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Nutrition Tips for Recovery

Whether your body is recovering from intense training or an injury, proper nutrition is essential for recovery. Once training is complete, it’s time to recover in order to maximize the benefit of your training, while jump-starting your preparation for the next session. Use these tips to help recover from different activities.

Recovery — Replenish, Repair, Rehydrate

Replenish: Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred and most efficient form of fuel. With only enough storage to last for a few hours of activity, athletes must replenish carbohydrate stores after intense activity.

Repair: During activity, muscle is broken down. Consuming high-quality protein can initiate repair and growth of muscle. Protein should be consumed following activity, as well as with each meal.

Rehydrate: Fluid is lost in the form of sweat, especially during intense activity or in warm climates. Rehydrating with fluids and electrolytes can restore fluid balance, allowing the body to maintain an appropriate temperature and to function at its best. Fluids should be consumed until weight from initial sweat loss returns to normal, or until urine returns to being clear or pale, similar to lemonade. Consuming whole foods with water or using a sports drink can help replenish electrolytes (e.g., sodium, chloride and potassium) that may be lost.

Supplements

While food is the preferred source of nutrition, it may be challenging at times to meet all of your needs — especially protein — which can be found in numerous food sources, as well as in supplements such as protein powders. When time is limited, or if carrying whole foods is unrealistic, consuming 20-40g of an NSF-certified whey protein shake can be a convenient and effective strategy. Many protein powders will provide little to no carbohydrates, so carbohydrate sources such as fruit, grain, or a sports drink may need to be paired with the protein-based supplement.

Dietary Needs of Athletes Will Vary

The type of activity you engage in and its intensity, as well your recovery time and overall goal, all affect your dietary needs. Incorporate high-quality protein and nutrient-dense carbohydrates with each meal and snack. Find your activity level below and use the tips and portion charts on the back to establish your recovery game plan.

Light Training (walking, jogging)

After light activity, it is not necessary to initiate recovery promptly or to eat large portions. Continue with a normal meal pattern, being sure to include high-quality lean protein and carbohydrates with each meal. Drink fluids according to your thirst level.

High-Intensity Training (24 hours or more to recover)

Replenish: Consume 0.5g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight within 2 hours after working out, to replace the glycogen (carbohydrates stored in muscle) that was used during training. For a 150 lb. athlete, that’s 75 grams of carbohydrates.

Repair: Consume 20-40 grams of high-quality protein (e.g., meat, fish, eggs or dairy) within one hour of training to maximize muscle growth and repair.

Rehydrate: Consume 20-24 oz. (2.5-3 cups) per pound of body weight (sweat) lost.

Example: One cup of oatmeal with raisins, a large banana and 8 oz. of Greek yogurt with fluid.

High-Intensity Training (Less than 8 hours to recover)

When there is little time between two-a-days or tournament play, it is critical to rehydrate and replenish carbohydrates. Protein is important for muscle repair, but it can slow digestion, so skip the protein when there’s less than two hours between activities.

Replenish: Consume 0.5g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight every 1 to 2 hours after exercise for up to 4 to 6 hours.

Repair: If greater than 2 hours exists between sessions, consider adding a small portion of lean protein.

Rehydrate: Consume 20-24 oz. (2.5-3 cups) per pound of body weight (sweat) lost.

Example: 2-2.5 cups of chocolate milk 30 minutes after exercise. Then 1 to 2 hours later have a grilled chicken sandwich with fruit, apple sauce, and water or sports drink on the side.

Recovery for Physical Therapy:

After a serious injury or surgical procedure, the body is under significant stress as the healing process places heightened demands on the immune and metabolic systems for repair. While physical activity may decline initially to allow healing to occur, it is important to note that energy expenditure may remain high during this early phase of recovery. While some athletes may see this time as an opportunity to lose weight, it is important to provide the body with the energy it needs for optimal recovery. Avoid significant changes in weight. Dramatic weight gain could increase inflammation, and weight loss could accelerate the loss of muscle mass. Consume 20-40 grams of protein with each meal and snack every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day to promote healing and reduce muscle loss. Include protein sources such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy with each feeding.

Light/Early Stages of Physical Therapy:

Energy expenditure during this time may be fairly low; however, it is still important to maximize the muscle protein response to therapy. Consume 20-40 grams of high-quality protein within one hour following therapy.

Strenuous/Advanced Physical Therapy:

Maximize the response to therapy by providing 20-40 grams of high-quality protein within one hour following therapy. While training may still not be at the level or duration as before the initial injury occurred, it is still important to refuel with carbohydrates. Consume 0.25-0.50 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Replace sweat loss with 20-24 oz. of fluid per pound of body weight.

How many servings should I consume after exercise?

Body Weight Range Protein Carbohydrates
<125 3 2-4
126-150 3 2-5
151-175 3 3-6
176-200 4 3-6
201-225 4 3-7
226+ 5 4-8

How much is a serving?

Protein (1 serving, 7 g each) Carbohydrates (1 serving, 15 g each)
  • Beans – (1/2 cup)
  • Beef – select or choice grade, round or loin cut (1 oz.)
  • Beef – ground 93/7 (1 oz.)
  • Cheese – string, low-fat
  • Chicken – white meat, skinless (1 oz.)
  • Cottage cheese (1/4 cup)
  • Egg (1)
  • Egg whites (2)
  • Fish – grilled, baked or broiled (1 oz.)
  • Milk* – 1% skim (1 cup)
  • Pork – loin, tenderloin or chop (1 oz.)
  • Salmon (1 oz.)
  • Tuna – canned (1 oz.)
  • Turkey – ground 93/7 (1 oz.)
  • Turkey – white meat, lean (1 oz.)
  • Yogurt* – Greek, plain or flavored, non-fat or low-fat (1/3 cup)
 
  • 1 small fruit (1 cup or 1 tennis ball size)
  • Applesauce (1/2 cup)
  • Bagel – whole grain (1/4)
  • Beans – (1/2 cup)
  • Bread – whole grain (1 slide)
  • Cereal – whole grain (1/2 cup)
  • Crackers – 4 to 6
  • English muffin – whole grain (1/2)
  • Milk* – 1% skim (1 cup)
  • Oatmeal – cooked (1/2 cup)
  • Pasta – whole grain, cooked (1/3 cup)
  • Potato – sweet (3 oz. or 1/2 cup)
  • Quinoa – cooked (1/3 cup)
  • Rice – whole grain, cooked (1/3 cup)
  • Tortilla – whole grain (6”)
  • Yogurt* – Greek, plain or flavored, non-fat or low-fat (1/3 cup) 

* Indicates a food that contains both protein and carbohydrate servings.