want to switch things up? Try coconut water, says Diana Savani, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant at Vita Coco. It's a natural source of electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, making coconut water a great pick to help you replenish depleted minerals after a sweaty workout, she adds. It also contains natural sugars, which Savani says can help restore your energy after a tiring gym sesh.
Unsweetened Decaf Tea
If water is too boring, but sports drinks are too much, settle somewhere right in the middle with a hydrating glass of tea after your workout. The antioxidant-rich concoction can help support hydration, muscle recovery, and overall health, according to Minchin. She recommends fruit-flavored, chamomile, ginger, mint, and decaf green teas. Just be sure to pick a decaf variety, she emphasizes. Caffeine can cause further dehydration, which is the last thing you need after a tiring workout.
Though a glass of chocolate milk might remind you of your elementary school lunchroom, it's also a great way to recover from an intense workout, says Savani. "Chocolate milk is a nutrition powerhouse when it comes to refueling after exercise, bringing along all of those beneficial components for post-workout fuel — carbohydrates, protein, fluids, electrolytes," she tells Byrdie. Those nutrients can help restore depleted energy sources and give your body the sustenance it needs to repair and re-energize muscles that are stressed from exertion.
Vegetables are an essential nutrient source to keep your body feeling and working its best, so why not kill two birds with one stone and use green juice to refuel after exercise? Juices that contain leafy greens, beets, carrots, and other veggies provide the vitamins, minerals (including electrolytes), and antioxidants needed to support muscle recovery and rehydration post-workout, according to Minchen.
Not feeling an all-vegetable beverage? Cut it with some fruit, says Savani. She recommends blending your favorite fruits and vegetables with your liquid and protein source of choice — like coconut water, almond milk, Greek yogurt, or protein powder — to custom make the smoothie of your dreams. This is an excellent option if you tend to lose your appetite after your workout, she adds, since plant-based smoothies contain tons of nutrients to replenish your exhausted body without the need to prepare a whole meal. Bonus? It's delicious.
Pritchett K, Pritchett R. Chocolate Milk: A Post-exercise Recovery Beverage for Endurance Sports. Med Sport Sci. 2012;59:127-134. doi:10.1159/000341954