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After you finish your next workout, chances are you will have worked up a thirst. The question is, what drink should you reach for?

You might be inclined to grab a sports drink, or maybe to whip up a protein shake. But we spoke with Chris Gabriel — OCS and CSCS at the OrthoCarolina Sports Training Center and Sports Physical Therapy — to find out why those aren't necessarily always your best options when it comes to workout recovery drinks.

"Proper fluid intake is essential during the day, especially after a strenuous workout," Gabriel explained. "Getting proper liquids into your system can help minimize muscle cramps, lower heart rate and regulate blood pressure, reduce fatigue, and maximize hydration."

And of course, depending on your health status and the intensity of your workout, the options for post-workout recovery drinks vary. 


Unsurprisingly, Gabriel's top suggestion is to drink water.

"It is inexpensive, readily available, no calories," he said. "Some are turned off by the lack of flavor, so something like a fruit-enhanced water with few to no calories is also a good option — or adding lemon to your water can help with the transition." 

Sports Drinks (Sometimes): 

You might think his next suggestion after water would be a sports drink, but in reality, he said that they're not always the best option for an athlete depending on the circumstance. 

"Many people feel that you need a full sports drink after any type of exercise, but for moderate exercise, water is usually best," Gabriel said. "It is not usually worth the extra sugars or artificial sweeteners that come along with sports drinks."

He explained that sports drinks are most appropriate for those engaged in high intensity exercise for 1 - 4 hours at a time without significant rest periods — or for those who exercise in high temperatures, such as hot yoga or outdoor activities in hot climates.

"These drinks contain water, sugar, and electrolytes that your body may lose in excess during more extreme activities," Gabriel said. "While Gatorade was once the only player in this arena, today there are a myriad of options available based on taste preferences and what nutrients you would like to replace."

He did warn, however, that excessive calories and sugars are important things to watch out for in this group depending on your health status and goals.

Protein-Based Drinks (Chocolate Milk, In Particular):

We were surprised to learn that our favorite childhood breakfast drink could actually be beneficial to slurp up after a workout — crazy straw optional.

"Chocolate milk contains carbs and protein needed after more intense exercise or weight training and has become a popular and delicious option chosen by many," Gabriel said. "Many recommend drinking it within 20-30 minutes of finishing your workout, although some studies show benefits of having a protein drink before, or within two hours after, your workout."

He also mentioned that various whey protein beverages are also available, for those who desire a higher protein content based on their fitness goals and to enhance muscle recovery.

Gabriel did offer one note of caution, however. "More is not always better when it comes to protein drinks," he said. "Your body can only process so much at once, so unless you are a highly trained athlete or bodybuilder and working with a nutritionist, keep to a moderate level."

Beer or Wine (In Moderation!):

Yep, you read that correctly!

"Beer does have some carbs and electrolytes, so it can actually be a good post workout drink, depending on which brew you choose and how much you drink," Gabriel explained. "It is plant based – water, hops, barley, yeast – and contains polyphenols with have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties."

Of course, he emphasized that moderation is key, as too much alcohol can interfere with protein synthesis. But so long as you choose a beer with low alcohol content, there's no reason you can't crack open a cold one after your workout. "Some companies are making beers with extra salt content, which may be beneficial post workout as well," Gabriel added. 

He noted that wine can also be a reasonable beverage to opt for after a workout. "It can serve as a great reward post workout and boost endorphin release after exercise," Gabriel said. "Some studies actually show it may slow growth of existing fat cells and inhibit the formation of new ones when paired with exercise."

But again, he emphasized the importance of moderation and low alcohol content. "Any drinks with high levels of caffeine or alcohol have the potential to be detrimental after a workout due the fact that they are diuretics and can cause your body to lose water," Gabriel reiterated. 

You should definitely consult with your primary care physician for specifics related to your individual health status, and be sure to check out the American Council on Exercise for even more expert-recommended guidelines on fluid replacement.

Learn More About Making Healthy Choices From the Experts at OrthoCarolina

Whether you've recently experienced an injury, need help with recovery after tough workouts, or are simply experiencing chronic pain and need help managing it, OrthoCarolina can help. Make an appointment at a location near you to start getting the treatment you need.