The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Eating for Recovery

Posted in
Eat better

Thursday, May 08, 2014

After a spirited training session, your body may be lacking energy and nutrients it needs to recover. Have you ever wondered what is best to eat for recovery after that hard workout? Well here are some guidelines.

For the purposes of this article, we will define an endurance athlete as someone who spends 5-7 hours per week or more performing moderate to vigorous aerobic training, with a goal of improved endurance performance. We will define a strength athlete as someone who is performing multiple sets of multiple high intensity strength training exercises at least 4 days per week with a goal of increased strength, power, speed, and/or increased muscular size.

Post-exercise, the goals of recovery nutrition include:

  • Restoring fluid and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) lost in sweat
  • Replacing carbohydrates utilized during exercise
  • Providing protein to aid in repair of damaged muscle tissue and to stimulate development of new tissue
Ideally, consuming a snack or meal 15-60 minutes following a workout is best for meeting the above goals2. This period is called the growth phase, which lasts for up to 4 hours post- workout. For example, if a strength athlete fails to consume adequate carbohydrate and protein during this period, insulin levels will drop, carbohydrate (glycogen) stores will not be adequately replaced, and muscle growth and recovery will be reduced4.

What to Eat Post-Workout?

In a number of studies, combining carbohydrate and protein in approximately a 3:1 ratio has been shown to have beneficial effects in speeding recovery, replacing lost carbohydrate stores, and enhancing lean body mass.

To determine your individual needs, the following formula may be used:

Body Weight x 0.5-0.8 grams carbohydrate

For example: 115 lb female

115 lb x 0.5 gram carbohydrate = 58 grams

115 lb x 0.8 gram carbohydrate = 92 grams

58 grams x 4 = 230 carbohydrate calories

(There are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrate)

92 grams x 4 = 368 carbohydrate calories

(There are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrate)

230 calories/3 = 77 protein calories

368 calories/3 = 122 protein calories

77 protein calories/4 = 19 grams protein

(There are 4 calories in each gram of protein)

122 protein calories/4 = 31 grams protein

There are 4 calories in each gram of protein

In this example, a 115 lb female may consume a snack/meal containing: 58 grams of carbohydrate and 19 grams of protein. This is about a 3:1 ratio

In this example, a 115 lb female may consume a snack/meal containing: 92 grams of carbohydrate and 31 grams of protein. This is about a 3:1 ratio


Endurance versus Strength Athletes

Daily protein requirements for strength athletes are 0.7-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, if a strength athlete is focusing on maintenance of strength rather than gaining strength or building muscle mass, then 0.5-0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day is adequate1. A daily carbohydrate intake of 3.6-4.5 grams per pound of body weight is recommended to maximize pre-exercise muscle and liver glycogen stores3.

For endurance athletes, protein requirements range from 0.5-0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Carbohydrate recommendations are 3-4 grams per pound of body weight per day3.

Recovery Snack Ideas:

  • Whole grain crackers with nut butter (e.g., 10 crackers = 22 grams carbohydrate and 2 tbsp nut butter = 7 grams protein)
  • Smoothie with yogurt and fresh fruit
  • Low-fat chocolate milk and banana
  • Whole grain cereal with low-fat milk
  • Pretzels with hummus
Recovery Meal Ideas:
  • Whole wheat pasta with meatballs (e.g., 1 cup cooked pasta with 2 small meatballs = 43 g carbohydrate and 13 g protein)
  • Turkey sub with low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers
  • Baked potato with low-fat cottage cheese
  • Stir fry with lean steak, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and brown rice
  • Tortilla wrap with rice, beans, low-fat cheese, avocado, and salsa
To learn more about Sports Nutrition, register for the 1 day Cooper Institute Sports Nutrition course at


1Burke, L. and Deakin, V. (2000).  Clinical Sports Nutrition (2nd ed.). McGraw Hill: Boston, MA.

2Eating for Recovery.  Retrieved April 8, 2014 from Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Web site:

3Kersick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J. et al. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-5-17.

4The Cooper Institute. (2013). Sports Nutrition. Dallas, TX: The Cooper Institute.