How to Properly Refuel Your Body After a Workout

The human body is a pretty impressive vehicle. It can run, swim, jump, propel and flip. Like any vehicle it needs plenty of maintenance and the right kind of fuel to perform at its best.

How we refuel after exercise can make a huge difference to how we feel and recover. Feelings of lethargy will haunt you if you don’t replenish your muscle glycogen after a long run, and muscle fatigue will be heightened if you do not give your muscle fibres restorative fuel after heavy lifting.


So let’s break it down simply and clearly.

Your post-workout fuel guide

Cardio = carbs

If your heart has been pumping from a run, cycle, swim or group fitness class, your body will have used up a fair amount of muscle glycogen. Muscle glycogen is the carbohydrate fuel we store in our body to give us the energy required to exercise. To replenish this after a 60 minute workout you don’t necessarily need to go reaching for a sports drink. Save those for intense cardio activity lasting longer than 90 minutes.

After high-intensity cardio workouts

As a general rule, for HIGH INTENSITY cardio workouts lasting 60 minutes or more, try and eat 1g of carb per kg of body weight for optimal replenishment.

This might look like:

  • 60kg = Porridge with a sliced pear and milk OR 200g yoghurt with a piece of fruit
  • 100kg = Muesli with banana, yoghurt and milk OR 2 wholemeal crumpets with a sliced banana, honey and cinnamon

If the workout has been VERY intense you may need to pay particular attention to your electrolytes as well (cue sports drink).

Also read: Top 10 Cardio Myths Busted

After moderate-intensity cardio workouts

If the workout has not been physically intense, a piece of fruit as a snack immediately after will act as great fuel. 

Strength = protein

Strength training requires a hit of protein to replenish and restore. So if you’ve been lifting, pulling, heaving or pressing, you need to opt for quality protein. Recent research has shown that early intake after exercise (within the first hour) of essential amino acids from good quality protein foods helps to promote the increase in protein rebuilding and recovery.

Most current research agrees that resistance and endurance athletes benefit from consuming 15-25g of high quality protein in the first hour after exercise. You can opt for a protein shake for convenience, but there are loads of other ‘whole food’ ways to get quality protein into your body.

Take a look at some of these foods with approx 10g protein:

  •       40g of cooked lean beef/pork/lamb
  •       40g skinless cooked chicken
  •       50g of canned tuna/salmon or cooked fish
  •       300 ml of milk/glass of Milo
  •       200g tub of yoghurt
  •       300ml flavoured milk
  •       1.5 slices (30g) of cheese
  •       2 eggs
  •       120g of tofu
  •       4 slices of bread
  •       200g of baked beans
  •       60g of nuts
  •       2 cups of pasta/3 cups of rice
  •       .75 cup cooked lentils/kidney beans

If you are doing a combination of strength and cardio, a combination of protein and carbs is best.

NOTE: If you are an athlete preparing for a competitive race or you are training at an elite level, advice tailored for your requirements by a Sports Dietitian is always the way to go.

Lisa Donaldson, APD, M.Nutr&Diet, B.Edu
Lisa is the Lead Dietitian for 12WBT. With a Masters in Nutrition & Dietietics as well as a Bachelor of Education, Lisa is keen to help all 12 Weekers understand how to achieve health for life. Lisa studied Sports Dietetics at the Australian Institute of Sport and has a keen interest in gastrointestinal health. A highly regarded communicator, Lisa is a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, the ‘Dietitian in Residence’ at the University of Canberra and a lecturer at the Australian Defence Force Academy. She has also been an expert on ABC Television’s Ask the Dr Series.

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    1. What and how do you fuel for longer runs such as a half marathon and marathon distance? I find I run out of energy when I’m somewhere between the 17-19 km Mark.

      Thank you

      1. Hi Ken – It’s important for any exercise that is longer than 90 mins you need to address electrolytes. A sports drink that contains glucose and sodium is good. Don’t opt for a ‘sugar free’ variety as you need the sugar to provide glucose. Just remember carbs provide the best energy for endurance activities and you need to keep topping up as you use your muscle glycogen.

        All the best,
        12WBT Support Crew

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