Recovery is a major challenge for the elite athlete, who undertakes two or even three workouts each day during certain phases of the training cycle, with 4 to 24 hr between each session. Recovery involves a complex range of processes of restoration and adaptation to physiological stress of exercise, including these:

  • Restoration of muscle and liver glycogen stores
  • Replacement of fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
  • Synthesis of new protein following the catabolic state and damage induced by the exercise
  • Responses of the immune system


The major dietary factor involved in post exercise refueling is the amount of carbohydrate consumed.  Total energy intake should  increase carbohydrate intake to promotes increased muscle glycogen storage until the threshold for glycogen synthesis is reached . Guidelines for athletes stated that optimal glycogen storage is achieved when ~1 to1.5 g of carbohydrate is consumed every hour in the early stages of recovery, leading to a total carbohydrate of 6 to 10 g/kg of body mass (BM) over 24 hr . Athletes have been advised to enhance recovery by consuming carbohydrate as soon as possible after the completion of a workout. The highest rates of muscle glycogen storage occur during the first hour after exercise attributable to activation of glycogen syntheses by glycogen depletion and exercise- induced increases in muscle membrane permeability and insulin sensitivity. Carbohydrate feeding immediately after exercise takes advantage of these effects, with higher rates of glycogen storage during the first 2 hr of recovery, slowing thereafter to the more typical rates of storage. The most important consideration, however, is that failure to consume carbohydrate in the immediate phase of post exercise recovery leads to very low rates of glycogen restoration until feeding occurs.

Therefore, early intake of carbohydrate following strenuous exercise is valuable because it provides an immediate source of substrate to the muscle cell to start effective recovery, and it takes advantage of a period of moderately enhanced glycogen synthesis. It appears that when the interval between exercise sessions is short, athletes should begin to consume carbohydrate as soon as possible to maximize the effective recovery time. Meeting total carbohydrate requirements is more important than the pattern of intake, at least for long-term recovery, and the athlete is advised to choose a food schedule that is practical and comfortable. Small frequent meals may be useful in overcoming the gastric discomfort often associated with eating large amounts of bulky, high-carbohydrate foods, but additional benefits to glycogen storage may also occur directly during the early recovery phase.


Tarnopolsky, M.A., C. Zawada, L.B. Richmond, S. Carter, J. Shearer, T. Graham, and S.M. Phillips. 2001. Gender differences in carbohydrate loading are related to energy intake. Journal of Applied Physiology 91: 225-230.

American College of Sports Medicine et al. 2000

Ivy, J.L., A.L. Katz, C.L. Cutler, W.M. Sherman, and E.F. Coyle. 1988. Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: Effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. Journal of Applied Physiology 64: 1480-1485.

Wojtaszewski, J.P.F., P. Nielson, B. Kiens, and E.A. Richter. 2001. Regulation of glycogen synthase kinase-3 in human skeletal muscle: effects of food intake and bicycle exercise. Diabetes 50:


prepared by: Dr Marija Andjelkovic


Guidelines for Carbohydrate Intake by Athletes



Recommended carbohydrate intake


Optimal daily muscle glycogen storage (e.g., for postexercise recovery or to fuel up or carbohydrate load before an event)

7-12 g·kg-1 body mass·day-1

Rapid postexercise recovery of muscle glycogen, where recovery between sessions is <8 hr

1-1.2 g/kg immediately after exercise; repeated each hour until meal schedule is resumed. There may be some advantages to consuming carbohydrate as a series of small snacks every 15-60 min in the early recovery phase.

Preevent meal to increase carbohydrate availability before
prolonged exercise session

1-4 g/kg eaten 1-4 hr before exercise

Carbohydrate intake during moderate-intensity or intermittent exercise of >1 hr

0.5-1.0 g·kg-1·hr-1 (30-60 g/hr)


Daily recovery or fuel needs for athletes with very light training program (low-intensity exercise or skill-based exercise). These targets may be particularly suited to athletes with large body mass or a need to reduce energy intake to lose weight.

3-5 g·kg-1·day-1

Daily recovery or fuel needs for athlete with moderate exercise program (i.e., <1 hr)

5-7 g·kg-1·day-1

Daily recovery or fuel needs for endurance athlete (i.e., 1-3 hr
of moderate- to high-intensity exercise)

7 -12 g·kg-1·day-1

Daily recovery or fuel needs for athlete undertaking extreme
exercise program (i.e., >4-5 hr of moderate- to high-intensity
exercise such as Tour de France)

≥10-12 g·kg-1·day-1

Adapted from Burke, Kiens, and Ivy 2004.


Carbohydrate-rich choices for preevent meals

Carbohydrate-rich foods suitable for intake during exercise

(50 g of carbohydrate portions)

  • Breakfast cereal + low-fat milk + fresh or canned fruit
  • Muffins or crumpets + jam or honey
  • Pancakes + syrup
  • Toast + baked beans (this is a high-fiber choice)
  • Creamed rice (made with low-fat milk)
  • Rolls or sandwiches
  • Fruit salad + low-fat fruit yogurt
  • Spaghetti with tomato or low-fat sauce
  • Baked potatoes with low-fat filling
  • Fruit smoothie (low-fat milk + fruit + yogurt or ice cream)
  • Liquid meal supplement
  • 600-800 ml of sport drink
  • 2 sachets of sport gel
  • 1-1.5 sport bars
  • 2 cereal bars or granola bars
  • Large bread roll filled with jam, honey, or cheese
  • 2 bananas or 3 medium pieces of other fruit
  • 60 g of jelly confectionery
  • 450 ml of cola drinks
  • 80 g chocolate bar
  • 100 g of fruit bread or cake
  • 80 dried fruit or 120 g of trail mix

Recovery snacks, to be eaten postexercise, or preexercise

in the case of resistance training to promote refueling and

protein responses

(Each serving provides 50 g of carbohydrate and at least

10 g of protein.)

Portable carbohydrate-rich foods suitable for the traveling athlete

  • 250-350 ml of liquid meal supplement, milk shake,   or fruit smoothie
  • 500 ml of flavored low-fat milk
  • Sport bar + 200 ml of sport drink
  • 60 g (1.5-2 cups) of breakfast cereal with                  1/2 cup of milk
  • 1 round of sandwiches with cheese, meat, or chicken filling and 1 large piece of fruit or 300 ml of sport drink
  • 1 cup of fruit salad with 200 g of fruit-flavored    yogurt or custard
  • 200 g of fruit-flavored yogurt or 300 ml of         flavored milk and 30 to 35 g cereal bar
  • 2 crumpets or English muffins with thick spread        of peanut butter
  • 250 g of baked beans on 2 slices of toast
  • 250 g (large) baked potato with cottage cheese or grated cheese filling
  • 150 g thick-crust pizza
  • Breakfast cereal

(and skim milk powder)

  • Cereal bars, granola bars
  • Dried fruit, trail mixes
  • Rice crackers, dry biscuits
  • Spreads: jam, honey
  • Sport bars
  • Liquid meal supplements:        powder and ready-to-drink forms
  • Sport drink

Carbohydrate-Rich Choices Suitable for Special Issues in Sport




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