Post workout recovery fuel

I work with a lot of active individuals who are dedicated to their workouts, not missing a single one during the week.

They’re already eating better than most but they come to me because they can sense there’s something missing or they know they’re not tapping into their full performance potential.

That potential can look like winning they’re age group for one person, running a sub 2 hour half marathon for another, or having the endurance for a 5 day backpacking trip.

There are a few components that we adjust to improve performance but a common one that all athletes (if you’re a Fit Societe member you’re an athlete) need to dial in is the post workout meal/snack.

Improving the foods you eat after workouts will help the body adapt to training, which translates to better strength and/or endurance.

How it works:

When we consume carbohydrate rich foods they’re digested and converted to glycogen to be stored in the liver and muscle to be used as energy later.

During exercise, especially moderate to high intensity, we tap into those glycogen stores to power through something like a 500 m row sprint or 20 kcals on the assault bike. If you’re trying to beat the clock during these exercises you’re likely pretty anaerobic, meaning no oxygen. When this is the case the only fuel the muscles can use is what they have on board and that’s glycogen.

Fat is also a fuel source we use during exercise but to break it down for energy there has to be oxygen available. When you’re on a long run or bike ride at a steady pace you can maintain, you’re likely using a mix of glycogen and fat. When you decide to sprint to the finish or surge up the hill then you’re back to using that glycogen.

This is why in both types of exercise, high intensity and endurance we want to make sure we replace the glycogen we just depleted through eating carbohydrate rich foods.

The other nutrient important to recovery, that most people are familiar with, is protein. When we exercise we’re stimulating the muscles to either adapted and have more power or endurance. To maximize on these adaptations we need to consume protein rich foods to support the repair and growth of the muscle.

Note: consuming protein after meals won’t cause bigger muscles; if that were the case then it would be pretty easy for all of us to become body builders.

Protein rich foods help with muscle repair and growth because they contain essential amino acids supporting muscle protein synthesis.


To get the greatest benefits from a recovery meal or snack, you need to be having well balanced meals during the day. A perfect post workout snack can’t make up for a poor diet, bummer I know.

Research shows that when you distribute lean proteins throughout the day, you can maximize muscle protein synthesis. This doesn’t mean you need to be eating every 1-2 hours, just make sure your meals and snacks outside of exercise include a lean protein and a complex carbohydrate.

So now that you’ve dialed in your meals you can focus on planning in a recovery snack.

When you look at your workout schedule, you’ll want to make sure to have a post workout snack within 90 minutes to 2 hours of any moderate to high intensity exercise or workouts lasting >60 minutes.

If your workout finishes right before a meal like dinner, then plan on dinner being your recovery fuel.

If you won’t be having a meal within two hours of training then you’ll want to plan on a small snack post workout.

How much:

The exact amount of carbohydrate and protein in the post workout snack and meal will be individual based on body composition, type, and duration of exercise.

But a good place to start is aiming for about 15-20g protein and 20-50g of carbohydrate. There is a larger range with carbohydrates because of individual requirements and type of exercise. But the lower end is a good target for a snack and the higher end if it’s a recovery meal.

Studies show that rate of muscle protein synthesis can be maximized by consuming ~20g of protein but there are no further benefits from eating > 40g at one time. So you can save your money on expensive supplements, more is not better.

What it looks like:

Speaking of supplements, it can be tempting to want to just buy the latest powder that’s claiming it has everything you need in one simple scoop. This is topic for another post but for now just know supplements are not well regulated and they don’t always disclose everything that’s in the product on their label.

Also we see in studies that when taking a BCAA supplement, it can stimulate muscle protein synthesis but not to the extent that a whole food like milk or yogurt does. This is because dairy, chicken, beef, and eggs contain all the essential amino acids necessary for repair and growth, BCAA’s only contain three.

So as often as possible do try to use whole foods, they have everything you need at a lower risk and cost.

Okay back to what a recovery meal or snack can look like.

If you can't eat a meal within 2 hours of a workout then grab:

Greek yogurt with a banana or granola

Smoothie: yogurt or protein powder, mixed berries, orange juice

2 hard boiled eggs on whole wheat toast

If you can have a meal right after exercise then make something like:

Grilled chicken with baked sweet potato fries and veggies

Soba noodle bowl with tofu and veggies

Baked salmon with tomato, feta, and quinoa salad

Summary of the benefits:

  • Replacing and maintaining muscle glycogen stores can help you to have the same amount of energy, power, and stamina by Saturday as you did on Monday.

  • Optimizes the repair and remodeling of muscle so you start experiencing improvements in performance.

  • Maintains the current muscle you have for balance and strength in everyday life.

  • Decreases hunger, snacking, and cravings for sweets and salty foods or overeating later at meals.

  • Can support weight maintenance, gain, or loss.

You’re already good at planning your weekly workout routine; now get better at optimizing that recovery through the foods your eating. I can guarantee you if done right, your performance, energy, and body composition will improve!

If you’re in the 8 week Fit Challenge, sign up for your nutrition consult and get my complete post workout recovery guide for more snack, meal, and recipe ideas.

References: Karpinski, C. (2017) Sports Nutrition a handbook for professionals. 6th ed. Chicago: Academy of nutrition and dietetics. Robert R. Wolfe. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017 14:30.
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