What’s the best way to refuel after exercising?

JOËLLE FLÜCK 1. March 2024

Foto: iStock/nensuria

The recovery period after training is extremely important but often neglected. Anyone who exercises regularly and intensively should plan their recovery in the same way as a training session and factor it in accordingly.

Presented by Swiss Sports Nutrition Society

However, nutritional requirements can vary depending on whether the recovery goal is to be on top form for the next training session or to maximise the effects of the workout just completed. Firstly, our energy reserves need replenishing - particularly the carbohydrate stores in the muscles and liver. Secondly, we need to replace the fluids lost from sweating. Finally, we also need to optimise our protein intake to enable the muscles and other tissue to repair, rebuild and adapt.

Sources of protein for muscular adaptation

Protein is essential during the post-exercise recovery period. Regular protein consumption is already a necessity in order to supply the body with enough amino acids to function properly and be absorbed by the muscles. Depending on the nature of the training (e.g. strength training), this absorption process is accelerated. It’s therefore particularly important here to ensure the body receives an adequate supply. Ideally, we should consume around 20 to 35 g of protein per day. 

Carbohydrates for replenishing energy reserves 

The two main sources of energy during sport are carbohydrate and fat, whereby the carbohydrate reserves (glycogen stores) are continuously depleted during an intensive training session. These reserves therefore need replenishing to be ready for your next training session or upcoming competition. Glycogen stores can only be refilled with a sufficient intake of carbohydrates through food and drink. Good sources of carbohydrate post-training include carbohydrate or cereal bars, muesli, rice cakes, bread rolls, Biberli spiced bread, fruit smoothies or small meals such as pasta, rice, potatoes or other starchy sides. Sweet drinks, milk and recovery shakes also contain carbohydrate which helps to refuel. 

Replacing lost fluids and salts

Sport usually involves sweating and we often don’t drink enough to replace the fluids lost.  This is often also the case in moderate or cold temperatures. The fluids lost need to be replaced afterwards in order for the metabolic processes to function optimally during the recovery period. To optimise recovery, try to make sure that you don’t lose too many fluids while exercising in the first place. The smaller the fluid deficit, the easier it is to recover it. Furthermore, the salts lost by sweating also need to be replaced. Not only does the fluid deficit need to be replenished but also the electrolyte balance restored. Soups are a great way of replenishing fluids and salts, particularly if larger amounts are lost. Pretzel sticks combined with water are also a good source of carbohydrate. In addition to drinks, fruit also helps to replace lost electrolytes and fluids. 


Protein, carbohydrate, fluid and salt are the main components to replenish after exercising. These can be easily replenished through the right choice of foods. For example, a large sandwich with bread, cheese, ham, egg, fish or cured meat will contain a good portion of carbohydrate and protein. If eaten together with water, this covers all of the main components. Muesli with fruit, oat flakes, quark or yoghurt is also a great choice after exercising.