Recovery nutrition has been called the most important factor in improved performance. The better you can refuel your muscles, the quicker they’ll be ready to train next time. Athletes are best able to digest and process replenishing foods within 15 to 60 minutes after exercise, a time period referred to as the “recovery (or glycogen) window.”
Recommendations on exactly how to refuel vary wildly, and there is a whole segment of the sports nutrition market now aimed at recovery nutrition. Several endurance coaches suggest this general rule: during recovery, consume 0.5 to 0.75 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight. Personally, I can’t measure out my meals in grams, so this recommendation is lost on me. A better suggestion might be this: Eat 200 to 300 calories of carbohydrate within an hour after any workout you consider “intense.” Science also recommends eating a small amount of protein with this carbohydrate, to aid in absorption.
If you look into the subject of recovery nutrition, you’ll see a lot of theory about the right ratio of protein to carbohydrate, anywhere between 1:3 and 1:7. Various drinks and snacks formulated for recovery advertise the benefits of their particular ratio, but there’s really no solid science on this just yet. These commercial foods tend to be expensive, and it’s important to know that real food is just as effective. A good starting place for your recovery meal might be toast with peanut butter, or a glass of chocolate milk. Other favorites include cereal with milk, or plain yogurt with fresh fruit.
Keep in mind that these recommendations don’t always align with fat-loss nutrition programs. The recommendations on recovery are usually made with the assumption that athlete is attempting to maintain his or her current weight. A good rule of thumb: don’t eat more calories in your recovery meal than you expended during exercise.