The Healthy Way to Refuel when Training

By admin
February 22, 2012

By Amanda Cassell, RD, LD

Does your idea of refueling after a workout consist of doughnut holes and Coca-Cola? Would you believe me if I told you that some mornings after a tough workout, during training for our first full Ironman triathlon, my husband would stop through a fast food drive-thru at 10 am for fried mozzarella cheese sticks and a burger? Did this taste absolutely divine after hours of sweating on a bike ride? Absolutely! The problem is, it did nothing to help with his muscle recovery and most likely hindered his recovery time for his next workout. You were hoping I was about to give you permission to eat fried foods for breakfast? Bummer, huh?!

Why is it important to monitor what we eat after a workout? Two key things are happening when you work out: you’re creating microscopic tears in your muscle tissue and you’re depleting your body’s glycogen stores. In order to see improvements in your fitness level and help your body recover from an intense exercise session, it’s important to refuel soon after your workout. This is even more important if you are performing endurance exercise day after day or trying to build muscle.


The purpose of a pre-workout meal is to provide easily digestible carbohydrates and sodium. This meal shouldn’t weigh you down or aggravate your digestive system. Below is the time period that my company, The Core Diet, suggests you ideally leave between your last meal and your workout:

During Workout

The primary purpose of your “during” training nutrition is to properly fuel your system to sustain a consistent energy level that will keep you going the entire duration of the workout. For the serious athletes that I counsel, I tell them that this is also teaching their bodies to process calories while physically exerting themselves. All of you who enjoy endurance sports are well aware of the difficulties that come along with consuming food products while exercising. It takes practice to master this. Below are the recommended “during” training nutrition strategies:

On average, depending on an athlete’s body weight and height, he/she should aim for consuming one gel each 75 minutes, and one bottle of sports drink each 90 minutes. This equals around 50 grams of carbohydrate per hour. For a run, the goal should be to consume one gel each 30 minutes, for a total of 50 grams carbohydrate per hour. For the bike, the athlete should aim for one gel each 30-40 minutes or one Power Bar each hour; also, one bottle of sports drink every 1 – 1.5 hours should suffice, totaling 90-110 grams carbohydrate per hour.

As a dietitian, I recommend that you aim for drinking approximately ½ of your body weight in ounces per day. For example, if you are 130 pounds, your estimated daily intake of water, not including what you need during training, would be around 65-75 ounces per day.

At Core Diet we help individuals monitor their sweat rate to better determine their hydration status as well as help estimate sodium loss. To make certain you are getting the proper amount of fluids daily, especially in the summer, you should perform a sweat test procedure. Following the results of this test, we help our clients put together a race fueling plan that considers your carbohydrate, fluid-intake, and sodium needs.


The post-workout meal is the most important meal of any day. The purpose of this meal is to increase insulin levels (with sugar) following your workout in order to facilitate the delivery of nutrients to muscle cells. This meal has a major impact on your next workout. Be sure to have it immediately following your session. The perfect recovery drink should have about a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. The goal is to restock muscle glycogen as well as begin the muscle repair process with protein.

It is very important that this drink has high glycemic sugar such as dextrose to raise insulin/blood sugar levels following exercise as quickly as possible. The recovery drink should replace about half of the calorie deficit created during exercise. Typically this will equate to about 75-125 grams of carbs and 20-30 grams of protein. Endurox is a great choice for this. My husband uses low fat chocolate milk for his recovery drink and has gotten to the point where he craves it after each workout. This is much better than his previous fried cheese sticks and a burger as I mentioned earlier!

Many athletes are willing to go the extra mile when it comes to training, but forget a very important piece of the puzzle: Nutrition! Nutrition plays just as an important, if not more of an important, role in training and recovery. If you spend so much time and dedication training, treat your body the way it deserves to be treated – fuel it correctly!

Amanda Cassell is a registered dietitian that practices for Lincare, teaching cancer patients’ families how to care for their loved ones’ feeding tube. She is also the president of the Mississippi Heat Triathlon Team and works part-time for You may contact her at: or

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