What To Drink After A Workout If You're Not Into Protein Powder

Photographed by Andi Elloway.
Chances are you've seen someone reach for a plastic shaker bottle after a workout, mix up some powdery concoction, and chug it as fast as they can. It might look unappetizing, but protein powder is a very popular post-workout drink because it's easy to chug on the go, and it often contains amino acids that help with muscle repair. But you don't have to drink protein shakes after a workout — there are lots of other ways to get the same nutrients.
The best thing you can drink after a workout is something that contains a combination of protein, carbs and sodium, says Torey Armul, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Protein is vital for muscle tissue repair, and carbohydrates replenish your body’s glycogen stores," she says. And sodium helps to restore electrolytes that are lost in sweat.
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Ideally, you should focus on replenishing your fluids after a workout and aim to eat foods that contain protein, instead of drinking something that checks both those boxes, Armul says. "Real food can get you there too, often with even more nutritional value," she says. But what should you drink besides water? Ahead are a few drinks that contain helpful macronutrients that will help you after a workout.
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Chocolate milk

Dairy might not be your first craving after a workout, but believe it or not, chocolate milk contains the ideal combination of protein, carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluids that you need after a bout of exercise, Armul says. A 2012 study suggests that you should drink chocolate milk immediately after exercise, and again two hours later to aid in muscle repair. "It also tastes great and can be cheaper than brand-name protein drinks," she says.
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Pickle juice

The same briny stuff you drink to chase a shot of whiskey might be beneficial after a workout, too. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, the minerals in your blood that carry other fluids. "If you're craving pickle juice, your body probably needs electrolytes," Armul says. Pickle juice is loaded with the electrolyte sodium, so it may help your muscles recover from a workout. (In fact, there's a post-workout bottled pickle juice drink you can buy.) But keep in mind that pickle juice doesn't contain any carbs or protein, which are also important for recovery, she says.
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Cherry juice

"There’s impressive research behind tart cherry juice and its ability to aid muscle recovery," Armul says. Tart cherry juice is believed to help reduce inflammation and oxidative damage, likely because it contains antioxidants, she says. Some people think that drinking cherry juice before bed is best, because it can help your muscles the next day. And other studies suggest that drinking cherry juice before bed can help people with insomnia sleep, so there's an added bonus.
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Photo: Getty Images.
Sports drinks

Here's the thing about sports drinks: Compared to water, they're not that amazing, and they tend to be high in sugar. However, they do contain carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid, which are all important after a tough workout, Armul says. "If you’re recovering from a long, sweaty or strenuous workout, it’s fine to drink a sports drink." Just make sure you also snack on a protein-rich food to maximize muscle recovery, she says.
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