When it comes to convenience, nothing beats sports drinks. After a serious sweat session -- during which your appetite's basically on snooze -- they get you nutrients quickly in just a few gulps. And that speedy delivery part is important, said John Ivy, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas at Austin. You've got an optimal 30 minutes post-exercise to replenish your muscles' glycogen stores and repair tissue, which then reduces fatigue and soreness, Ivy said. So what's an all-natural, I-like-to-be-able-to-pronounce-what-I'm-ingesting gal to do? Make your recovery drinks yourself! Try any one of these six easy recipes, each scientifically proven to work.
Baking soda sipper
That handy kitchen helper sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda, doesn't just kill odors and put out fires. It can also counteract the buildup of lactic acid that causes the "burn" you feel when muscles are overloaded or overtaxed. Research in the International Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that adding baking soda to your water after intense cardio intervals can prevent soreness and stiffness.
4 cups water (or 1 liter)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar or agave nectar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed citrus juice
Combine all ingredients in a bottle. Shake well to mix.
Homemade chocolate milk
With its perfect mix of protein and carbs to speed muscle recovery, you can't ask for a better post-workout drink than chocolate milk, said William Lunn, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the University of Connecticut. Experts recommend it for serious workouts (1.5 hours or longer) or super-intense sprints.
To make syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Add cocoa and salt; mix well with a whisk. Let mixture simmer until thick, whisking continually to keep from scalding. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add vanilla. Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate.
To make chocolate milk
1 tablespoon homemade syrup
8 ounces skim milk
Combine ingredients in a glass and stir.
Take your carbs with coffee after a strenuous workout and your muscles will absorb the glucose they need to refuel faster, according to research in the Journal of Applied Physiology. If you're training for a big game or event, this mocha-licious shake will give you the gas to go hard day after day after day.
1 cup chilled coffee
1/3 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sugar
Pour coffee and milk into a glass. Combine cocoa powder and sugar, then slowly add to coffee mixture, stirring until well blended. Add ice.
Protein-rich foods containing the amino acid leucine can drastically speed muscle recovery, said researchers at the University of Illinois. For a fast, big dose, you can gag down a raw egg white. Or you can whip up this delicious smoothie instead; it's perfect for after heavy weight training.
1 cup skim milk
1 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup lowfat cottage cheese
1/2 banana, sliced
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon honey
Combine ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.
Unsweetened fruit juice is loaded with the carbohydrates your muscles need to refuel. Research from the U.K. suggests that antioxidant-rich cherries, berries and grapes can also help relieve muscle soreness. Try this after a long endurance session such as an hour-long bike ride or run.
3/4 cup tart cherry (or pomegranate juice)
3/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/2 cup unsweetened Concord grape juice
3/4 cup water
Combine ingredients in a glass. Stir well to mix. Add ice, if desired.
Bee better smoothie
Honey does double duty after a workout, said researchers from the University of Memphis. It helps athletes who use energy in short, intense bursts (e.g., tennis players and sprinters) maintain optimal blood sugar levels, and it aids in muscle recovery post-training. Sweet!
1 medium banana
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup plain lowfat yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.