HomeNutritionStep by Step Guide to Refueling After a Workout

Step by Step Guide to Refueling After a Workout

If you participate in high-intensity workouts or exercise that lasts more than 60 minutes refueling your body post-exercise is very important for recovery. Enjoy your workouts!

1. Understand why your body needs refueling

During exercise your body breaks down tissues and uses energy (primarily carbohydrates) stored in the blood, liver and muscle. Replenishing the energy lost in the muscle (stored as glycogen) is essential for muscle recovery. Eating properly post-exercise is crucial to ensuring that your subsequent workouts are productive and enjoyable.

2. Learn why fluid replacement is essential

The harder and longer you exercise, the more fluid you lose through perspiration and exhalation. When it’s extremely hot or humid, keeping hydrated is more difficult than staying hydrated in cooler temperatures. Since sweat doesn’t evaporate quickly in humid weather, it’s very easy to get overheated.

3. Calculate how much to drink

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends drinking 21/2 – 5 cups (20-40 ounces) of fluid per hour during exercise. After exercise, drink 2-3 cups (16-24 ounces) of fluid per pound of body weight lost through sweat. To help you get an idea of the amount of fluid lost, weigh yourself before and after intense workouts and record the difference.

4. Figure out what to drink

ACSM recommends drinking water when your exercise session lasts less than 60 minutes. If it’s longer, use a 4-8% carbohydrate sports drink.

5. Know when to refuel with carbohydrates

If you exercise at a modest intensity for 30-60 minutes three to five times per week, you can maintain adequate carbohydrate stores by eating a balanced diet. If you train harder or longer at a time, your muscles need to be refueled with carbohydrates immediately after exercising and again at the next meal or snack. This practice can ensure that carbohydrates stored in the muscle are consistently replenished.

6. Choose the right type of carbohydrate

Carbohydrates in liquid form, such as sports drinks or juices, can be easier to digest than solid foods post-exercise. However, power bars, or bagels make great food choices.

7. Why you also need protein

Protein is an important building block for muscle. Eating proteins and complex carbohydrates within one hour after exercising can enhance insulin response, which encourages resynthesis of muscle glycogen.

8. Know how much protein to eat

Most experts recommend eating carbohydrates and protein in a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 post-exercise. An example would be 3 servings of grains plus 1 serving of turkey/meat.

9. Realize when you need sodium

When exercising in high heat and humidity, sodium losses can be as much as 10 grams per day. Several hours of exercise in cool temperatures will also deplete sodium levels.

10. Learn what foods contain sodium

Sports drinks that contain electrolytes (sodium and potassium) as well as whole foods that contain a significant amount of sodium will help replenish the sodium lost during exercise.

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Dorothy Hamburg, M.S.
Dorothy Hamburg, M.S.

Dorothy Hamburg, M.S., Exercise Physiologist. USA Triathlon Level II Expert Coach, Clinical Exercise Specialist & Health Fitness Instructor (ACSM)).


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