What happens when you take a recovery drink?

Recovery drinks are designed to be consumed shortly after training to help the body restore itself. We explain how they work and what happens once the liquid passes your lips


It’s widely recommended recovery drinks consumed within 30-45mins of finishing exercise for maximum effectiveness. They consist of a combination of protein, carbohydrate and, sometimes, electrolytes. The protein is included to assist with muscular repair and the carbohydrates to re-stock muscle glycogen levels. If present, the electrolytes replace those lost in sweat.


1. When you ingest a recovery drink shortly after exercise, the body is at its most receptive to re-stocking muscle and liver glycogen. The carbohydrates in the drink are broken down quickly into glucose, absorbed into the bloodstream via the small intestine, and shuttled off into muscles and liver cells where they’re bound as glycogen molecules for use later on (in much the same way that an energy gel works during exercise).

2. The protein in the drink is broken down through digestion into its constituent amino acids; these also enter the bloodstream where they can be used to resynthesise structural proteins in the body for use in repairing damaged muscle fibres. As with muscle glycogen replenishment, protein synthesis happens most effectively immediately post-exercise, explaining why consuming recovery drinks soon after training is advised.

3. Research suggests that combining carbohydrates and protein in recovery drinks improves the effectiveness of both glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis when compared with drinks containing just one or the other. They appear to work together in enhancing recovery.

4.The electrolytes in the drink are absorbed into your bloodstream to replace those lost in sweat from training or competing.

What are the different types of sports drinks and when should you use them?

Recovery drinks: 4 of the best reviewed

Best electrolyte drink tablets reviewed

What’s the difference between whey and casein protein and when’s best to digest them?

What type of protein is best for triathlon recovery?


Energy gels versus energy bars