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Ask Levi: Are Recovery Drinks Worth It?

In recent years, there has been a lot of marketing centering around recovery drinks. Let’s see what all the hype is about…

Are recovery drinks worth it? My coach told me no, to just eat real food. However, when I am done with spinning class, it takes me about 45 minutes to shower, meet/talk with the team, and then walk home. By the time I get home, that timeframe where you should get food into your body for recovery is over. So what is your opinion on recovery drinks? What is the best one?

Thanks,
Recovering Rebecca

Hi Rebecca,

ripe bananas

Recovery drinks are nice from a convenience standpoint, no doubt about that, but I don’t currently use them because there are other “real food” ideas that are fairly convenient and much cheaper. For instance, a banana is cheap and would be perfect for a quick post-ride snack, since it is a natural way to get high GI carbs.

If you were at home with a blender, you could get more calories and protein with a peanut butter banana smoothie (which also happens to be delicious.)

Protein isn’t the #1 priority though. A few newer studies have shown that taking in a little protein right after a workout has a slight benefit over just carbs, so there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but carbs are still king for post-ride food.

See, before recovery drinks came on the market (and were popularized thanks to the carb/protein studies,) the time after exercise was simply known as the “glycogen window” because the #1 goal is to restock your muscle and liver glycogen stores by consuming sugars. (Your body is most apt to do this during and immediately after exercise, hence the importance of timeliness.)

The thing with protein is that it’s used to rebuild your muscles. Unlike replenishing glycogen, that rebuilding process takes days to accomplish. So you’ll be just fine as long as you’re consuming protein in your diet on a daily basis. No need to worry about getting it at exactly the right time.

What it boils down is that you’ll get the majority of the benefits of a recovery drink just with something typical, even a regular sports drink.

But if I had to pick a recovery drink…

hammer recoverite

My first choice would be Hammer Recoverite. It contains good ingredients and the price is reasonable when you consider that all recovery drinks are on the expensive side. And Hammer typically does a good job making these heavier drinks (Hammer Perpetuem, for example) taste good.

(Not to mention, the Recoverite reviews at MTBR.com are pretty convincing.)

But there are other interesting choices.

There’s a drink called First Endurance Ultragen that’s intriguing because the ingredients list is much more complete than any of the other drinks. But I’m pretty sure it’s the most expensive recovery drink available! (Roughly $3 per serving when purchased in bulk.)

Great reviews of Ultragen, too.

Last but not least, the recovery drink recommended by Joe Friel. Working with Infinit Nutrition (makers of custom sports drinks,) Friel has his own line of sports drinks, including a recovery drink.

Joe Friel is one smart dude and has some good reasons for formulating the drink as he did, so that’s certainly worth a look.

What it boils down to…

What it boils down to is, how vital is it that you feel great before every single workout? If you have a season full of races with big money on the line, yes, you need every little edge you can get, and a dedicated recovery drink could help out.

The Chocolate Milk Debate
A lot of people mention chocolate milk as a good recovery drink. It is a cheap substitute, and it contains plenty of sugar, but that stuff should be refrigerated. So in this situation, chocolate milk wouldn’t cut it due to that inconvenience.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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Hometown, PA