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Post- Exercise Nutrition- What you need to know

The topic of discussion for today's post is post exercise nutrition/fuel. I have also written a post all on pre-exercise nutrition if you are concerned about what you should be consuming pre-workout.

Are you new to exercising and not quite certain what you should be eating after a workout? Or maybe you are an avid exerciser looking to improve your performance. Today’s post is for both of you!

People talk about the importance of pre-exercise food and nutrient timing post exercise like it is a life or death situation. Does it leave you dazed and confused? Maybe even feeling like you shouldn’t exercise because you don’t know how to maximize your efforts? Do Not Worry! This is simply not the case.

After a workout, your top dietary priority should be to replace fluids lost from sweating so that your body can get back to water balance. You can calculate your sweat rate if you need to but the goal is to drink throughout the activity so you do not lose more then 2% of your body weight.

Once you have lost more then 2% of your body weight, you are dehydrated.

2lbs of sweat loss is equivalent to 32oz of fluid. Included in this is about 200mg of potassium, about 800mg of sodium, 20mg calcium, and 10mg of magnesium (Clark, 2014). If you would like more information on the dangers of dehydration, how to know if you are drinking enough water, and how to replace electrolytes, I would recommend reading "3 Things You Need to Know About Drinking Water".

Post exercise fuel is used to refuel depleted muscle glycogen stores and protein to repair and build muscles.

Here comes the burning question: Is there a window of time you need to consume post workout fuel in?

According to Clark (2014) post exercise, your body is in a state where it is primed and ready to be refueled and can do so rapidly during the hour after a hard workout. BUT your muscles continue to take up carbs over the next 24 hours, just at a slower rate. For the average exerciser, there is time to refuel your muscle glycogen stores between workouts without immediately fueling.

Why is this hour window important?

Especially after a heavy lifting workout, your muscles are primed for muscle breakdown due to depletion of glycogen stores and the elevation of cortosol and other hormones that break down muscles. There is also inflammation from the muscle damage during the workout and the amino acid glutamine that provides fuel for the immune system is depleted (Clark, 2014). In order to help your body get back to it's pre-exercise state and stop the muscle breakdown, consuming a post exercise snack can help. Another benefit of post-exercise fuel is being able to recover quicker from your workout.

It was reported that individuals that consumed a post-exercise snack had lower blood levels of creatine kinase (muscle marker of muscle damage) 24-48 hours after a hard workout. (Clark 2013)

What should you consume post-workout?

You should be looking to consume both carbs and protein together post workout. Protein combined with carbohydrates stimulates a higher insulin response then just eating carbohydrates (Clark, 2017) . When you choose to pair the two together it replaces your glycogen stores more efficiently.

The rule of thumb is to try and keep the 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

If math is not your thing, the ultimate goal is to consume primarily carbohydrates with about 10-20g of protein.

If math is your thing, the more exact recommendation is about 0.5g of carbohydrate and 0.1-0.2 g of protein per pound of body weight.


150lb x 0.5g carbs =75 g carbs=300 cal of carbs

150lb x 0.1 protein =15g protein = 60 cal protein

Just keep in mind that our bodies can only process about 20-25grams of protein at a time so when you over consume protein in one sitting (example a 9oz steak has 70-78 grams of protein) your body filters the excess protein down into urea, a waste product eliminated in the urine.

Examples of post exercise fuel:

3 eggs + a bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup

16oz chocolate milk + energy bar

Peanut butter and honey sandwich + yogurt

Fruit smoothie (yogurt, bananas, berries, spinach)

Turkey sub with greens on whole grain bread

Cottage cheese, granola, and peaches

Spring mix with hummus, raisins, cucumbers, apple, cooked diced sweet potato or squash

Sweet potato with peanut butter and raisins.

I hope that you have found this both education and helpful.

Tell us, what is your favorite post-exercise fuel?


Clark, N. (2014). Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Newtown, MA: Human Kinetics

Clark, N. (2017, March 11). The Science of Fueling for Performance. Retrieved from​

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