The recovery drink is the snack you must not forget after your sports event or workout. Just as it is important to plan your food before and during an event, you also need to think about your recovery. In this article, I am going to explain what an ideal recovery drink must entail, according to the latest scientific research.
“Muscles are destroyed during physical activity, the fibres are torn and the most delicate cells are replaced by new, more resistant ones. During the recovery phase, which can last several days after the event, is when the muscle needs food intake to promote its reconstruction. ”
This recovery drink ensures that hydro-electrolytic balance is restored. It also encourages ideal muscle reconstruction in order to maintain muscle mass while restoring energy reserves after physical activity.
Hydro-electrolytic balance is the balance of water (hydro) and specific mineral salts (electrolytes) in the blood: sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, between intracellular and extracellular environments.
Water and mineral salts are lost through perspiration during physical exertion. If these losses are not compensated during the activity, there could be an imbalance between environments.
This imbalance could lead to functioning problems such as cramps, early dehydration, reduced performance or even muscle pain.
Which is the best recovery drink?
The best recovery drink is the one that includes all the metabolic phenomena caused by stress. It has all the body needs at the time it needs it:
- Water: 500ml is the reference amount to drink in the hour following the event.
- Medium/low GI carbohydrates: for example, a blend of glucose and fructose syrup, 30g minimum. To restore energy reserves.
- Proteins: to reconstruct the muscle tissue damaged during the sports practice. Figure on between 10g and 20g of proteins per 500ml of drink for endurance sports, tennis players, sports weight classes, in order to maintain muscle mass without causing it to increase. This could amount to up to 30g of proteins for strength/bodybuilding athletes or rugby players for example.
- Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium: try to restore the correct hydro-electrolytic status. On average, the reference is 500mg of sodium for every 500ml of drink.
- Bicarbonates to rebalance the blood’s acid-base. Basically, waste like lactic acid, protons, uric acid or carbon dioxide produced during the event acidify the blood. If this acidity is maintained long term after repeated workouts, there is risk that muscular pain, tissue inflammation, tendinitis and joint problems could occur. Bicarbonates act like buffers to re-establish the normal blood pH quickly to 7.40.
- The ideal event drink should be in powder form so it can easily be used right after the event. This ensures much better, effortless digestibility, and it can be preserved better (it can be carried and prepared even in hot weather).
And home-made recovery drinks?
These could be an interesting solution, but they often have to include several ingredients that you need at home: often 8-10 ingredients per 500ml drink. Their main advantage is having a drink that the athlete has total control over, but their disadvantages are many:
- Dosages are not always easy: weighing 0.5g or 1g of certain minerals is not simple because kitchen scales seldom allow such a precise weight to appear. Home-made drinks can therefore be under- or overdosed in salt, magnesium or bicarbonates…
- You might wonder from the home-made drinks you find on the web or in specialist magazines, which are the properly dosed ones? When you read “1 teaspoon of salt” in some preparations (i.e., 5g of salt or 2000mg of sodium), it bears no relationship to the sports recommendations.
- The drink has to be prepared quickly after or just before starting your event, and must be kept cool (there are no preservatives, and proteins like cow or soy milk in liquid form do not keep well in the heat). This could be difficult to implement for people who have little time available.
- The protein content is often weak: home-made drinks are usually made of mineral water, salt and a form of carbohydrate (grape juice, maltodextrin, sugar, honey, etc.) but fail to include animal protein, which helps muscle recovery.
Our advice for the best recovery drink
Follow the recommendations for what the ideal drink is made up of. Even among endurance athletes, a small amount of protein gives optimum recovery and helps maintain constricted muscle mass during all sports training.
Drink your drink right after the event. This is when your “metabolic window” best regenerates your reserves in glycogen and absorbs nutrients such as proteins at muscle level.
Regularity is the mother of reliability: the recovery drink should not be taken from time to time, “when you remember to” but in a regular manner.
Do not forget its main role is to give your muscles back what they have valiantly worked for!