Workout Recovery: Focus on Refueling to Maximize Your Workouts and Your Health

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by John Ruibal, MS,RD,CSSD,LD

Ever wonder why your muscles seem to always be sore after your workouts? It could be that you are not properly refueling. What many people do after a workout is get something to drink, cool down, maybe grab a shower, or jump in the car to head for home, work or school. This can set your recovery back, and you may not be refueled for your next workout. 

If this pattern continues all week, by Friday you are out of energy and fuel. That’s why recovery and refueling is so important.

Refueling 101

I recommend refueling with a recovery drink or food within 30 minutes after a workout. Top-off your tank over the next six hours by eating carbohydrates and protein about every two hours. How much to eat depends on your weight.

A good rule of thumb is to consume one gram of carbohydrate for every pound, and eat one gram of protein for every four pounds. Here is an example for a 160-pound runner:

  •  Amount of carbohydrates: 160 pounds = 160 grams.
  • Amount of protein: 160/4 = 40 grams.

Within the first 30 minutes after a workout, this runner should consume 30-50 percent of this requirement. In this example, that would mean consuming 50-80 grams carbohydrates and 13-20 grams of protein.

Recovery Drinks

Many of the commercial recovery drinks on the market are right in this carbohydrate-to-protein ballpark. There are many examples to choose from. An old standard of mine is the original Slimfast® which has 40 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of protein. A good friend of mine who is a top American Masters runner uses ensure®. Chocolate milk is another good recovery drink as long as you tolerate diary and lactose after a workout. The bottom line is the first 30 minutes after a workout – your first phase of recovery – is the most important.

Recovery Phase 2

About two-to-three hours after your workout, a 160-pound person should take in another 10 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of carbohydrates. This may sound like a lot of food, but it equals about half a turkey sandwich and a piece of fruit, or a bowl of oatmeal and one egg. As for calories consumed, it’s not as many as you might think. At 4 calories for each gram of carbohydrate and protein, the calorie count equals 800 calories. Add in 10 grams of fat and the morning total still comes in at under 900 calories.

Fresh fruits and vegetables provide another way to get high quality carbohydrates that are low in calories. Lean lunchmeats are a good source of protein, and at 7 grams of protein per ounce you only need a few ounces. Nuts are another good source of protein but again a small handful will get you the protein you need. The most important thing is to focus on refueling – your body will thank you for it!

iRunJohn Ruibal coordinates the distance running classes available through both iRun Texas locations in San Antonio. He has been running for more than 40 years and coaching for 25. A veteran runner with 28 completed marathons, John is a registered dietitian who is board-certified in sports nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To contact John or learn more about his training classes, visit  www.iruntexas.net.

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