Your Guide to Muscle Recovery: When and How

It’s common to have some muscle soreness after physical activity. During exercise, your body takes fuel from your food and breaks down muscle for energy, so you’re left dehydrated, drained of fuel and broken down.

Whether you’re an amateur or an elite athlete, proper recovery is critical to prevent injuries and improve your overall strength and stamina. You need to replace the nutrients you lost during training (primarily carbohydrates and protein), and rehydrate with fluid and electrolytes. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution – the amount and ratio of nutrients you need for recovery will depend on your age, gender and size; the duration and intensity of your workout; and environmental factors such as climate and altitude – but here are some core things to remember.

WHEN TO RECOVER: 30-60 minutes

Drink a recovery drink within 30-60 minutes after exercise to jump-start your body’s recovery process.

HOW MUCH TO DRINK: 20-24 ounces of fluid

For every pound you lose during exercise, drink 20-24 ounces of fluid with electrolytes after exercising.

HOW TO RECOVER: Always follow the 3 R’s

  • Rehydrate with the right amount of fluids and electrolytes to replace the fluid lost from sweat during exercise. Climate and altitude can also increase the amount of fluid you’ll need.
  • Repair with a high-quality protein to help rebuild muscles and promote growth.
  • Replenish using a 3:1 carbohydrates-to-protein ratio (e.g. 60 grams of carbohydrates and 20 grams of protein) for moderate to high intensity exercise lasting at least an hour, to aid in muscle soreness and refill energy stores.

So what’s the best choice?

Milk-based drinks are ideal for recovery after exercise. In addition to milk being a natural product with minimal ingredients, chocolate milk contains all the key ingredients for recovery, including 87 percent water content, natural electrolytes and an optimal 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. Other quick recovery options include a milk-based smoothie with added protein, a Greek yogurt parfait, an energy bar with milk, or some cottage cheese and crackers.  

Proper recovery following the rehydrate, repair and replenish guidelines is essential if you want to adapt to higher training volume and intensity and maintain your overall health. 

By Taylor Lile, MSc, RDN, CSSD, LD

Taylor Lile, MSc, RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian whose interest in sports nutrition began in high school through her own experience as an athlete and how diet impacted her performance. At the University of Oklahoma, she was a sports nutrition volunteer with the football team, while earning her Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Sciences. In graduate school at Loughborough University in England, Taylor worked with the Nottingham Panthers of EIHL as a sports dietitian while earning her Master’s degree in Sports and Exercise Nutrition. Taylor has also worked at Clemson University and the University of Oregon as a sports dietitian managing the nutritional needs of a variety of sports teams. Taylor has been able to apply her previous positions and experiences to her current position with the Dallas Cowboys in aiding with the nutrition of the players to promote optimal performance. Taylor is the nutrition assistant with the Dallas Cowboys and a sports dietitian consultant with Gatorade Sports Science Institute working with the NBA G-League. She is also a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.