The Four Keys of Recovery Nutrition

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How do you optimize recovery after training? You want to get the most out of your training, whether it’s exercising on your treadmill on those icy weather days when you can’t get outside, lifting weights, attending water exercise class for cross training, or walking at a fast pace. Going into workouts well-nourished is essential, but so is refueling your body after a workout. Think of it this way: when you exercise, your body recovers faster, you decrease inflammation (who doesn’t love that?), and you’re more energized for your next workout when you provide your body with optimal nutrition. I recommend you treat your workout recovery nutrition plan as an essential part of your workout—just like having the right running shoes.

You can count on the four keys of recovery nutrition. When you exercise, you want to provide your body with key nutrients to recover from your workout every time. To do this, include carbohydrate, protein, fluid, and salt in your recovery fueling plan.

  • Carbohydrate: When you train, you burn energy, mainly carbohydrate or sugar. It’s important to replenish the carbohydrate you use up so you can refill your muscles after exercise. That helps you get ready for your next workout, whether that’s later in the day or the next day. To plan your recovery fuel, take in half of your body weight in grams of carbohydrate. For example, if you weigh 180 pounds, refuel with 90 grams of carbohydrate. If you weigh 120 pounds, refuel with 60 grams of carbohydrate.
  • Protein: After workouts, your muscles are ready for protein, too. Protein helps you repair muscles and tissues after you train. Take in at least 10 to 20 grams of protein with your recovery fuel. The stronger you are, the more protein you need. Try easy-to-digest protein sources like milk, plant-based milks, yogurt, smoothies, or shakes.
  • Fluid: When you sweat, you lose fluid, and it needs to be replaced to keep your body running well. Include recovery fluids in your plan to help ensure you’re replacing the fluids you lost during the workout. If you’re training for an hour or longer, be sure to replace fluids while you train, too. Then, after every workout, drink at least 16 to 24 ounces of fluid (2 to 3 cups) with your recovery fuel. Keep drinking until you’re well-hydrated. You’ll know you’re hydrated again when you have plenty of light-colored urine and you’re going to the bathroom every few hours.
  • Salt: We lose sodium and chloride in our sweat. We also sweat out lesser amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Focus on replacing the sodium and chloride lost in sweat as your primary goal. That means including salt in your recovery fuel, salting your food at your next meal, and eating salty foods like soups, crackers, pickles, and salted nuts and seeds.

Try these recovery fuel options, each with at least 50 grams of carbohydrate and 15 grams of protein with extra fluids and salt.

Orange-Peach Super Smoothie

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup low fat vanilla Greek yogurt or plant-based Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup frozen peaches
  • Pinch of salt
  • Handful of ice

Nutrition Facts: 350 calories, 56 grams carbohydrate, 22 grams protein, 5 grams fat, and 396 mg of sodium. High in calcium and vitamin C.


Peanut Butter Banana Recovery Shake

  • 1 cup low fat milk or plant-based milk
  • 1 Tablespoon peanut butter or your favorite nut butter
  • 1 banana
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Handful of ice

Nutrition Facts: 405 calories, 54 grams of carbohydrate, 17 grams protein, 16 grams fat, and 242 mg sodium. High in calcium, iron, and potassium.

Veggie Soup and Hummus Pocket Recovery Meal

  • 2 cups canned or homemade vegetable soup
  • 1/3 cup hummus sandwich with spinach, tomatoes, and ½ of a whole grain pita
  • 1 apple

Nutrition Facts: 504 calories, 76 grams carbohydrate, 15 grams protein, 19 grams fat, and high in sodium (amount varies). High in fiber, potassium, and iron. 


Susie Kundrat, MS, RD, LDN, is the founder of Eat Move Groove ( and the author of Eat Move Groove: Unlock the Simple Steps to Lifelong Nutrition, Fitness, and Wellness, to be released in March 2024. She has worked with athletes and active people of all ages and levels (youth to professional) to boost performance and well-being with optimal nutrition, including the Milwaukee Bucks, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Fighting Illini, and the Northwestern University Wildcats. She is a clinical professor emeritus with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber College of Public Health and an adjunct instructor with the University of Illinois Food Science and Human Nutrition Department and Walla Walla Community College. For more fast and easy nutrition, fitness, and wellness tips, join Susie’s newsletter at Eat Move Groove.