Exercise Recovery Nutrition

In 2010 I left the corporate world planning on building a personal training business.  I had been working with an amazing personal trainer for five years and felt such a significant impact in my life. I wanted to be able to give that same sense of empowerment and strength to others.  In the midst of building my business, working long hours, always moving and lifting and demonstrating, I found myself sick and could not get myself healthy again.  Something very important was missing from my routine – Rest and Recovery.

I began looking at recovery from a different view point: as an ongoing process where resources were stocked and stored to minimize exercise stress through prevention and as a post-workout routine.

We live in a world where we can be constantly on the go, stressed, sleep deprived, over-worked, and despite our best intentions, under nourished.  All of these can adversely affect our recovery, resistance to injury, training progress, and even our mood.

Studio shot of young woman working in office covered with adhesive notes

We have to remember why we train: to get better! Whether your goal is to look better, feel better, move better, get faster, get stronger, go longer, this is difficult to achieve without adequate recovery.

Defining Recovery:

In terms of exercise, recovery means a restoration to “normal,” healthy muscle, joint, and energy systems function. This equates to:

  • a reduction of muscle soreness
  • stimulating repair and growth of muscles
  • replenishing energy sources
  • quickly adapting to training efforts

Resource, Refuel, Rebuild, & Re-hydrate

This happens when we stock our resources so we can enter a workout with a full tank and by refueling, rebuilding, and re-hydrating. Essentially, recovery begins before your workout starts. The fuller and more well stocked our body’s fuel tank is, the more effectively and efficiently we can recover.


Every day we are hit with free radicals and face oxidative stress that can cause strain in the body.  One of the best ways to combat this is with whole foods high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Whole foods are rich in phytochemicals and contain more vitamins and minerals and beneficial fats and fiber than processed foods.  These act synergystically to protect our cells. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods can limit the damage to muscle tissue, reduce swelling and inflammation, and help remove waste from our muscles.

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produce section in grocery store

We also need to maintain proper macro-nutrient (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and hydration levels.

It is generally recommended that we consume about 55% of our daily calories from carbs (This can vary based on performance or aesthetic goals).  Our best of carbohydrates come from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Our protein needs vary based on body weight and activity level.  Higher body weight and higher activity levels means higher protein intake.

Occasionally, our daily hydration needs are overlooked as we may mistake thirst cues for hunger or simply forget to drink enough water.  Hydration is one of the more important aspects of recovery.  Proper hydration helps us achieve peak performance levels and prevent injury. I’m not one to drink my calories (unless there’s a great glass of wine around) so I’d recommend water or naturally non-caloric drinks such as sparkling waters and teas. 100% fruit juices – in moderation – and watery foods can also go a long way.

In order to understand what we need to do to recover post-workout, it’s important to understand what happens in our bodies when we workout.

Our major fuel source, carbs, are broken down after eating.  What is not needed immediately, is stored as glycogen in our muscles and liver.  During exercise, we burn through our glycogen stores.  Glycogen is used during short and intense burst of activity, the first few minutes of any activity, and then to aid the breakdown of fat to be used for energy during lighter activity.

With repetitive movements and muscle contractions created with exercise, micro-traumas occur in our muscles.  These are necessary to facilitate change in our bodies and signal the muscles to repair when at rest.

As we sweat, we are also losing fluid and electrolytes. The amount lost will vary based on the temperature, altitude, intensity of exercise, and whether you’re a heavy sweater or not.

Soooo… post-workout we can be left with:

  • depleted fuel stores
  • micro-traumas in our muscles
  • waste products like lactic acid built up in our blood
  • possible electrolyte imbalances
  • nervous system fatigue

How do we recover? We REFUEL, REBUILD, & RE-HYDRATE


carbs1 Glycogen synthesis is at it’s highest post-workout so recovery begins with restocking our carbs stores. A 15-60 minute window after exercise is the optimal time to consume carbs.  For recovery:

  •  Consume anywhere from 0.8g carbs/kg of body weight to 1.2g/kg (grams per kilogram: 1lbs = 2.2kg).




Man-eating-protein-picProtein is the building block for muscle, bone, skin, hair, and other tissues.  It is used to build, repair, and maintain tissues. The addition of protein with a carb source in your post-workout meal can aid muscle repair, reducing soreness, promote training induced adaptations, and replenish depleted stores of energy.  For recovery:

  • Consume 0.3 – 0.4g/kg of body weight
  • Maintain between 2:1 – 4:1 carb:protein ratio
    • this will vary on intensity and duration of exercise and training goal


lady_drinking_waterDehydration can lead to headache, fatigue, heat intolerance, and cramps so it is important to remember every day hydration needs.  Remember, adequate hydration leads to optimal performance and reduced risk of injury.

The goal during your workout is to maintain your pre-training weight.  Anything more than a 1-2% loss of body weight during exercise can cause you to feel the affects of dehydration. For maintenance:

  • Consume 16 – 20 oz of water or sports drink 1 hour prior to exercise
  • Consume about 4 – 6 oz of fluid every 15 minutes during exercise
  • Water for exercise 60 mins or less
  • Sports drink for exercise exceeding 60 mins or high intensity/high sweat workouts

For recovery:

  • Measure fluid loss by weighing pre and post-workout
  • Consume 20 – 24 oz of water/lbs of body weight lost







2 thoughts on “Exercise Recovery Nutrition

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