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Nutrient Timing
Part 3:  Post-Workout Nutrition

by Tom Jordan MS, RD

What’s the most important part of a runner's workout schedule?  Is it the tempo run? Interval repeats? The long run?

You might be surprised that for many runners, the highest impact change they could make to their endurance and performance might not be during their training sessions but what they do in the 60-90 minutes following their workouts.

Consider this:  the whole concept of training is to place stress on our bones, tissues, and cardiovascular system.  In reality, our workouts are designed to damage our muscle tissues and create small microtears in muscles…. that over the next 24-48 hours our bodies will work to not only repair—but to make the tissues even stronger.  And Viola!, We get Stronger and Faster!  So the bottom line is that it’s not your workout that makes you more fit, but the adaptations or improvements your body makes in response to your workouts.

So where does nutrition come in?  Serious athletes have learned what you put in your body in the 60-90 minutes after a workout can make all the difference between stepping it up to the next level of fitness and getting stuck in either a plateau or even worse overtraining and burnout.  Researchers have coined the term “metabolic window,” indicating that our metabolism is heightened in the hour after a workout and our muscles are like a sponge—ready to soak up any nutrition we can provide for recovery.  Study after study has shown that optimal refueling after workouts can not only help us recover quicker, but can also help improve the gains we see from our workouts.  In addition, it is a key component to improving body composition (maintaining lean muscle mass, while reducing body fat).

These are the key components to bouncing back quicker from hard workouts, reducing muscle breakdown, accelerating body fat loss, and improving performance:

  1. Rehydrate:  Make sure to replace any fluids lost during the workout.  Decreases in blood volume and dehydrated cells are sure to impair your response to the workout and should be your first goal to prevent.

How Much?  The best way to track this is to weigh in before and after the workout.  For every pound lost in the workout, make sure to consume approximately 16 ounces of fluid.  For light sweaters, water loss might be minimal, but heavy sweaters could lose several pounds of water weight on a hot and humid day.

  1. Re-Carb:  “But aren’t carbs bad?”  Yes—if you’re sitting on the couch at 10pm eating sugar frosted sugar puffs, that’s probably not a good idea.  After a hard workout however, carbohydrates are the key to halting muscle breakdown (also known as the “catabolic” phase) and trigger recovery and rebuilding.

How Much?  Research has shown that an optimal effect from carbs occurs at about 1g of Carb per Kilogram of Body Weight.  Which means—divide your weight in half, and this is the optimal grams of carbohydrate to optimize recovery.  For an individual also looking to improve body composition, we reduce this to 45-60 grams of carbs, and for weight loss we recommend 30-45 grams of carbs.  At this level, you will still be getting most of the recovery effect without adding additional calories to your meal plan.

  1. Power Up with Protein:  This is an easy sell.  Most people know that protein is the key to muscle building, but we often over emphasize the amount we need to have a significant impact.  Also, while lean proteins like chicken or turkey breast might be a great option for clean protein, consider options like whey protein, yogurt, or milk as a means of getting protein to the muscles quickly.  For those not keen on dairy, soy protein is a fine option, as is a combination of rice and pea protein which supplies all the key amino acids for recovery.

How Much?  20-30 grams of protein will provide the optimal amount for recovery.  This is the equivalent to 3-4 ounces of meat or 1 scoop of whey protein.

Key Notes:

  • Take advantage of the “Metabolic Window” which occurs in the first 60-90 minutes after a workout
  • Rehydrate after workouts with 16oz of fluids for every pound lost
  • Performance Improvement:  Divide your body weight by 2 for the optimal grams of carbohydrates to fuel recovery, and combine with 30 grams of protein.
  • Body Composition Improvement:  45-60 grams Carbs and 20-30 grams protein
  • Weight Loss:  30-45 grams of Carbs and 20-30 grams protein


  • 1 cup lowfat Chocolate Milk (45g Carb / 12g Prot)
  • Skim Milk with 1c Multigrain Cheerios (36g Carb / 10g Prot)
  • 2 Slices Bread, 3 Egg Whites, 1c Fruit (60g Carb / 20g Prot)
  • 1 cup Pasta, 3oz Chicken Breast (45g Carb, 24g Prot)
  • Flavored Greek Yogurt (20g Carb / 13g Prot)
  • 1c Almond Milk, 1 Banana, 1 scoop whey protein (35g Carb, 22g Prot)

Clickable Resources Below:

Nutrient Timing - Overview

Nutrient Timing: Part 1 - Pre Workout Nutrition

Nutrient Timing; Part 2 - Nutrition During the Workout

Nutrient Timing Part 4 - The Other 24/7

Tom’s Bio

Hard Bodies Fitness and Nutrition Boot Camp Information

Email Tom FHAnutrition@sbcglobal.net

Click here to calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index)