By Kelly Aleman, RD/LD

Brought to you by Florida East Coast Runners

Proper nutrition enhances performance. When you are confronted with the rigors of a tough training schedule, remember that what you eat after a hard workout or competition does affect your recovery. For the serious athlete, foods eaten after exercise require the same careful selections as the meal before exercise. This is particularly important for athletes that are training twice a day. By wisely choosing your foods and fluids, you will recover more quickly for the next workout and be able to train and therefore compete at your best. Casual exercisers who work out less than an hour a day need not obsess about prompt recovery. They have not depleted their body's fuel supplies plus they have plenty of time to replace what was used.

Athletes commonly have many excuses to eat inadequately after exercise, including they do not feel hungry or they do not have time. However, no time is no excuse. If your excuse is you are not hungry, then there are certain fluids that can be used for refueling. You are able to make the time to train and compete, therefore you can also take the time to properly refuel yourself. You simply need to prioritize proper refueling otherwise your own laziness can keep you from reaching your goals. This article will hopefully provide you with some ideas for optimal recovery.

Recovery Fluids

After finishing a hard workout, your top dietary priority should be to replace the fluids you lost by sweating so that your body can get back into water balance. The best choices for replacing sweat losses include one or more of the following:

To determine how much fluid to replace, you need to know how much water you lose during a workout. Simply weigh yourself before and after the workout and your goal is to lose no more than 2 percent of your body weight. A one-pound loss represents 16 ounces of fluid. For each pound lost, you should target drinking 150% more than that during recovery. That is, if you lost 2 pounds during a hard workout (which is definitely possible) you should replace that loss with at least 48 oz of fluids within 2 hours post-exercise. An alternative to counting ounces is to monitor your urine. You should be urinating every 2 to 4 hours post-exercise and the urine should be a pale yellow color (like lemonade), not dark like beer. However, remember to drink during your workouts to prevent dehydration! Your goal is to consume 6 to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes of hard exercise to prevent dehydration and therefore be able to perform at your best!

Recovery Carbohydrates

Glycogen is the form of carbohydrate stored in your muscles and used for fuel during exercise. When you deplete your glycogen stores, you experience extreme fatigue. Your muscles have an initial rapid recovery phase within the first hour post-exercise during which they quickly replace depleted glycogen stores, and then a slower phase thereafter. In other words, the shorter the recovery period (example two workouts per day) the quicker you need to refuel! If time is on your side, you can be a bit more relaxed with your re-feeding schedule.

How much carbohydrate is enough to replenish depleted glycogen stores? Your muscles get well fueled when you eat about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight every two hours for six to eight hours. For a 150 pound athlete, this means 75 grams of carbohydrates equal to 300 calories (1 gram contains 4 calories). Liquid and solid foods will refuel your muscles equally well. Some popular 300 calorie carbohydrate rich food suggestions include: 16 ounces of juice, 8 ounces of juice and 8 ounce fruit yogurt, large bagel, or a bowl of cereal and milk. As mentioned before, the casual exerciser can recover at their own pace and will not deplete themselves of carbohydrates in their typical 30 minute workout. In contrast, endurance athletes and those involved in two a day workouts and closely scheduled competitions should pay careful attention to quickly refueling!

Athletes who are too busy to plan their sports diet commonly fall short on carbohydrates and do not replace their depleted glycogen stores. Ideas for quick and easy carbohydrate choices to make during the day include: whole grain cereals, bagels, bananas and other fruits, fruit juice, dried fruits, pretzels, whole grain crackers, whole grain breads, yogurt, milk, energy bars and granola bars. The main concern is getting enough carbohydrate for your body within each 24 hour period whether that is at large meals or small meals and snacks during the day.

Recovery Protein

Many athletes wonder what the role of protein is in the recovery phase. Research has shown that some protein can actually enhance glycogen replacement in the initial hours after hard exercise. Protein, like carbohydrate, stimulates the action of insulin a hormone that transports glucose from the blood into the muscles. Protein eaten along with carbohydrates provides a winning combination. A good ratio has been found to be 1 gram of protein for every 3 grams of carbohydrates. Ideas for including protein in your recovery meal include the following: bowl of cereal with milk, peanut butter on a bagel, cottage cheese and fruit or tuna on two slices whole grain bread. In addition, you could choose an energy bar containing more protein. If you are one of those athletes that are unable to consume solid foods within a few hours after a hard workout, you may want to consider a product called Endurox. Endurox is a product that contains the proper ratio of protein and carbohydrate for proper refueling and is convenient for those athletes that can not eat solids after exercise.


Athletes often forget that rest is a very important part of their training program! Many neglect the important physiological fact that rest is essential for top performers. Rest can enhance the recovery process, reduce the risk of injury and enhance future performance. Remember, quality training is better than quantity training! Do not underestimate the power of rest!

We are fortunate to have someone with Kelly's credentials and experience willing to donate her time to help educate us on the important subject of nutrition. She is a registered and licensed dietician in private practice in Melbourne. Her primary counseling focus is to provide personalized exercise nutrition consultation for athletes of all abilities, regardless of their sport. Kelly is available for individual counseling by appointment at 728-7782.

Copyright 2009 by Florida East Coast Runners and Kelly Aleman.  Reproduction or reprinting without written permission is illegal.

More Articles at