The Best Post Workout Drinks: Burn Fat, Build Muscle & Recover Faster

The Best Post Workout Drinks: Burn Fat, Build Muscle & Recover Faster

According to a joint position statement from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the post-workout window is a critical time period for physically active people to support muscle repair, refuel, and rehydrate[*].

And a post-workout drink or shake is a fast, convenient way to fuel your body with protein, carbohydrates, or electrolytes to speed recovery and boost performance.

Keep reading to learn which intra-workout and post-workout drinks are optimal for every goal and each type of training.

The Scientific Case for Post Workout Protein Shakes

Whether your goal is athletic performance, fat loss, or building lean muscle — or any combination of those goals — a high-quality protein powder is one of the most important ingredients for any post-workout shake.

Levels Shaker

Here’s why protein matters post-workout according to scientific research.

After you lift weights, strength train, or do any form of strenuous exercise (including endurance training), your body is in a negative protein balance[*][*]. In other words, exercise causes damage to muscle fibers, which results in muscle protein breakdown.

Without amino acids from a high-quality protein source, your body is unable to effectively repair itself and recover from activity efficiently[*].

But when you consume a complete protein source that’s rich in essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), especially leucine, research shows that your body shifts into a positive protein balance due to a process called muscle protein synthesis[*].

Practically speaking, that means protein is the macronutrient that makes the biggest difference between losing muscle mass or becoming stronger and repairing muscle fibers after training.

Whey protein meets all the criteria for an effective post-workout recovery protein powder, with an extremely high protein quality score thanks to its high EAA and BCAA content[*].

According to a 2013 peer-reviewed paper, “Whey protein seems to be most effective to increase post-exercise muscle protein synthesis rates. This is likely attributed to its rapid digestion and absorption kinetics and specific amino acid composition”[*].

Consuming 20 grams of whey protein after training is a common recommendation for supporting muscle repair, but newer evidence suggests that higher doses may work even better[*][*].

A 2016 study found that while a 20 gram dose of whey protein was effective for increasing muscle protein synthesis after training, a 40 gram dose was more effective, regardless of body weight[*].

And when it comes to replenishing glycogen (the carbohydrates stored in your muscles for use as fuel during exercise), studies suggest that adding protein powder to a post-workout carbohydrate drink can actually speed up glycogen restoration[*].

Also, according to a 2015 paper from the Journal of Sports Sciences, adding whey protein to an oral rehydration drink containing carbs and electrolytes didn’t change the effectiveness of the drink for hydration purposes, meaning that even if you’re dehydrated, there’s no downside to adding whey to your post-workout rehydration drink[*].

Essentially, there’s no disadvantage to adding protein powder to your recovery drink each time you train. It doesn’t interfere with rehydration, and can even help the absorption of carbohydrates, not to mention help your body repair muscles faster and perform better.

We recommend you use 40 grams of whey protein concentrate for all your post-workout recovery shakes. Protein is a vital part of your recovery equation, and our grass-fed whey protein is trustworthy, hormone-free, and naturally delicious with no added sugars, fillers, or artificial flavors or sweeteners.

Post Workout Drinks for Performance, Recovery, and Hydration

If you’re an athlete or someone who trains hard, your post-workout drink is an important part of your strategy for rehydrating and replenishing glycogen levels so you can stay competitive or keep training hard.

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at evidence-backed post-workout practices for performance, recovery, and hydration, including recipes for do-it-yourself blends you can easily make at home.

But first, a disclaimer: while post-workout nutrition is crucial, it’s only one component of your overall nutrition strategy.

That means that if you want optimal performance and recovery, you also need to consume enough protein, carbohydrates, calories, electrolytes, and other micronutrients for your goals on a regular basis — if you don’t, a post-workout drink isn’t going to single-handedly remedy a poor diet[*].

With that said, carbohydrates during or after a workout can support performance, especially if you’re exercising for extended durations or training or competing more than once per day. You can use fast-acting carbs like maltodextrin, slower carbs like oat flour, or a combination of the two types.

If you train or compete for more than an hour at a time, try consuming 30-60 grams of carbs per hour while exercising[*]. For events longer than 2.5 hours, research suggests consuming up to 90 grams of carbs per hour can yield even better results[*].

Evidence also suggests that a drink with a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates-to-protein speeds uptake of the carbs and improves performance during events, as well as the performance of subsequent events, more effectively compared to carbs alone[*][*].

Intra-Workout 4:1 Recovery Drink for Endurance Athletes


  • 1000 ml (33.8 oz) filtered water or spring water (ice optional)
  • 15 grams whey protein concentrate
  • 30 grams oat flour
  • 30 grams maltodextrin
  • Optional: 700 mg (0.7 g) sea salt

Instructions: Mix and chill a sufficient amount of recovery drink before training or competing. Consume 10-15 fluid ounces of recovery drink per 15-20 min of activity.

Intra-workout 3:1 Recovery Drink for Repeated Explosive Effort or Team Sports Athletes


  • 1000 ml (33.8 oz) filtered water or spring water (ice optional)
  • 25 grams whey protein concentrate
  • 75-80 grams maltodextrin
  • Optional: 700 mg (0.7 g) sea salt

Instructions: Mix and chill a sufficient amount of recovery drink before training or competing. Consume according to thirst and energy levels during activity (recommended intake: 12-25 ounces or more per hour).

If you’re not training for long periods, but are training frequently, it’s fine to consume your carb-and-protein recovery drink 30 minutes post-workout instead of during your workouts. In these cases, a 2:1 ratio with more protein is effective, especially if you’ve got time to eat an additional solid food meal with carbs and protein before your next session[*][*].

Post-workout 2:1 Recovery Drink Recipe for Athletes


  • 1000ml (33.8 oz) filtered water or spring water (ice optional)
  • 40-60g whey protein concentrate
  • An equivalent amount of oat flour (40-60g) and
  • An equivalent amount of maltodextrin (40-60g)
  • Optional: 700 mg (0.7 g) sea salt

Instructions: Mix and consume within 30 minutes after activity. Make and drink another identical shake, or consume at least one solid meal with additional protein and carbohydrates, before your next training session or event.

Along with restoring glycogen levels and fueling performance, post-workout drinks can also speed up rehydration and help prevent dehydration.

The two factors that matter most for rehydration are:

  • Fluid volume, and
  • electrolyte content.

For effective post-workout rehydration, you must replace 125-150% or more of the fluid volume lost during exercise, which works out to 20-24 ounces of liquid per pound (16 ounces) of body weight lost due to sweating[*].

Typical sweat-related fluid loss rates during exercise are around 32-48 ounces per hour, but can be as high as 100 ounces per hour or more during strenuous activity in extremely hot conditions[*].

Don’t worry too much about the exact amount of fluids you lose during activity, but realize that you may need to up your intake under certain conditions. If possible, weighing yourself before and after activity can give you a better idea of your individual rehydration needs.

The most important electrolyte to include in a rehydration solution is sodium chloride or NaCl, which you can obtain from table salt or sea salt (included in the recipes above). Together with carbohydrates, salt mimics the osmolality (concentration of dissolved particles) of plasma, increasing hydration effectiveness than water alone[*][*].

Simple Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) for Rapid Rehydration


  • 1000 ml (33.8 oz) clean water (ice optional)
  • 6 level teaspoons maltodextrin or sucrose (table sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or sea salt
  • Optional: A single serving of any zinc supplement (taken orally or mixed into ORS)

Instructions: Heat 8-12 ounces of water to dissolve sugar and salt, then add the remainder of water to cool off the mixture. Adults can consume up to 1000 ml per hour of ORS as required while resting, or more as needed during activity.

You can use the ORS recipe above if necessary during or after exercise to address mild to moderate activity-related dehydration. It’s also effective for reducing exercise-related cramping[*][*].

For cases of severe dehydration, activity-related or otherwise, seek immediate medical attention. However, if medical care isn’t available, ORS is the most effective option for emergency rehydration[*].

Post Workout Shakes for Fat Los

If your goal is fat loss, your highest priorities should be eating enough protein, limiting calories and carbs, and staying physically active.

Eating plenty of high-quality protein, around 25-30% of your total daily calories, is proven to support healthy weight loss by[*]:

  • Speeding up your metabolism,
  • Reducing appetite and diminishing cravings, and
  • Preserving lean muscle mass.

Alongside those fat loss practices, post-workout protein shakes offer several noteworthy benefits for losing weight.

According to a 2018 randomized controlled trial published in the European Journal of Nutrition, participants who drank a whey protein shake following resistance training consumed fewer calories afterward compared to those who didn’t[*]. The researchers concluded that the lower energy intake was unlikely to impair hypertrophy (muscle-building) and could be valuable for weight loss purposes.

Speaking of resistance training or strength training, strong evidence suggests that it’s highly beneficial as part of a targeted fat loss plan[*][*]. Lifting weights or other forms of resistance training can help you lose more weight, preserve muscle, and repair your metabolism during weight loss — and as we’ve already covered in previous sections of this article, protein shakes are an excellent way to shift your body into a positive protein balance and support recovery after weight training[*].

But unlike athletes who train or compete frequently, people who are focused primarily on fat loss don’t need carbs in their post-workout protein shakes. Adding carbs to your shakes increases insulin levels and glycogen resynthesis, both of which can potentially inhibit fat-burning[*].

Along those same lines, a 2015 study found that a group that received whey protein without carbs after resistance training lost more total fat as well as abdominal fat compared to groups receiving carbs or whey with added carbs[*].

On the other hand, during fat loss, you actually don’t need a protein shake after every type of exercise. Walking and other forms of aerobic exercise are highly effective for losing weight, but they aren’t strenuous enough to require a post-workout recovery shake, for example.

In fact, research suggests that doing cardio in the fasted state has distinct advantages for fat loss, and you may as well extend your fasting period past your cardio session for extra fat-burning, too.

Regardless, don't neglect regular strength training followed by protein shakes as part of your fat loss regimen.

And when it comes to recovery, muscle-building, and fat loss, studies show that whey protein is the best choice. A 2019 review of 21 different randomized clinical trials found that combining resistance training and whey protein improves lean muscle mass, increases strength, and reduces fat mass[*].

For the best fat loss results, eat a high-protein diet, stay active every day, and drink 40 grams of whey protein concentrate following strength training several times per week. Levels Grass-Fed Whey Protein Concentrate is non-GMO, hormone-free, and naturally low in carbs, without added sugars, artificial flavors or sweeteners, or fillers.

Post Workout Shakes for Muscle Gain

For building lean muscle and recovering from hypertrophy workouts, post-workout protein shakes are an extremely effective part of a clean bulking strategy.

Tire Flip

For example, a 2006 randomized controlled trial demonstrated that whey protein increased muscle-building by 9 pounds, reduced body fat by 3 pounds, and resulted in more strength gains over 10 weeks compared to other types of protein when incorporated as part of a weight training regimen[*].

And a 2019 review found that compared to placebo, taking whey protein supplements around resistance training increased lean mass, reduced fat mass, and increased strength levels[*].

People often add carbs to their post-workout muscle-building shakes to replenish glycogen, but that’s probably not necessary unless you’re going to train again later that same day (as we also discussed in previous sections of this article).

Research shows that you can burn more fat by avoiding carbs post-workout and maintaining a glycogen-depleted state, and this practice doesn’t appear to reduce muscle protein synthesis as long as you eat plenty of protein[*][*][*][*].

According to a 2013 peer-reviewed paper,

“Additional ingestion of large amounts of carbohydrate does not further increase post-exercise muscle protein synthesis rates when ample protein is already ingested”[*].

At Levels, we suggest that your post-workout shake should reflect your overall diet for building muscle. That is, if you’re consuming a relatively high-carb diet that day (perhaps as part of a calorie cycling approach, or using refeed days), it’s fine to add oat flour, maltodextrin, or other carbs to your post-workout shake to hit your macro requirements.

But as a general rule, if you’re not eating a ton of carbs and you aren’t training twice per day, there’s no benefit and potentially a few downsides to adding extra carbs post-workout. Instead, you can replenish glycogen gradually before your next workout to support performance — there’s really no rush to slam carbs right after training.

Or, if you’re weight training on an empty stomach and need a quick energy boost, try the 2:1 workout drink recipe below during your training session to fuel performance and build muscle.

Intra-workout 2:1 Muscle-Building Drink for Weight Training


  • 1000 ml (33.8 oz) filtered water or spring water (ice optional)
  • 40 grams whey protein concentrate
  • 80 grams maltodextrin
  • Optional: 700 mg (0.7 g) sea salt

Instructions: Mix and chill muscle-building drink before training. Consume the entire shake during the first half of your training session.

Otherwise, the simple and proven formula of 40 grams or more of whey protein concentrate post-workout is still the best choice for building muscle. Be sure to follow it up with one or two more high-protein, solid food meals later that day for best results.

Are Post-workout Drinks Necessary?

Athletes and highly active people who want to maximize their results should absolutely use a post-workout recovery drink, especially after hard training sessions.

Start with a protein base of 40 grams of whey protein concentrate, add some sodium chloride (table salt or sea salt) for electrolytes if needed, and include a combination of slow- and fast-acting carbs (like oat flour and maltodextrin) if you’re going to work out again later that day.

And even if you’re not an athlete, whey protein is one of the best supplements ever for muscle gain, fat loss, and general health and fitness — and there’s no better time to take it than after training.