Refueling Post-Exercise: What You Need to Know!

4.28.16 / Comment

Written by Kim Lowry, nutrition communications intern for Triad to Wellness
Edited by Sarah Achleithner, BS, Nutrition Communications Coordinator for Triad to Wellness

Spring has finally arrived, which means that warmer days, longer nights, and outdoor activities are upon us! Spring is the perfect time to get back in shape after a long winter, as there is really nothing better than a jog in the park, a hike with a friend, or an outdoor fitness class on a sunny day. Not only do you feel great after a sweaty workout, but it’s also nice to know that you are doing something for your health. Studies have shown that daily exercise can aid in weight maintenance, improve body composition (aka getting toned!), increase strength, and overall balance (1). Exercise also benefits your mental well-being by releasing endorphins, which help improve your mood and relieve stress (1). With these amazing benefits, it’s no wonder exercise is seen as an vital part in living a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle.

What happens during exercise?

Despite the positive benefits, exercise presents a physiological stress on the body. During exercise, your body uses energy (stored as glycogen in the muscle) to sustain the higher demand for energy (2), and it also breaks down old muscle, which results in endogenous protein loss (an important protein that is needed for human metabolism) (3). Though this might sound intense, it’s the body’s way of rebuilding muscles to gain more strength post-workout. However, the rebuilding process can only be done with the right fuel. Replenishing lost nutrients post-workout is similar to remodeling a home; you need the right materials, or the structure will not be optimal. Without providing your body the right nutrients at the proper time, your body is unable to rebuild itself, which may manifest in slow body toning and mental discouragement from lack of exercise results.

What does your body need?

How do you replenish lost nutrients after a workout? Since your body is losing both carbohydrate and protein through physical activity, those are the nutrients of focus for post-exercise nutrition. Evidence shows a 3-4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the ideal fuel to replenish nutrients post exercise (3). There are two reasons for this:

  1. Refueling with carbohydrates helps replenish energy that was just lost.
  2. Protein aids in the repair of tired muscles (2).

Refueling the right way helps ensure you get the best results possible. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that 80% of our progress comes from the kitchen and 20% is from the gym.

When does your body need fuel?

Not only is the content of your post-exercise nutrition important, but when you chose to eat is just as crucial to your overall results. Consuming a carbohydrate and protein rich meal within 30-60 minutes post-exercise has shown to provide the greatest benefit in regards to the body’s repair process (4). During this “metabolic window”, the muscles are the most receptive to nutrients, which helps promote full recovery (4), but skipping post-workout nutrition may compromise the body’s ability to recover.

Need ideas?

Many gym attendees struggle with how to get an ideal carbohydrate to protein meal post-workout, so, to help you out, here are some nourishing, delicious, and easy to make ideas!

Turkey Cottage Cheese Roll Ups


This wholesome recipe by Daisy Cottage Cheese is perfect for after your early afternoon workout! Daisy cottage cheese provides a nourishing 13 g of protein per ½ cup serving, and the creamy texture of cottage cheese pairs great with the complex carbs provided by a whole wheat wrap. Additionally, the whole wheat wrap provides fiber, which helps leave you feeling satisfied and may help prevent over indulging. Check out the full recipe here.

Berry Bananalicious Smoothie


Manitoba Harvest’s Berry Bananalicious Smoothie recipe will nourish your tired muscles with the nutrients it needs. Thanks to plant based hemp protein powder, this recipe packs a punch with 20 grams of protein! The bananas and strawberries in this recipe also provide a good source of carbohydrate, fiber, and other essential vitamins and minerals. Check out the full recipe (and other great post workout smoothie ideas) on the Mantioba Harvest site.

Freekeh Breakfast Cereal


This recipe by Freekeh Foods is perfect for the early morning workout warrior. Freekeh is an ancient whole grain that provides any athlete with a nutritious source of carbohydrate post-workout. A ¼ cup serving of Freekeh provides 6 g of protein, and for an additional protein boost, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or creamy cottage cheese could be added. Check out the full recipe here.

In a serious rush?

Here are a few quick “grab and go” post-exercise nutrition options for those with busy schedules:

  • ½ cup Daisy Cottage Cheese + Your Favorite Fruit
  • 1 serving Manitoba Harvest Hemp Heart Bites + ¼ cup dried fruit
  • ½ cup Plain Greek Yogurt + ½ cup Low Fat Granola
  • An apple + ¼ cup Nut Butter
  • ½ cup of Raisins + ¼ cup of unsalted Nuts

Moral of the story: Make the most out of your workout by re-fueling your body properly! With a little planning, post-workout nutrition is easy and will become a habit you won’t regret.


(1) The Benefits of Physical Activity. Center for Disease Control.

(2) Timing Your Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition. Eat Right.

(3) Nutrient Timing. BioMed Central.

(4) Postexercise nutrient intake timing in humans is critical to recovery of leg glucose and protein homeostasis.  American Physiological Society.

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