Sports drink companies spend trillions -- OK, that might be a slight exaggeration -- trying to convince you that chugging their products during and after competition will make you a winner. While they won't make you a champion, sports drinks definitely have their uses. Downing a sports drink after competition or hard training enables you to recover faster from intense exercise by helping to repair and rebuild your muscles while restoring your glycogen levels, the key to endurance. However, research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine in 2010 stated that the virtues of sports drinks were trumped by a humble beverage mostly consumed by children -- chocolate milk. So dark chocolate, and now chocolate milk, are considered healthy foods. Is this a great world or what?
Recovery After Workouts
Hard exercise depletes your body of fluids. As Human Kinetics explains, your stores of glycogen, which supply energy, drop to low levels. You lose electrolytes: potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride and sodium. Your muscles suffer minor tears and damage. Fortunately, you can quickly counteract some of the effects of hard exercise and thereby speed recovery. You'll need a beverage that supplies a proper balance of carbs and proteins, along with electrolytes. The key is to get the nutrients into your body quickly -- the window for initial recovery closes in 30 to 45 minutes. Many elite athletes down a recovery drink, and perhaps recovery food as well, as soon as they finish training or competing.
Although the exact ratio of carbs to protein is still a matter of debate -- some experts suggest a 2-to-1 ratio is best, others a 4-to-1 ratio -- you can count on a quality sports drink to replenish and rehydrate you after a workout. Sports drinks are easily absorbed and digested. In short, you'll benefit from a sports drink, especially after hard training or competition.
A recent entry in the post-workout beverage category, chocolate milk just might be the best. The ratio of carbs to protein, which is 4-to-1, seems ideal. The protein in milk -- no-fat or low-fat is recommended -- helps build lean muscle. Milk contains electrolytes, as well as some nutrients, vitamins and minerals that most sports drinks lack. The 2010 research findings from four separate studies, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine, found that chocolate milk was superior to sports drinks in terms of building lean muscle, refueling glycogen levels and shortening recovery time.
You certainly aren't limited to sports drinks or chocolate milk when it comes to healthy post-workout drinks. You might not like the taste of sports drinks. You might not react well to dairy. Many athletes put together their own combination of carbs and protein. For example, the STACK website recommends a shake made from vanilla protein powder, a banana, frozen peaches and fruit juice.
There are beverages that can be used to reduce inflammation after a workout. STACK recommends coffee, recovery shakes with ginger and chocolate milk. According to "The Journal of Pain," a caffeine supplement equal to two cups of coffee cuts muscle pain more than common pain relievers. However, caffeine causes side effects in some people and it also is dehydrating, which runs counter to your need to rehydrate after a workout. In 2012, energy drinks containing caffeine, used by many people before workouts, were linked with more than a dozen deaths. So consult with your doctor if you're considering consuming caffeine either before or after working out. Putting 2 teaspoons of powdered ginger in your recovery drink might be a better option. Georgia College and State University kinesiology professor Chris Black says, "You could use ginger any place or time you'd normally take a pain-relieving med." Ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory to ease muscle swelling and tenderness.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.