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What to Eat After Cardio Exercise


Post-cardio workout nutrition tips

By John Hoeber, MS, RD, CSSD, CPT


Nutritional science says that after a cardio workout we should replenish lost carbohydrates and fluids, and also eat some protein to refuel our bodies to perform their best in our next workout. That's true — but not for everyone. Unfortunately, marketing science has taken that basic fact and sold many people unnecessary sport supplements. Pure nutritional science says that replenishing carbs, fluids and protein after a workout takes place more than adequately over the course of 24 hours after your workout, with a good diet.  

People who need to be diligent about replenishing are:


  • following a low-carb diet or low-calorie weight loss diet or
  • doing intense workouts of long enough duration to deplete fluids and carb stores (more than 1 hour of continuous exercise), and
  • exercising intensely again later that day


During and immediately after exercise, the body is primed to take in carbs and put them into carb storage rather than fat storage, so don't fear eating carbs after a workout. Eating 1.0 to 1.5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight, or about half a gram per pound is the standard recommendation. You should consume these carbs as soon as possible after your workout, and continue to do so every 2 hours for up to 6 hours or until your next full meal.  

That's not so difficult for a 120-pound person who isn’t working out again until the next day: Their post-workout carb needs are between 54 and 81 grams. You can reach 75 grams of carbs with 1/2 cup of granola, a 5-ounce cup of honey-flavored Greek yogurt and an 8-ounce of glass of orange juice. 

After a lunchtime workout, a rice plate or sandwich is a good idea (53 grams of carbs per cup of rice and around 20 grams per slice of bread). If you're working out after work, you will probably have dinner afterwards and can easily get some carbs with a starchy vegetable or grain-based dish.

The 170-pound triathlete doing two workouts a day will find it a little more challenging to get the total recommended amount of carbs for the day — around 500 to 700 grams (the precise recommendation for total carbs a day is 6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight; for the 170-pound triathlete, that’s the equivalent of nearly 15 cups of rice!). The rice dish below can be a good option for carb replenishment.


Recipe: Rosemary Breakfast Rice

Don’t let the name throw you. This dish is great as a post-workout meal in the morning or any time of day! It’s also a great way to use leftover brown rice from dinner the evening before.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 10 raw almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas or frozen edamame
  • 2 eggs
  • Soy sauce, optional

Put olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add rosemary, then almonds and cook 2 minutes. Bring heat to medium-high and add rice. Make a well in the center of the rice and add peas or edamame. Cook until done.

In a separate pan, scramble the two eggs and add to cooked rice dish.

Serve with a dash or two of soy sauce.

One serving; 688 calories, 24 g protein, 78 g carbohydrate, 31 g fat.


Published October 24, 2014.


John Hoeber helps people improve their health and athletic performance through diet, using practical and lasting solutions. He is a registered dietitian, certified specialist sports dietitian, personal trainer and wellness coach with more than 26 years of experience. Contact him at


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