Fueling Fundamentals Part 3: Recovery Nutrition

What does it mean to be adequately fueled?

As you may have heard, an athlete who is healthy and performs well is one who is adequately fueled. Adequate fueling means eating an appropriate amount of calories made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to fuel your activities of daily living as well as the vigorous physical activity your body may perform Each individual can perform different amounts of physical activity and has different nutrition needs at baseline. This means that being adequately fueled can have a unique meaning to each individual.

Why is it important to be adequately fueled? Being adequately fueled can help your performance and training by bolstering energy, decreasing risk of injuries, maintaining lean muscle mass and enhancing your wellbeing. Under fueled athletes can experience what has been referred to as “hitting a wall” during a session and may feel that they lack the energy to carry on their sport and can perform poorly. Being inadequately fueled can lead to poor training benefit, lowering of your metabolic rate, difficulties maintaining your lean muscle mass, lowering of your intake of key nutrients, reducing your performance, and increasing your risk for injuries. Fueling your body appropriately is crucial!

Recovery: Timing is Crucial

Whether you are competing in back to back events or are dealing with your daily training, it’s important to take nutrition recovery into consideration. What is consumed after physical activity can affect how effectively and quickly your recovery can be. Exercise promotes branched chain amino acid catabolism– muscle breakdown. However, eating can help stop and slow the break down and oxidation of muscles. There is a 45 minute post exercise window of opportunity to nourish, repair, and rebuild muscle. Ideally, the athlete that competes or trains throughout the day would benefit from implementing a nutrition recovery meal/snack routine as soon as possible after exercise.

This helps to better recovery in the sense that:

  • There is a meal or snack that focuses on getting more carbohydrate that can stimulate insulin. Insulin helps to build muscle as well as transport glucose into muscles to replenish glycogen stores. Athletes need around 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight during recovery.
  • The consumption of protein with carbohydrate (3-4:1 ratio of carb to protein or 3-4 grams of carb to  protein) can help effectively refuel muscles and reduce cortisol, a stress  hormone that can  promote muscle break down. 10-20 g of protein can be sufficient to help recovery.
  • Easily digestible carbs can be good for recovery because they can reach the blood stream at a quicker rate.

Some suggestions for immediate recovery snacks include: low fat chocolate milk, fruit smoothies with yogurt/milk, energy bars, whole grain cereal with milk, yogurt with granola, and trail mix.

  • Hydration is also an important part of the recovery  process. Drink 16-24 oz of water for each pound of fluid lost. You can monitor your hydration status by looking at the amount and color of your urine. It should be a pale yellow.

3 R’s for nutrition recovery after a session:

  • Refuel: Refill muscle stores with carbohydrate rich foods/fluids
  • Repair: Optimize muscle repair with added protein
  • Rehydrate: Replace sweat losses of fluid and electrolytes 

Fat loading vs. Carbohydrate loading

As you may know, carbohydrate loading is effective for endurance athletes who engage in physical activity that lasts 90 minutes or more. However, some people may confuse high fat and high carb type foods. Unlike carbohydrates, fat does not get stored as glycogen. Eating high fat foods before an event can cause discomfort, bloating, and gastrointestinal distress.

 Here are some examples of high fat vs lower fat carbs:

Type of macronutrient Examples of foods
Carb rich foods Hot & cold cereals, fresh and dried fruits and juices, breads, bagels, crackers, rice, pastas with tomato sauce, baked/steamed sweet potatoes without butter, vegetables like carrots, peas, corn, and beets
Carb foods high in fat Donuts, danishes, croissants, lasagna or other pastas with lots of cheese, greasy pizza, cookies, cakes, ice cream


Though protein is necessary to build and repair muscle, there is a common misconception that eating a lot of protein will build a lot more muscle. Rather, consuming more protein than necessary shows little benefit to strengthening muscles in comparison to the benefits of resistance exercise. The most appropriate diet includes an adequate amount of lean protein and carbohydrates. Excess protein can be burned for energy or stored as fat. The body can also use protein as an energy source if there is not enough carbohydrate or fat available as an energy source. Some athletes need more protein than others, but as a whole many over consume their protein needs. Be wary of consuming too much protein, as this can take away from your carbohydrate consumption.

The amount of protein needed varies depending on the type of individual you are: There are varied ranges for protein recommendations depending on the type of athlete. Endurance athletes range anywhere from 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per body weight (in pounds) per day. An athlete restricting calories will need around 0.8 to 0.9 grams per body weight (in pounds) per day. An athlete building muscle mass will need 0.7 to 0.8 grams of protein per body weight (in pounds) per day. Strength athletes may require more protein and need the higher limit. The estimated upper requirement for adults is up to 0.9 grams of protein per body weight (in pounds) per day.

Avoid protein foods that are high in saturated fat (fried meats or eggs, bacon, certain cheeses, etc) and opt for lean meats and plant protein for a more heart friendly diet.  Foods high in protein are: tuna and other fish, lean meats like chicken, turkey, pork, & beef, eggs, milk, yogurt, beans, cheeses, tofu, and nuts.

By Keri Yee, RD, LD










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