When you exercise, your body is depleted of energy and important nutrients. Recovery drinks can help to combat this, as drinking them after a workout can help to replace the lost nutrients and energy.
Rehydration is a major part of the recovery process following exercise, and your recovery drink should look to replenish the fluids lost through sweating. Although water is generally sufficient after workouts, if the exercise was intense you may benefit more from a recovery drink.
There are two major effects of exercise that recovery drinks can help with: muscle soreness and glycogen replenishment. The drinks contain both carbohydrates and protein, usually at a ratio of 3:1, which help with these problems.
Aerobic exercise will dehydrate you and use up your glycogen stores, which, without training, can be fairly limited.
In order to replace these stores, the liver produces glycogen at an accelerated rate (about 1.5 times faster than normal) for around two hours after exercise. After roughly 60 minutes, the pancreas will begin to release insulin to refuel the muscles in a second phase of recovery.
How does a recovery drink work?
Drinking a high-carb recovery drink directly after exercise will help generate glycogen during the first hour, and then will stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin for the second phase.
The introduction of insulin slows down the rate at which glycogen is produced, as the hormone instead moves glucose into the cells of the body to be used as fuel.
With regular training, eventually you should build up a greater glycogen storage capacity, potentially by as much as 20 per cent, meaning your endurance levels will be higher.
At the same time, the proteins in recovery drinks give your body building blocks with which to ‘repair’ the tears in your muscle fibre created by anaerobic activity. As it builds these up, the muscles will grow and become stronger, so it is important that the body has plenty of good ‘building materials’ to do this with.
Recovery drinks can be particularly useful if you exercise twice a day, as consuming one after your first workout will help fuel you through your second workout later on.