.: Ski XCOttawa.ca :: Skiing in Ottawa and Gatineau Park

Sheila's Nutrition Digest Vol. 1 - Refueling for Recovery
By:  Sheila Kealey   (2004/11/06)

Sheila's Nutrition Digest Series: In this new series, XC Ottawa member Sheila Kealey will help athletes choose the best foods for performance and overall health. Sheila has a Masters in Public Health and works in the field of nutritional epidemiology as a Research Associate with the University of California, San Diego.

He pulls out a sesame seed bagel and an orange . . . again! I've observed XC-Ottawa teammate David Zylberberg's post-workout routine for a couple of months now, and nothing ever varies. I'm not sure how he ended up with this particular orange and white combo, but I admit that I am impressed with his clockwork timing and food choices.

Most athletes realize that proper recovery is critical to athletic success: rest allows your body's systems to adapt to the stresses of training and hopefully make you stronger and faster. Many athletes are not as aware, however, that you can maximize your training gains, speed up the recovery process, and enhance subsequent performance by consuming the right foods or fluids at the right times following a workout.

Endurance or intensity training sessions deplete your muscles of glycogen (stored carbohydrate), which is your body's preferred fuel during exercise. If you want to perform quality training sessions several days per week or workout twice a day, you have to be able to replenish these glycogen stores, and nutrition strategies should be an important part of your recovery plan.

Timing Is Everything

Finished your workout and cooldown? Your next priority should be rehydrating and refueling. You'll want to drink enough to replace the fluids you lost though sweat. Your muscles are most receptive to replenishing glycogen right after you stop exercising. This is when blood flow is enhanced and your muscle membranes are more permeable to glucose and the effects of insulin, which helps promote glycogen synthesis. Some studies have suggested that during this so-called "glycogen window" your muscles replenish glycogen up to three times faster than at other times. Although this "glycogen window" can last up to 1 hour or more, experts recommend consuming carbohydrates immediately since this is when your muscles are most greedy for fuel.

What Should You Eat?

Carbohydrate-rich foods or beverages are the best for recovery. Some studies suggest that including some protein with high-carbohydrate foods (about 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein) will enhance muscle repair processes and speed glycogen replacement, but other research has shown that getting adequate amounts of carbohydrates is enough. Until further research sheds more light on protein's role, choose high carbohydrate foods or beverages after exercise and add protein to the mix if you like, as long as the protein is not at the expense of the carbohydrates your muscles are craving.

Research suggests that foods that rapidly raise blood sugar levels (with a high glycemic index or load) may enhance muscle glycogen synthesis further. These are the foods you'll find on an Atkin's dieter's "unacceptable" list. The popular press and fad diet books have oversimplified and often misunderstood the concept of glycemic index, but that'll be the topic of another article! For now, if you're curious consult www.glycemicindex.com to learn more about the glycemic index and compare potential recovery foods.

How Much?

How much food you need depends on the extent that your activity depleted your glycogen stores. Interval training sessions and those longer than 2 hours demand significant amounts of glycogen. Exercise scientists recommend about 1-1.5 grams of carbohydrate/kg body weight within 15 minutes after stopping exercise, and then every 2 hours until your next complete meal. That's about 50-120 grams of carbohydrates (200 - 480 calories) for most athletes. Here are a few examples:

  • 55 kg (121 lbs) = 55-83 grams carbohydrates
  • 65 kg (143 lbs) = 65-98 grams carbohydrates
  • 75 kg (165 lbs) = 75-113 grams carbohydrates

Good Ideas for Recovery Foods

Beverages and carbohydrate containing foods will both help replenish glycogen stores, but choosing a beverage has the additional function of replacing lost fluids. Think of what you'll be doing the 30 minutes after your workout and choose practical foods accordingly. For example, if you're out for a long ski, bring something that won't freeze in the car and that you can eat right after your ski or while you're driving home. Choose foods or beverages that you'll feel like eating after intense exercise. My favorite is usually chocolate milk and a fruit or a handful of cereal.

If you didn't consume all of your sports drink during your workout this is a good time to finish it. It will help replenish your fluids and provide some carbohydrates, but you'll need additional carbohydrates since sports drinks formulated for activity don't contain enough carbohydrates for optimal recovery.

You can purchase special sports nutrition and recovery products, which are convenient and take some of the guesswork out of recovery nutrition. The XC Ottawa team uses EMEND. But it's possible to achieve your recovery requirements with wholesome, inexpensive, and flavorful foods. Real foods will also help you meet other nutrient needs that are important for good health. Most popular recovery foods also contain enough sodium or potassium to replace what you lost in your sweat during your workout.

Use this list and check food labels to choose tasty recovery foods that will help you meet your carbohydrate requirements. If there are other foods you want to check, consult this site.



  • 1 cup fruit juice (25-40 g carbs)
  • 1 medium apple (20 g carbs)
  • 1 medium orange (18 g carbs)
  • 1 cup grapes (29 g carbs)
  • 5-6 dates (31 g carbs)


  • 1 slice lowfat banana bread (34 g carbs)
  • 1 lowfat muffin (50 g carbs)
  • 1 apple raisin cinnamon pita bread -Pita Break brand (47 g carbs)
  • 2 large pancakes with syrup (50 g carbs)
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread (24 g carbs)
  • 2 Fig Newton Cookies, fat free (31 g carbs)
  • 2 Fig Newton Cookies, regular (20 g carbs)
  • * 1 medium bagel (40 g carbs)


  • * 6 low fat graham cracker squares (32 g carbs)
  • * 1 cup breakfast cereal - e.g., Cheerios, wheat flakes (24 g carbs)
  • * Baked Potato (35 g carbs)
  • * 10 pretzel twists (47 g carbs)
  • * 1 tbsp. honey (17 g carbs)
  • 2 tbsp. Chocolate syrup (25 g carbs)
  • 1 tbsp. jam (13 g carbs)


  • 2 cups chocolate milk (52 g carbs/16 g protein)
  • 1 cup breakfast cereal with cup nonfat milk and medium banana (47 g carbs/13g protein)
  • 1 cup fruit yogurt (47 g carbs/11 g protein)

* = high glycemic index (> 70)
Interesting Reading. . .
Interested in supporting XC Ottawa or advertising on our site? Email: info@xcottawa.ca.
Copyright 2001-2006, www.xcottawa.ca. All Rights Reserved. Contact us before re-publishing anything seen here.