Refuel: Hydrating and Eating for Better Recovery

Greg Wells PhD, Jessica Caterini BSc
5/6/2013 11:31:27 AM
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Research has found that hydration and nutrition are 2 key techniques you can use between workouts that will help you to recover faster. By understanding and applying the science of refuelling, you can ensure that you give your body the help it needs to rebuild its energy supplies quickly between workouts. This is the key to becoming "the 24 hour athlete."

Recovery and Refuelling

The essential idea that every 24 hour athlete needs to embrace is that your attention and effort do not end when your workout is over. Because the refuelling process is so important to helping you recover from and prepare for your running training, there are several things you can do after your workout to help you improve. Remember, fitness and training are a way of life – not just something you do when your stopwatch is running.
Once your workout is finished, it is essential to rehydrate and refuel right away. Without sufficient fluids, your body's processes won't work properly. For every kilogram of weight that you lose during exercise, it is recommended that you drink one litre of water. Done properly, refueling will replenish your glycogen stores, improve your overall ability to store energy, reduce muscle soreness and fatigue, and increase your body's ability to repair muscles.1 If you eat within 30 minutes of your workout, you can capitalize on a temporary increase in your body's ability to absorb nutrients like glucose and protein, which will improve your performance the next time you workout. The ideal snack will have a balance of protein and carbohydrate. After endurance training, look for foods that have a ratio of 4g of carbs for every 1g of protein (examples are listed at the end of the article). After a strength, speed or interval workout, decrease the ratio to 2g of carbs for every 1g of protein.

The details

Exercise training takes energy supplied through the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats. During most types of training, our muscles are placed under tremendous stress, which stimulates the body to rebuild itself. Most structures in the body are made of proteins. Research clearly shows that refueling the body immediately after exercise with carbohydrates and proteins speeds the replenishment of energy stores and protein synthesis and reduces muscle inflammation and soreness. Carbohydrates are critical for replenishing muscle glycogen stores, and proteins are crucial for initiating muscle and other soft-tissues repair. The question is, how much of each should you consume? In part, the answer depends on the type of exercise you performed. Endurance athletes such as cyclists, triathletes, runners and swimmers exercise longer at sustained intensities. This type of work depletes muscle glycogen, so replenishing it is a priority. Without enough glycogen they can't work at high intensities, or they?may run out of fuel in their next training?session. Therefore, for endurance athletes?we recommend consuming a light snack with a ratio of 4 carbohydrates to 1 protein.

Strength training or speed work that requires greater demands on muscles produce micro- tears in the muscle and soft tissues such as tendons or capillary beds. For any exercise that makes your muscles sore, protein synthesis is therefore crucial to repair these tissues. In this case, the ratios change, and a higher protein content is warranted. We recommend about 2:1 carbohydrates to proteins after a strength-type workout. As little as 6 to 10 grams of protein accelerate protein synthesis in the muscles following exercise, but you can calculate your approximate protein requirement based on your body weight. In general, sedentary people need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, and active people need much more - about 1.6 to 1.8 grams per kilogram. Regular foods (e.g., chicken, beef, fish, beans and legumes, and eggs) can provide the necessary amino acids, and some protein powders are acceptable and convenient options.

Improve Your Performance

Here are some keys to using refuelling to become a 24 hour athlete:

- Cool down for 10-15 minutes after you work out
- Always have appropriate food on hand so you can refuel within 30 minutes
- Make sure your post workout food has the proper ratio of protein and carbohydrates
- Take in 1 litre of water for every kilogram of weight loss during a workout

Post-Exercise Snack Ideas

Recovery drink mix (4:1 carbs to protein for endurance workouts, 2:1 for strength workouts)

Greek yogurt + fruit/berries + granola

Chocolate, vanilla almond or brown rice milk + protein powder?

Organic trail mix (unsulphured dried fruit and raw nuts/seeds)?

Cottage cheese

One or two high-quality snack bars?

Brown rice cake(s) + jam + natural nut butter (e.g., almond, cashew, peanut)?

An egg- salad sandwich (preferably on whole-grain bread)

Source: Trionne Moore, BA RHN,


1 Flakoll et al., Postexercise protein supplementation improves health and muscle soreness during basic military training in Marine recruits. J Appl Physiol 2004;96:951-956.

Greg Wells Ph.D. (, @drgregwells) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Faculties of Medicine and Kinesiology. He was the sport science analyst for the Olympic Broadcast Consortium during the 2010 & 2012 Games, and is the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World's Best Athletes. Jessica Caterini is a member of the Human Physiology Research Unit in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Toronto.

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Dr. Greg Wells Biography

Greg Wells, Ph.D. is a scientist and physiologist who specializes in health and performance in extreme conditions. Most recently, Dr. Wells was the on-camera sport science and sport medicine analyst for the CTV Broadcast Consortium during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Canada's 2012 Olympic broadcast for London 2012. Dr. Wells is currently an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at the University of Toronto where he directs the Human Physiology Research Unit. Previously, Dr. Wells served as the Director of Sport Science at the Canadian Sport Centre where has had the opportunity to work with dozens of athletes who have won medals at Commonwealth Games, World Championships and the Olympic Games. Dr. Wells also believes that to truly understand extreme conditions you should experience them yourself. To this end he continues to build on his experiences as a former international level competitive swimmer, as a marathon runner having twice completed the world's toughest marathon 600 miles north of the arctic circle, and participated in the 11,000 km Tour D'Afrique bike race - the longest bike race in the world.

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