Imagine you’re on a long road trip and have been burning through fuel for hours, gas tank nearing closer and closer to empty. You wouldn’t expect your car to miraculously refill its own gas tank, so why expect the same from your body?
Find out how to support your post-workout recovery with nutrition and reach new heights in your fitness journey.
How can you use nutrition to recover after a workout?
During exercise, your body depletes part of your glycogen stores for fuel and causes damage to some of your muscle fibers. Post-workout nutrition refills your tank, allowing your body to replenish nutrients and repair tissues so you can continue performing at your best.
After your workout, try to meet these three Rs within 45 minutes.
Refuel with carbohydrates to help replenish glycogen stores used during exercise.
Rebuild with protein to help repair muscle fibers and tissues damaged during your workout. Most protein recommendations for athletes fall between 1.2–2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Your body can only use so much protein at one time to build muscle, so it’s best to spread your protein throughout the day. For most athletes, 20–40 grams of protein after a workout is plenty.
Rehydrate to replace fluids lost through sweat during exercise. If your workout was particularly intense, you may opt for a sports drink to replenish your electrolytes. Otherwise, water is a great option to help you stay hydrated.
Some nutritious post-workout snacks include yogurt and berries, banana and peanut butter on a rice cake, or pita with hummus. Sometimes you may not be very hungry after a hard workout, but recovery is still important. Chocolate milk or a smoothie with fruit, yogurt, and ice checks all the boxes: refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate.
Are there any supplements that could support workout recovery?
While you should always aim to get your nutrients from food first, some supplements may help support workout recovery.
Glucosamine and chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are both components of cartilage (the connective tissue that helps cushion your joints), but each has a slightly different role. Glucosamine is involved with structure – it helps build cartilage and form the synovial fluid that keeps your joints moving smoothly. Chondroitin is involved with elasticity – it helps your joints retain water and bounce back from impact.
High-impact sports and exercise can be hard on joints, and some recent studies suggest that glucosamine may help support healthy cartilage structure. Although most of the research for glucosamine and chondroitin mostly focuses on joint conditions in older adults, these nutrients may help support healthy joints throughout your active life.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids – the ones you’ve probably heard about are EPA and DHA. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring are great sources of omega-3s, and the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 8–10 ounces of seafood per week.
Studies suggest that fish oil may promote muscle health, as well as support healthy immune and neuromuscular function. Some research also indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may be more beneficial in muscle recovery for everyday exercisers. If you’re hitting the gym, a balanced diet rich in omega-3 seafood or a fish oil supplement may help support your recovery after a workout.
You can tell a lot about a fruit just by looking at it. The bright red hue of tart cherries hints that they are packed with anthocyanins, natural plant pigments responsible for the vibrant color of many red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables.
These anthocyanins and other polyphenols high in antioxidant power give tart cherries an advantage when it comes to post-workout recovery. Small but mighty, antioxidants have an important job in the body to help protect your cells and keep them healthy. Research suggests that the potent antioxidant activity of tart cherries may help reduce oxidative stress caused by intense exercise, resulting in accelerated strength and muscle recovery after training.
You’ll rarely find fresh tart cherries, but tart cherry supplements or juice can help support a speedy and healthy recovery from high-intensity or endurance exercise.
Interested in learning more about the benefits of tart cherry? Check out “Tart Cherry Benefits for Athletic Recovery.”
Palmitate monoethanolamide (PEA)
PEA answers to several names: palmitate monoethanolamide, palmitic acid monoethanolamide, or palmitoylethanolamide. You can understand why it goes by PEA for short.
PEA is an endocannabinoid naturally produced in the body and found in some foods, like egg yolks, peanuts, and soybeans. Endocannabinoid and cannabis sound nearly alike, and although they work very similarly in the body, PEA does not come from cannabis.
This nutrient helps support healthy nerve, joint, and immune function, all of which are important for athletes. Research also suggests that PEA may help aid in muscle recovery after exercise. Your body endures every workout you put it through – make sure you treat it well. Refuel, rebuild, rehydrate, repeat. If you’re already confident in your nutrition routine and are looking for other ways to support your post-workout recovery, you may consider adding a supplement to your routine. Always make sure you choose safe, high-quality supplements. Need help navigating the supplement world? Learn more about what to look for in a supplement in “Health Supplement Safety: The Case for Independent Certification.”