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How to Fuel for Recovery After a Workout

Contributed by Elisa Marley, RD, CD

You have just finished a difficult practice with your team or burned a bunch of calories on the treadmill and the last thing you want to do is ruin all the great impact that has on your body by eating any old thing because now you are starving. But how do you know what foods are best for refueling and repairing our bodies after tough exercise? We have some guidelines to make it easier to figure out.

After vigorous exercise we need to refuel our muscles because they have worked hard and exerted a lot of energy. Carbohydrates can get that energy replenished. The Collegiate and Pro Sports Dietitian Association (CPSDA) recommends eating half your body weight in grams of carbs after a hard workout. For instance, if you weigh 130 pounds, you should consume about 65 grams of carbs after a workout.

You also need to repair and rebuild your muscles, and that is best done with protein. Eating 20 to 30 grams of high-quality protein after working them hard is important for replenishment. Protein improves muscle recovery, increases oxygen flow to the muscles and promotes ligament and tendon health. The CPSDA recommends 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. So again, a person weighing 130 pounds should take in between 65 to 104 grams of protein daily. It is good to spread that amount out between all your meals.  Keep in mind that eating proteins that contain higher amounts of leucine can be beneficial. Leucine is an essential amino acid that works to build and repair muscle. Foods that are high in both protein and leucine include salmon, tuna, chicken breast, eggs, and Greek yogurt.

Lastly, while it may seem that all you ever hear is how important it is to hydrate, it is worth repeating here yet again. After a workout it is imperative to rehydrate to replenish fluids and electrolytes that are lost during exercise. You should aim for consuming 16 to 24 ounces of fluid within two hours of working out. 

It is always best to start refueling your body within 15 to 45 minutes of the end of your workout. Start with small snacks like a handful of almonds, glass of milk, yogurt with fruit, or some pretzels with peanut butter to get nutrients into your system. A few hours after your workout when you are ready for a meal, think about a more balanced approach like an egg wrap with some cheese, chicken and vegetable stir fry with quinoa, or a chicken fiesta bowl with some beans, cheese, and brown rice.


Bottomline, be sure to keep your body well fueled to maximize the impact of all the work your muscles went through and to help you feel energized and stay motivated for the next time!