The Post-Workout Meal

Posted by Signature Medical Group on Monday, February 22, 2016 in Nutrition and Diet

Recovering from exercise is an important part of the athlete's routine. Post-workout foods and drinks can affect recovery by affecting fatigue, repletion of glycogen stores, and preparation for future bouts of exercise.

For the recreational exerciser, one who exercises 3-4 days a week, overall good nutrition is most important for maintenance of glycogen stores, and so muscles will have enough time to rest and recover between workouts. For the more vigorous exerciser, one who exercises multiple times/day, performs competitively, or is in training for a sport, refueling muscle glycogen stores and assisting the body in recovery is of utmost importance. Repletion of nutrients lost through dietary intake is an essential component in maximizing the body's performance.

Repletion of fluid loss

Repletion of fluid loss is the most essential part of recovering after a hard bout of exercise. Replacement of water lost through sweating and promotion of water balance are best managed by drinking water throughout the workout, as well as after exercise is completed. Good choices include:

  • Water
  • Juices
  • Watermelon
  • Grapes
  • Melon
  • Oranges

Repletion of muscle glycogen stores

To best promote repletion of muscle glycogen stores, consume carbohydrate-rich foods within 15 minutes after the workout has ended. Athletes should aim for 1 gram (g) of carbohydrate for every 2 pounds (lb) of body weight/hour, taken at 30-minute intervals over 4-5 hours.

Example: A 150-lb person should have 75 g of carbohydrate or 300 carbohydrate calories (4 calories of carbohydrates/g). The individual should consume the first 300 calories beginning 15-30 minutes after exercising during the first hour, and 150 calories each half hour for the next 3-4 hours to maximize glycogen repletion.

These carbohydrate calories can come from foods or fluids. The following are some 300-calorie ideas:

  • 8 fl oz of orange juice and two slices of bread
  • 12-16 fl oz of juice or a sports drink and a fruited low-fat yogurt
  • Cereal with milk and a banana

Protein repletion after a serious workout is less of a key player in the recovery diet, but a little protein can enhance glycogen replacement initially after exercise. The American diet is ubiquitous in protein, and added protein is not essential in the post-workout routine.

Repletion of sodium, potassium, and electrolytes

Repletion of sodium, potassium and electrolytes (sometimes lost through sweating) is easy to do through foods. Supplementation generally is not recommended. The following are common recovery foods, which are high in essential electrolytes:

  • Potatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Orange juice
  • Bananas
  • Soup
  • Cereals
  • Cheese
  • Breads

Proper cooldown

A proper cooldown period of light exercise is essential in removing lactic acid buildup and promoting repletion of glycogen stores. This helps the athlete look forward to training again in optimal condition and without pain. The athlete also should figure in periods of rest, in order to prevent overtraining and assure best recovery.

Most athletes have a routine or base of foods that they tolerate well. These recovery meals and fluids vary for each individual. It often is helpful to have a few post-workout meals in each athlete's repertoire, as variety is essential in promotion of best-nutrient absorption.


Clark N. Sports Nutrition Guidebook. 3rd ed. Brookline, MA: Human Kinetics; 2003.


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