Nutrition’s role in post-exercise recovery

Published 1:59 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2023

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Let’s continue our study of post-exercise recovery. Another crucial component of “reset and recovery” after exercise is nutrition. Nutrition’s role in post-exercise recovery is to replenish energy stores, repair muscle damage and reduce inflammation caused by exercise. 

The body uses carbohydrates to replenish glycogen reserves. Glycogen is the body’s storage form of carbohydrates. It can then be broken down to glucose, then glucose can be converted into glycogen. These processes are vital for maintaining normal blood glucose levels, while supplying energy to the body’s cells, and are tightly regulated by hormones such as insulin and glucagon. The “carbohydrate window” refers to the period of time (30 minutes to 2 hours) after exercise when the body’s ability to replenish glycogen stores is highest.  

Consuming protein after a workout is an integral portion of the post-exercise recovery process. Protein provides the amino acids needed for muscle repair and protein synthesis. The amount of protein needed for post-exercise recovery varies, depending on the intensity and duration of the workout, as well as the individual’s body weight and fitness goals. Remember, not all protein sources are equal. My favorite is egg protein. In fact, egg protein (albumin) is often considered the gold standard for dietary protein, because it contains all the essential amino acids in amounts and ratios the body needs to function optimally. 

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Hydration is fundamental to exercise recovery as water helps replenish fluids lost during a workout. Other valuable means of hydration include sports drinks (dilute with 50% water), which also restore electrolytes lost during exercise, chocolate milk, a beverage rich in carbohydrates and protein, to resupply glycogen stores, and assist in muscle tissue repair, tart cherry juice, which contains anti-inflammatory compounds, and coconut water, also rich in electrolytes and water. 

Specific nutrients must also be present for effective post-exercise recovery. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that plays an indispensable role in collagen production. Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body, and acts much like scaffolding to the body, as it provides structure, strength and support to tissues.  Dietary zinc is often referred to as the “miracle mineral,” because of its diverse and essential roles in the body. With regard to post-exercise recovery, zinc plays a fundamental role by reducing muscle damage and inflammation, supporting immune function, and aiding in the repair and regeneration of muscle tissue. 

Iron is a key component in red blood cell production, immune system function and energy metabolism. There is some evidence that iron supplementation may help improve post-exercise recovery in those who are deficient in the mineral. However, excessive iron intake can be harmful, so it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before beginning an iron supplement regimen. 

The name “vitamin D” suggests that it’s a vitamin, but technically, vitamin D is a hormone that acts on cells throughout the body, regulating various physiological processes. Vitamin D may help to reduce muscle damage and inflammation. However, it’s important to note that excessive intake of this nutrient, too, may be harmful. It is possible to obtain vitamin D from dietary sources such as fatty fish, fortified dairy products,and egg yolks, as well as from exposure to sunlight. B vitamins play a crucial role in energy production. They help convert fats, carbohydrates and proteins into the primary source of energy for the body. B-complex vitamins also help metabolize proteins, which is essential for muscle cell growth and repair. 

I’m setting up appointments for those who’ve signed up for my free nutrition and fitness consultations. If I’ve not yet contacted you, please be patient.

David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at or text to 864-494-6215.