Post race recovery

In the second of this two part series, we are going to discuss why both carbohydrate and protein consumption is essential to post exercise recovery and how combining the two can optimise your recovery, maximise training performance and fulfill your athletic potential!

What is the best type of fuel to eat post workout?

Both carbohydrate and protein are crucial for post exercise recovery: carbohydrate replenishes the drained glycogen (our muscles natural fuel stores) while protein repairs muscular damage. 


After an exhaustive endurance training session, replenishing the depleted glycogen stores is the most important factor in determining the speed of recovery. So carbohydrate consumption is important. Your choice of carbohydrate depends on the timing of your next training session. If you are on a double session day then higher glycemic index carbohydrates such as white rice, oats or potatoes are ideal. If you are not doing a double day, then slower release more wholesome carbohydrates such as bananas, beetroot and quinoa are healthier and more beneficial.


Training and competing can break down muscular tissue, leaving it weakened and at risk of an over-use injury. Protein helps to rebuild and repair our soft tissue. However, when it comes to post exercise recovery not all proteins are created equal. Proteins are built from hundreds of smaller units called amino acids and every different source of protein has its own unique blend of these amino acids. For example, eggs are built from a different combination of amino acids than soy, as lamb is from yoghurt or sunflower seeds are from tofu. For optimal recovery you want to consume a protein high in the amino acid leucine, which is the primary amino acid responsible for the stimulation of protein synthesis needed for muscular repair. As little as 2-3g of leucine is enough to stimulate muscular growth and repair.

Foods high in leucine (in descending order and based on a 200 calorie portion):

Best for carnivores:
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products including milk, yoghurt, Parmesan, Gruyere, Swiss cheese and hard goats cheese
  • Beef
 Best for vegans and vegetarians:
  • Soy beans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds 

The consumption of 20g of leucine rich protein is commonly advised as the ideal portion to optimise muscular repair post exercise, although this does depend on your physical size. To make it simple, I suggest one handful-sized portion for women and 2 handfuls for men.

Combining carbohydrates and protein:

For optimal post workout recovery it is not a case of trying to choose between eating carbohydrate or protein. Research has found that by adding protein to a carbohydrate snack stimulates the release of the hormone insulin. Insulin helps to push more carbohydrate into the muscles, giving you the same rate of muscle glycogen restoration as you would with a pure carbohydrate snack, with the added benefit of protein repairing the muscles!

There is scientific debate as to the ideal post-exercise ratio of carbohydrate to protein is 3:1, or 2:1. However, different rations could well be down to different individual needs. So I would recommend to play around and find the ratio that works best for you and your body.


When discussing post endurance training nutrition it is important to highlight the role of antioxidants. Consuming antioxidants post training has been found to reduce post exercise recovery time and boost the immune system to protect you from colds and viruses. Foods high in antioxidants include goji berries, blueberries, strawberries, kale, beetroot and pecans as well as the herbs and spices, cloves, cinnamon and turmeric. 

The bottom line on post-exercise refuelling:

  • Consume a snack within 30 minutes (if exercising again on the same day) or 60-90 minutes post exercise
  • Eat a high to mid Glycemic Index carbohydrate depending on the timing of your next training session.
  • Choose a protein high in the amino acid leucine
  • Eat a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio carbohydrate to protein snack
  • Add plenty of antioxidant rich foods to your fuelling

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