What is Post Workout Recovery?


You started your training sessions with well-fueled muscles, but that fuel was used to support your workout. After activity, it’s time to start the exercise recovery process by refilling your tank and providing your body with the nutrients needed to build and repair.

What is Recovery Nutrition?

Recovery nutrition refers to the refueling and rehydrating strategies in the immediate post-exercise period (0-2 hours after exercise) . The goal of recovery nutrition is to:

  • replenish the carbohydrates used during your exercise session
  • replace the fluids and electrolytes that were lost in sweat
  • provide protein to support the building of new muscle tissue

Who Needs Recovery Nutrition?

Not all athletes need a post workout recovery meal. Athletes training at low-intensity, such as a 30-minute walk, don’t typically require special recovery recommendations. However, athletes engaged in higher-intensity training at longer durations, or with multiple training sessions or competitions in the same day, do.

Why Combine Carbohydrates and Protein for Recovery?

Carbohydrates play a bigger role in recovery than most athletes realize. During intense exercise, your body may resort to using its glycogen stores as a source of fuel. After exhaustive activities, muscles want their energy stores refilled. That’s where carbohydrates come in. The priority of the recovery meal is to supply enough carbohydrates to replenish muscle glycogen stores. Muscles need protein too, but they won’t repair anything if they do not have the energy first. Once your muscle glycogen stores have been replenished, the next important piece of recovery can begin- the rebuilding of muscle tissue.

Protein provides amino acids essential to repair muscle tissue after strenuous exercise. Laboratory based studies show that muscle protein synthesis is optimized in response to exercise when high-biological protein is consumed.

Adequate refueling with carbohydrates and protein in the immediate post-workout period may support glycogen restoration and muscle protein synthesis and repair.

Recovery Recommendations

Nutrition advice gets pretty precise for competitive athletes. The recommendation is to initiate post workout recovery meal with 1.0-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kg body weight within the first hour after exhaustive exercise. The key word there is exhaustive. Though based on body weight, the amount of carbohydrate consumed for recovery should take into account the intensity and duration of your workout, as well as your goal. To put that into perspective, consider a 120-pound female athlete. Based on the recommendation of 1.0-1.2 g/kg body weight, she may need to consume 55- 65 grams of carbohydrate, while a 200-pound athlete should consumer between 91- 109 grams of carbohydrate in the first hour following glycogen-depleting exercise. That’s a big difference.

Unlike carbohydrate, the amount of protein shown to benefit muscle recovery is not based on body weight. A recovery meal should incorporate 15 -25 grams of protein, as well as adequate fluids with the carbohydrates. The following chart shows as example of what that looks like.

Example: Carbohydrate + Protein Recovery Initiation Recommendation for Competitive Athletes after Exhaustive Exercise:

1.0-1.2 g per kg body weight carbohydrates + 15 - 25 grams protein

125 Ibs. (57 kg) Athlete 150 Ibs. (68 kg) Athlete 200 Ibs. (91 kg) Athlete
57- 68 grams carbohydrates
15 -25 grams protein

7 peanut butter protein bites
68- 82 grams carbohydrates
15 -25 grams protein

8-9 peanut butter protein bites
91-109 grams carbohydrates
15 -25 grams protein

10-11 peanut butter protein bites
125 Ibs. (57 kg) Athlete
57- 68 grams carbohydrates
15 -25 grams protein

7 peanut butter protein bites

125 Ibs. (57 kg) Athlete
57- 68 grams carbohydrates
15 -25 grams protein

7 peanut butter protein bites

125 Ibs. (57 kg) Athlete
57- 68 grams carbohydrates
15 -25 grams protein

7 peanut butter protein bites

The above estimates can be used for a guide, but it’s not necessary for all athletes to be so specific. The intensity, duration, type of activity and level of training all play a role in how much glycogen was used to fuel your workout. While some athletes will benefit from rushing to the recovery station, another would be fine waiting until their next balanced meal. Rather than getting caught up in the calculation, keep it simple and focus on pairing a protein and a carbohydrate together along with fluid. Then, be sure to get a well-balanced meal within 3-4 hours of finishing your activity. The following are some examples:

Examples of Recovery Meals (portion size will vary based on individual needs)

Recovery Meal CarbohydratesCarbs Protein
Peanut Butter Protein Bites
Greek Yogurt with fruit
Smoothie made with milk, frozen fruit, protein powder
Meal/Nutrition Bar (such as GNC Total Lean Lean Bar)
Turkey and Cheese Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread
Cereal and Milk
Chocolate Milk

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