By Benny Freedman,

Rest between bouts of strenuous exercise is key to allow the body adequate time for recovery. Most athletes understand conceptually that rest and recovery are essential for optimizing performance, but often treat recovery as a passive necessity rather than an opportunity to actively help achieve their training goals. Ultimately, the body focuses on three major aspects of repair during recovery after an exercise bout: replenishing exhausted fuel (glycogen) stores, repairing damaged muscle, and synthesizing new muscle for training adaptation (1). Appropriate nutrition during the short-term recovery period can maximize recovery process potential, and make a world of difference in subsequent performance.

Carbohydrates are stored in skeletal muscle as glycogen, which fuel the body’s muscles during exercise. In resistance training, as much as 80% of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production is derived from the breakdown of local muscle glycogen (3). ATP is found in every cell and it transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism and thus supplies the energy for muscle contraction (8). When athletes engage in strenuous exercise, glycogen stores are somewhat (if not completely) depleted, resulting in muscle fatigue (3). It is necessary to consume carbohydrates after glycogen-depleting exercise in order to recover fully. Studies have revealed that muscle glycogen synthesis is more rapid if carbohydrates are consumed immediately following exercise as opposed to waiting several hours (2). The extent of glycogen depletion depends on the exercise type and intensity, which makes it difficult to prescribe a blanket dosage of post-exercise carbohydrates. However, based on body mass alone, some research suggests consuming roughly 0.6 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight to maximize muscle glycogen repletion (2). Based on that suggestion, someone who weighs 80 kilograms, roughly 176 pounds, should consume between 48 and 56 grams of carbohydrate after their workout. Despite that recommended range of carbohydrate dosage, bear in mind that each individual’s consumption needs will be unique based on their exercise intensity and training goals.

During strenuous exercise, glycogen depletion isn’t the only concern. After exercise, specifically resistance training, protein breakdown skyrockets and muscle degradation is imminent. The amount of damage to the active muscle during exercise dwarfs the amount of muscle protein synthesized during exercise. However, studies show that this trend can be reversed during recovery — specifically, protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown is suppressed when athletes consume the right type of nutrients after exercise (1). One study concluded that 10 grams of essential amino acids maximally stimulated protein synthesis – They hypothesized that one could achieve that 10 gram goal by eating the equivalent of 170 grams of meat, fish, eggs or milk in a single meal (5, 6). Although these findings are from an isolated study, the conclusions of most research on this topic consistently support the consumption of significant protein (~25 grams of general protein) after exercise to maximize protein synthesis.

While consuming carbohydrates is necessary for glycogen store repletion, and protein consumption is necessary to stop protein degradation and to stimulate protein synthesis, consuming both carbohydrates and protein together can have a synergistic effect on recovery (2, 4). Adding protein to a carbohydrate supplement can significantly enhance muscle glycogen storage efficiency and capacity (2). However, the synergy of co-consuming protein with carbohydrates is limited to enhancing the glycogen recovery. Based on the available clinical data, there is no concrete evidence that co-consumption of carbohydrates with protein supplement will increase muscle protein synthesis (7). Adequate protein consumption alone is enough to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

With adequate consumption of protein and carbohydrates, roughly within two hours post-workout, one’s muscle-glycogen stores will be completely replenished and their muscles will have repaired and strengthened the damage from exercise. More importantly, the proper nutrition will allow the athlete to perform better in subsequent training sessions. Depending on the intensity, time of day, and training goals associated with ones workout, post-exercise meals can look very different while accomplishing the same objectives. Chocolate milk is often a go-to drink for recovering athletes, containing 16 grams of protein and 52 grams of carbohydrates in two cups. For a more substantial meal, having roughly 140-170 grams of lean meat or fish, such as chicken breast or salmon, with around a cup of cooked whole grains, such as quinoa or brown rice, will provide about 25-35 grams of protein and 30-50 grams of carbohydrates. For meals after morning workouts, having two eggs with some additional egg-whites, along with two slices of whole-wheat toast, will yield roughly 20-30 grams of protein and 30-60 grams of carbohydrates. For an easy, consistent way to adequately consume protein and carbohydrates after exercise, buying a protein-carbohydrate supplement may be wise. Although it shouldn’t replace proper meals, making a quick supplement drink (mixing purchased supplement powder with water or milk) is a guaranteed way to consume an adequate amount of protein and carbohydrates.


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    2. Ivy, John L. “Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise.” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 3.3 (2004): 131–138. Print.
  2. Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. “Nutrient Timing Revisited: Is There a Post- Exercise Anabolic Window?” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10 (2013): 5. PMC. Web. 28 July 2016.
  3. Levenhagen, Deanna et al. “Postexercise nutrient intake timing in humans is critical to recovery of leg glucose and protein homeostasis.” American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism 208 (2001) E982-E993. Web. 31 July 2016.
  4. Weinert, Dan J. “Nutrition and Muscle Protein Synthesis: A Descriptive Review.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association 53.3 (2009): 186–193. Print.
  5. Cuthbertson, D. “Anabolic Signaling Deficits Underlie Amino Acid Resistance of Wasting, Aging Muscle.” National Library of Medicine. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 19 Mar. 2005. Web. 27 July 2016.
  6. Figueiredo, Vandré Casagrande, and David Cameron-Smith. “Is Carbohydrate Needed to Further Stimulate Muscle Protein Synthesis/hypertrophy following Resistance Exercise?” Biomedcentral. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 25 Sept. 2013.                 Web. 01 Aug. 2016.
  7. “ATP.” Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. 2003. Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc 9 Aug. 2016
  8. Ulmer, Graham. “Why Drink Chocolate Milk After a Workout?” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.