What should you drink after sports? Image with a beer, cola, sports drink and chocolate milk.

Your 1st drink after sports decides your next performance

Imagine you just completed a sports session. You went cycling, kicked your friends’ asses in padel or finally managed to climb that route you’ve had your eyes on for a while. Now you’re at the bar of your sports club and unsure what to drink. Do you go for that tasty beer you crave or stick with something non-alcoholic and nutritious? This is the decision that determines your next sports performance. Yes, really. We’ll explain in a bit.

If the situation described here sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s an issue faced by many sports enthusiast that want to improve in their sport. Think of all the weekend warriors on their bikes - 'wielertoeristen' as we call them in Belgium and the Netherlands - that after riding have one or two soft drinks or chocolate milks before they indulge in the beers they really crave.

Illustration of cyclists with a mountain in the background

Why what you drink after sports matters.

So why does what you order at the bar after a workout matter? Well, the strain you put on your body during physical exercise essentially damages your muscle fibers. This is why your muscles might feel sore the next day. Damaging your muscles doesn’t sound good, does it? But it is. As long as you let your body properly recover afterwards. Exercise combined with recovery is what makes you harder, better, faster, stronger (cue Daft Punk). It’s what gives you the strength to win the final sprint against your friends or to climb that challenging route nobody else has completed yet.

Illustration of cyclist breaking away from other cyclists.

This is where nutrition comes in. One of the most important aspects of recovery is what you eat or drink within the first one to two hours after sports. To start your recovery process, there are two macronutrients you need to be consuming. There is also one thing you really need to avoid.

Protein and carbs: yes please.

Let’s start with what you need: protein and carbohydrates. Protein is crucial as these are the building blocks for your muscles. Protein helps maintain, repair and strengthen your muscles. The ideal amount of protein to consume depends on your body weight and the intensity of your workout. As a rule of thumb you’ll want to aim for about 20 grams of protein.

Turning to carbohydrates. These actually serve two main roles after exercise. Firstly, they help replenish the energy reserves in your muscles (called ‘glycogen’) which have been drained during exercise. This ensures you are full of energy and ready to go the next time you exercise. Secondly - and this is something that is often overlooked, carbs help your body effectively absorb the protein you have consumed. For this a minimum carb to protein ratio of 1:1 is necessary.

Image of scoops of protein and carbohydrate powders.

Alcohol: oh no, no, no.

Finally, what is the one thing you really need to avoid after sports? That’s right, alcohol. For a couple of reasons.

Alcohol dehydrates your body while after sports you need the exact opposite. You need to rehydrate to replace the fluids and minerals lost from sweating. Do you need the bathroom more often after a few beers? This is exactly why.

More importantly though, after exercise, your body is asking for nutrition and ready to process this. But alcohol is a toxin and when you consume it, your body automatically reacts and starts breaking it down. So right when your body is asking for something nutritious, you give it the opposite. If you ever wondered why alcohol hits you twice as hard after a workout, this is why. You might think the buzz you are getting is not necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately this prevents the processing of lactic acid and also slows down protein synthesis in your muscles. In other words, it prevents your body from doing what it should be doing, namely recovering.

Sad sports man drinking beer.

If you want to get better, make the right choice.

So if you find yourself in the situation we described at the very start, where you’re wondering what to drink. Choose the non-alcoholic and nutritious option. At least for your first one or two drinks. You’ll be rewarded many times over because:

  • You’ll maximize the benefit from the workout you just completed
  • You’ll start your next training or race fresh and ready for maximum performance
  • Your muscles won’t feel as sore the next day
  • You’ll have plenty of energy to tackle the rest of your day

So what do you order at the bar that will help you recover? A chocolate milk will give you protein and carbs, so that’s a good functional option. Want something functional that is also refreshing and social, maybe a beer that gives you the right nutrition? Get yourself some Thrive beers ;-)

Cheers and #gothrive

Cycling women drinking a Thrive sports beer with mountains in the background.



*disclaimer: this article is based on extensive research and represents the consensus on the topics covered. But don't take this as medical advice. We're not doctors.

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