Maximize the Recovery of Fuel, Fluids and Damaged Muscle Tissue

Post exercise nutrition is key to the recovery of any athlete’s body. Appropriate rehydration and refuelling immediately after an intense training session can mean the difference between ‘bonking’ in your next training session and being 100% ready. By maximizing the post-exercise window of opportunity by taking in the right sources and amounts of carbohydrate, protein and fluid, an athlete can minimize fatigue and optimize recovery. Depleted energy stores are most efficiently replaced within a 60 minute window after training. This timeframe is an optimal window to take in nutrients to replenish energy stores, strengthen the immune system and repair and build muscles.


Re-fuelling for multiple training sessions or competitions in the same day takes a little more diligence than athletes who have a full 20-24 hrs to replenish their fuel stores. Follow these guidelines for carbohydrate intake post-exercise to refuel and facilitate recovery:

  • 1 gram per kilogram of carbohydrate consumed within 60 minutes after an intense or long training session
  • Approximately 50 grams at 1-hr intervals for 3-6 hours afterward.
  • If less than 30 minutes between sessions, drink liquid carbohydrate
  • If 1-2 hours between sessions, take carbohydrate solid form if tolerated
  • If over 2 hours between sessions, recovery nutrition, carbohydrate and protein


Muscles absorb carbohydrates at a much quicker rate immediately after exercise, compared to waiting 1-hr or more. Certain foods, specifically higher glycemic carbohydrates, can accomplish this more effectively than others.

High Glycemic Index or "quick" absorbing carbohydrate foods include:

  • raisins
  • fruit leather
  • high carb energy bars
  • bagels (with no spread)
  • gels
  • sport drinks
  • juice
  • watermelon
  • pretzels

Take a large serving of one or more of these foods/drinks immediately after a workout.  Continuing intake of carbohydrate every hour for 3-6 hrs will help to replenish the muscle's fuel stores. Taking advantage of this "right time" with these "right foods" will ensure that you are energized and ready for competition or training later that same day, or the next day.

During intense daily training or competition, recovery is also likely to be improved when daily carbohydrate intake is increased to 8-12 grams per kilogram body weight each day (i.e. up to 750+ grams of carbohydrate per day for 180lb athlete (500+g/day for 140lbs). These high intakes will maximize training by preventing your fuel stores and energy levels from becoming depleted. Maintaining a high carbohydrate diet will also prevent using amino acids (protein) for fuel.

Most athletes finish training or competition sessions with some level of fluid deficit. In hot conditions or after strenuous sessions, fluid losses are usually large and require a focused effort to rehydrate after the workout. In this case, comparing pre- and post-session measurements of body weight can provide an approximation of the overall fluid deficit. You may need to replace 150 per cent of the fluid deficit to get back to baseline.

If you are 3lbs lighter (6 cups. 1 cup = ½ lbs) at the end of the session, you will need to drink 9 cups of fluid over the next few hours to fully replace the existing and ongoing fluid losses


Sports drinks and of salty foods may help minimize fluid losses because the sodium helps keep fluid into your cells.

Immune System
In general, the immune system is suppressed by intensive training, with many parameters being reduced or disturbed during the hours following a heavy training session. This may place athletes at risk of succumbing to illness (mainly colds) during this time. Many nutrients or dietary factors have been proposed as an aid to the immune system. Some of these are; vitamins C and E, glutamine, zinc and echinacea – but none of have proved to provide universal protection.

Some research does put forward the potential benefits of using extra antioxidant supplements such as Vit C and E during strenuous training/competition. However, there is no evidence supporting performance enhancement with excess supplementation, as well; there is potential concern with antioxidants acting as pro-oxidants if taken in excess. It is theorized that supplementation may reduce the effectiveness of desirable training adaptation which may be achieved through oxidative processes. So, until further research is conducted, eat lots of coloured veggies and leafy greens!

Most evidence points to carbohydrates as one of the most promising nutritional immune protectors. Consuming carbohydrates during and/or after a prolonged or high-intensity training session/competition has been shown to reduce the disturbance to immune system markers. Carbohydrate intake may be beneficial for a number of reasons. For example, the stress hormone (cortisol) has been shown to suppress the immune system and carbohydrate intake during exercise will suppress this exercise-induced cortisol release, thereby minimizing its effect on the immune system. It also supplies glucose to fuel the activity of the white cells of the immune system .

Muscle Repair and Building
Prolonged and high-intensity exercise causes a substantial breakdown of muscle protein. During the recovery phase there is a reduction in catabolic (breakdown) processes and a gradual increase in anabolic (building) processes. Recent research has shown that early intake of essential amino acids from good quality protein foods helps to promote the increase in protein rebuilding. In fact, it is indicated that protein consumed before and after training is taken up more effectively by the muscle to aid in the rebuilding processes. Protein should be consumed with carbohydrate foods to maximize this effect because carbohydrate intake (and protein) stimulates an insulin response, which can decrease catabolism and quicken repair of damaged muscle tissue.







10-15 grams of protein 1-2 hours before exercise
15-20 grams of protein within 1 hour after exercise
High quality protein: chicken, fish, lean red meat, eggs, kidney beans, low fat dairy

The protocol for refuelling post-exercise is slightly different if your training regime calls for more than one session per day or a short interval between sessions.

Carbohydrate – Rich Recovery (Fuel) Snacks
The purpose is to optimize fuel recovery – providing 50 grams of carbohydrate. Some of these choices are not the “healthiest” foods as a main component of your diet, but they are “functional” as superior fuel replacers for the athlete.


  • 2 cereal bars (ie. Nutrigrain, Vector bars)
  • 2 medium bananas
  • Sandwich (medium roll with ham and cheese or jam)
  • 1 cup thick vegetable soup + large bread roll
  • 1 large or 2 small low-fat muffins
  • 1 1/4 cup steamed rice
  • large baked yam with salsa topping
  • medium pancake + 2-3 tablespoons syrup
  • 700-800ml sports drink (Gatorade, Powerade, etc)
  • 2 sports gels
  • 3-4 thin fruit leathers or 2 thick fruit leathers
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 500 ml fruit juice or fruit drink (pop if that is only option)
  • 300 ml carbohydrate loader drink
  • 2 slices toast/bread with jam or honey or banana topping

Carbohydrate-Protein Recovery (Repair) Snacks
Contains 50-75g Carbohydrate, 15-20 grams of protein and valuable micronutrients. Be sure to have a high intake of fruits & veggies at other meals.

  • 250-300 ml liquid meal supplement
  • 250-300 ml protein/fruit shake
  • 1-2 sports bars (check labels for carbohydrate and protein content)
  • 1 large bowl (2 cups) breakfast cereal with 1.5 cups  low fat milk
  • 1 large or 2 small cereal bars + 1-2 cups fruit-flavoured yogurt
  • 1 cup baked beans on 2 slices of toast or on a baked potato
  • 1 bread roll with cheese or peanut butter + large banana
  • 2 cups fruit salad with ½ cup low fat cottage cheese
  • Bagel with thick spread peanut butter + 1-2 cups low fat milk
  • medium baked potato + ½ cup low fat cottage cheese
  • 2-3 slices veggie pizza

Revised by Dana Lis, RD.
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