Eat to Train: Tactical Tips to Recovery

What you do between your last and your next training session can make all the difference in your gains. It’s the time outside of the gym when the actual change happens: muscles repair and remodel, the nervous and vascular system adapt, the cardiovascular system strengthens, rehydration of tissues occur, inflammation subsides. The nutrition practices you take between trainings can optimize these adaptations to their greatest potential.

During the post training period, your muscles are more ready than ever to take in nutrition. Muscle sensitivity to protein, carbs, fats and vitamins is heightened for 24-72 hours. 1 This means more nutrients to your tissues to heal and repair stronger than before. Therefore, what you do in-between sessions is just as important of what you do inside training. And nutritionally speaking, what you can make all the difference in how your training enhances you. Next time you hit your post-training recovery session, remember these key three habits to add into your nutrition plan.

Pace your protein: While your post workout protein shake is helpful, research shows that consuming protein rich foods throughout the day should be your main focus.2 Getting adequate protein at properly spaces times during the day provides your body with the building blocks to muscle repair and growth to facilitate recovery. A recent study had shown protein rich breakfast, with protein evenly spread throughout the day at meals and snacks, induces greater muscle adaptations versus a low protein breakfast and a higher protein dinner. 2 This concept of pacing protein has been supported and researched topic in sports nutrition.

How much protein you need depends on your training goal. For most strength training athletes and exercisers, a range from 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram is generally recommended. For a 140 pound adult this would translate to having 25-35 grams of protein at each meal. You can easily meet your protein needs with food, but a supplement can be helpful post workout if needed. As for food, animal sources of protein such as eggs, chicken, beef, fish, and dairy contain all the essential proteins you need to recover. If you prefer a plant-based diet, combine foods, such as rice and beans or tofu and rice, in order to consume all the essential amino acids needed. This will ensure you have all the different types of proteins you need to keep muscles recovering throughout the day.

Count in the carbs: A controversial yet vital nutrient, carbohydrates are key to recovery from hard training so make sure your include enough. Carbohydrates in the form of glycogen are stored in the muscle and liver for later use. Glycogen is converted to glucose to be used for energy in the muscle, tissue and in the blood stream. During and after training, we want an ample amount of carbohydrate available to produce energy to do work. Inadequate carbohydrate intake post training can impact your recovery, muscle mass, and performance in future training sessions. It also can result in muscle breakdown if you are depleted, therefore protein and carbohydrates are both important post training, especially during hard training sessions.

In the post training period, your muscles are sensitized to take in carbohydrates and restore the supply that was used during training. This will enable you to recover and not use muscle proteins to refuel your muscle and liver with carbohydrates. It can take 24-48 hours to restore carbohydrate stores (side note: your programing and recovery days should take this into account).3 Like protein, having carbohydrates throughout the day will also help in properly restoring fuel for your training.

Different types of training require different amounts of carbohydrates to perform and recover. Long distance endurance training will require more, anywhere from 5 to 10 grams/kilogram, while pure strength trainers will require less, like 2 to 5 grams/kilogram. The large variations of needs of carbohydrates will depending on the amount of training you do per week, the intensity and your performance goals. It is best you meet with a Sports Dietitian to understand you unique needs.

Rehydrate effectively: Sweat losses are not to just be wiped off into a shirt or towel and forgotten. Being hydrated is more than just drinking enough water. In involves having ample fluid, sodium and other electrolytes for tissues to function as they should. Sweating depletes fluids and mainly sodium. Research suggests that training dehydrated, as little as 2% of body weight loss of fluid, may have negative affects on performance and health.4 This is particularly true when training in hot and humid conditions.

How much should you be drinking and what types of fluid should you be drinking? The amount of fluid needed is highly individualized and based on how your body regulates fluids and sweat. Some people are heavy sweaters, some barely sweat much, others have sweat that is heavier with salt (hello white marks on your skin and clothes). For most average exercisers, training for 30-60 minutes in room temperature, water should be suitable and aggressive rehydration may not be necessary.

For those enlisted in a more intense, prolonged training sessions, trainers teaching multiple classes, and athletes, understanding how much you sweat and what you need to replace will be helpful. A sweat rate calculator, like this one from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute can help you determine your fluid losses and how much you need to replace. Additionally, using an electrolyte based supplement like Skratch Labs and UCAN (use code “coachgabby”) will provide you with sodium and other electrolytes to maintain fluid balance.

Building a solid recovery plan: As someone who is committed to their training, when you adapt the idea that recovery is always occurring process, you can see the importance of including protein, carbohydrates and fluids into each meal. The sample below can start you off with a few ideas to get you started:

Greek yogurt
with blueberries
and ground flax seeds,
coffee with creamer,
Turkey sandwich
on whole grain bread,
avocado, tomato;
side salad with dressing;
sparkling water

During Training: Skratch Labs hydration with water

AM: Post workout protein
shake with a banana;

PM: hardboiled eggs,
rice cakes, hummus; UCAN hydration with water

Skirt steak,
grilled vegetables,
farro salad;

chocolate and strawberries for dessert

Note: Personal portions may vary depending on age, size, gender and activity level; number of meals and timing of meals may vary as well. Please use this as a sample.

Your approach to training, recovery and nutrition should mimic each other. Understanding how these three elements function in your training and recovery will help you elevate their importance in your nutrition plan. Once you start implementing these practices into your daily routine, your adaptations from training will begin to really impress you. Even you won’t know it’s you out there.

For more information on your own needs, feel free to message me here.


1. Cintineo HP, Arent MA, Antonio J, Arent SM. Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Front Nutr. 2018;5:83. Published 2018 Sep 11. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00083

2. Jun Yasuda, Toshiki Tomita, Takuma Arimitsu, Satoshi Fujita, Evenly Distributed Protein Intake over 3 Meals Augments Resistance Exercise–Induced Muscle Hypertrophy in Healthy Young Men, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 7, July 2020, Pages 1845–1851, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa101

3. Alghannam AF, Gonzalez JT, Betts JA. Restoration of Muscle Glycogen and Functional Capacity: Role of Post-Exercise Carbohydrate and Protein Co-Ingestion. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):253. Published 2018 Feb 23. doi:10.3390/nu10020253

4. Evans GH, James LJ, Shirreffs SM, Maughan RJ. Optimizing the restoration and maintenance of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2017;122(4):945-951. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00745.2016

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