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Active Expert: Nancy Clark RD CSSD

10 Posts tagged with the recovery tag

Nancy, I can’t believe you recommend chocolate milk as a good recovery food for athletes after a hard workout. It’s filled with refined sugar!!!!

My response: Yes, chocolate milk (or any flavored milk, for that matter) contains added sugar. For hard-working athletes, sugar is a form of carbohydrate that refuels depleted muscles and feeds the brain. Like the sugar in bananas and oranges, the sugar in chocolate milk comes alongwith a plethora of nutritional benefits. That makes chocolate milk a better option that chugging a sports drink that offers just empty calories.

A reasonable guideline for an athlete is to limit refined sugar intake to no more than 10% of daily calories. That equates to about 200 to 300 calories a day. The sweaty, tired athlete who recovers with a quart of Gatorade consumes 200 calories of refined sugar— and misses out on positive nutritional benefits that could have been provided by chocolate milk. 

Despite chocolate milk's sugar content, the beverage remains nutrient-dense. When athletes refuel with chocolate milk, they get not just sugar that fuels their muscles, but also:

--high quality protein that builds and repairs muscles

--calcium that strengthens bones

--vitamin D that enhances calcium absorption

--sodium that helps with fluid retention and replaces sodium lost in sweat

--potassium that replaces sweat losses and helps maintain lowblood pressure

--B-vitamins such as riboflavin, that help convert food into energy

--water that replaces fluid lost with sweat

--a desirable balance of carbohydrate and protein. (The muscles recover will with three times more carbs than protein.)

I invite you to pay more attention to the nutritional value of the whole beverage rather than just the added sugar. Chocolate milk offers far more nutrients than the sports drinks that athletes commonly chug after a hard workout. Those sports drinks, as well as other commercial  “sports foods” (gels, chomps, sports beans, sports candies), receive little public criticism yet are generally 100% refined sugar with minimal, if any, nutritional benefits. In my opinion, those engineered sports foods are the bigger nutritional concern than the 40 to 50 calories of sugar added to 8-ounces of chocolate milk.






PS. Yes, a "perfect diet" would have no refined sugar .. but who said an athlete needs to eat a perfect diet to have a good diet?

For more information on how to choose a balanced sports diet, please enjoy the new 5th edition of my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

2,865 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: athletes, recovery, nancy_clark, chocolate_milk, sugar, refine_sugar, post-exercise_food, sports_nutrition+guidebook

If you are an athlete who trains to exhaustion, you are either fueling up for a workout or refueling and recovering from the workout. While much attention has been placed on recovery, I find that many of my clients are confused about how to best refuel after a tiring workout. Here are a few tips based on research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 2013 Annual Meeting (


• It’s never too late to improve your sports diet.

Even experienced veteran cyclists often do a poor job of refueling. Only 38% of 212 competitive cyclists chose a carbohydrate-protein mix. Because residual fatigue from both training and competition strongly influences the ability to perform optimally, you would be wise to pay attention to a proper recovery diet!


• Be sure to include enough carbs in your daily diet.

Among 215 Navy SEALs, 86% ate less than the recommended carbohydrate intake (>2.5 g grams carb/lb; >5 g carb/kg). Like many serious athletes, the SEALs chose a high protein diet that would help build muscles—and skimped on the carbs needed to optimally fuel muscles.


• Rehydrate soon after you exercise; don’t delay until evening.

Although adequate hydration contributes to optimal performance, it can disrupt sleep in athletes who rehydrate primarily at the end of the day. A study with 35 male rugby players indicates 75% of them did a good job of rehydrating at a 10-day training camp. However, those who hydrated well at night tended to wake up at least three or more times to urinate. For better sleep, drink more fluids right when you finish exercising, instead of near bedtime.


• Don’t hesitate to make your own recovery drink.

A study comparing a fruit smoothie (made with milk, banana,berries) with a commercial product showed similar recovery benefits for subjects who did muscle-damaging exercise. Both recovery drinks offered the same amount of calories, protein, and carb. Food works!


• Spend your money on real fruits, veggies and whole foods –not on supplements.

• For 17 days, well-trained cyclists took an antioxidant supplement containing freeze-dried fruit-vegetable juice powder. The supplement offered no boost in immune function beyond that created by exercise itself.Instead of antioxidant pills, you might want to put that money towards your health club membership?


Eat well, perform well, and have fun!




For more information: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

3,421 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: recovery, nancy_clark, sports_nutrition, refuel, rehydrate, hard_exercise

I’m on the Paleo diet and am not eating grains. My muscles feel tired a lot. How many carbs do I need?


According to the International Olympic Committee’s Nutrition Recommendations, adequate carbs means:


Header 1Header 2Header 3
Amount of exerciseGrams carb/lbGrams carb / kg
Moderate exercise (~1 hour/day)2.5 to 35-7
Endurance exercise (1-3 h/day)2.5 to 4.5


Extreme exercise (>4-5 h/day)3.5 to 5.58-12



Example, a 150-lb triathlete doing extreme exercise should target ~500 to 800 g carb/day (2,000-3,200 carb-calories). That’s about 500 to 800 g carbs every 4 hours during the daytime.


For optimal performance, your recovery meals and snacks should include a foundation of carbohydrate-rich foods (such as breads, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables) plus a smaller amount of protein (about 10-20 grams per recovery snack or meal). This can be hard to do on a Paleo Diet, unless you eat a lot of  “heavy” fruits and vegetables (such as bananas, mango, dried fruits, beets, winter squash, and sweet potato).


For your recovery meal, do not consume just protein, as in a protein shake or protein bar. Protein fills your stomach and helps build and repair muscles, but it does not refuel your muscles. Your muscles want three or four times more calories from carbs than from protein. If you like the convenience of protein shakes, at least add carbs to them. That is, blend insome banana and frozen berries.


For more information on how to balance carbs and protein, refer to: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

2,628 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: recovery, nancy_clark, paleo_diet, carbohydrate_needs, balancing_portein_and_carbs

Nancy. I’ve heard I should eat a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein right after I exercise, but I don't know what that looks like in terms of food. So, to be safe, I buy commercial recovery foods and drinks to be sure I get the right ratio. Are there other options?


Answer: The goal in a sports diet is to consume about three or four times more calories from carbs than from protein. The ratio need not be exact. You just don’t want to consume a heavy amount of protein that displaces carbs (i.e., if you fill up on a big steak, you are not filling up on pasta). You also do not want heavy recovery foods (high fat, high protein, such as a burger) that sit in the stomach and slowly digest.


Commercial recovery foods and beverages are more about convenience than necessity. You can enjoyably refuel with chocolate milk, fruit yogurt, a sandwich, or pasta with meat sauce. By backing your workout into a carb-based sports meal (such as spaghetti with meat balls, stir-fried chicken and veggies with lots of rice), you'll get more carbs than protein, and plenty of fuel for your muscles.


Whether or not a protein-carb recovery beverage is superior to a carb-only beverage remains questionable. In a recent study (Green, 2008) in which athletes drank either a carb or a carb-protein recovery drink immediately after muscle-damaging downhill running, both beverages offered a similar recovery process over the course of three days. The authors conclude the meals that they ate (in addition to the recovery drink) in those post-exercise days supplied the protein and carbs needed to recover.


You won’t go wrong by refueling soon after exercise with a carb-protein combination if you done exhausting exercise and aren't yet ready to eat a meal. If you prefer engineered foods because they are convenient, buy them. But if you prefer the wholesome goodness of chocolate milk, yogurt and a banana, a fruit smoothie (milk, banana, berries), a bowl of cereal, and other tasty protein-carb combinations, save your money and enjoy real food instead. And remember, immediately consuming recovery foods is most important for the athlete who has exhausted him or herself and will be exercising again within the next six hours. Fitness exercisers need not get obsessed!




Green MS, Corona BT, Doyle JA, Ingalls CP. Carbohydrate-protein drinks do not enhance recovery from exercise-induced muscle injury. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008;18(1):1-18.


For more information: Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook

1,240 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: carbs, recovery, protein, nancy_clark, carb_protein_ratio, commercial_sports_foods

If you endure an intense workout and want to optimize your recovery, pay attention to what you eat before you exercise. According to research presented at this year’s annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming protein before lifting weights may enhance recovery better than consuming a protein recovery drink afterwards. That’s because your body digests the pre-exercise protein into amino acids (yes, your body can digest food during exercise) and puts those amino acids into action repairing damaged muscles.


Both your pre-exercise diet as well as your recovery diet should include some protein -- but with a foundation of carbs. That’s because protein builds and heals muscles, but carbs are needed to refuel the muscles. Don’t consume just protein, as in a protein shake or protein bar. Rather, enjoy a protein-carb combination: yogurt + fruit, bagel + peanut butter, cereal + milk, chocolate milk, apple + cheese, pasta + meatballs. There are lots of yummy food combinations that do an excellent job of both repairing and refueling your body. You need not buy engineered protein to enhance recovery. Save your money and spend it instead on real foods that offer far more than health value, if not good taste.


If you like the convenience of protein shakes, at least add carbs to them. That is, blend in some banana and frozen berries, or enjoy some graham crackers along side the shake. You’ll recover better if you consume three times more carbs than protein. That’s contrary to what many well-intentioned athletes consume when they snack on pre-exercise protein bars, drink post-exercise protein shakes, and then dine on three chicken breasts for dinner. Excess protein does not turn into a bigger bicep by breakfast! Exercise builds muscle, and your muscles need carbs for fuel to do the muscle-building exercise.


For help finding the right balance for your diet, consult with a sports dietitian. The referral network at can help you find someone local.

1,247 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: carbs, recovery, protein, _diet

I talk with too many athletes who are confused about how to best recover after they exercise. Many are obsessed with rapid refueling immediately after they stop exercising. Here are a few tips to clarify the confusion.


First of all, rapid refueling is most important for athletes who will be doing a second bout of intense, depleting exercise within six hours of the first bout. You want to rapidly refuel if you are, let’s say, a triathlete who does double workouts or a soccer player in a tournament. Your muscles are most receptive to refueling within the first hour after a hard workout, so the sooner you refuel, the sooner you'll be ready to roll again.


If you have a full 24 hours to recover before your next training session, or if you are a fitness exerciser who has done an easy workout and have lower recovery needs, you need not get obsessed with refueling immediately after your workout. Over the course of the next 24 hours, your muscles will be able to replenish their depleted glycogen stores as long as you provide them with adequate carbohydrates. Never the less, having something to eat within the hour after you exercise is a wise habit to develop.


If you are a dieting athlete who wants to shed some undesired body fat, I encourage you to refuel soon after your workout because this food can help curb your appetite. This post-exercise snack can ward off the Cookie Monster that might visit in 45 minutes. As you know, a few unplanned post-exercise cookies can quickly wipe out in 3 minutes the calories burned in 30 minutes of exercise!


Keep in mind that recovery calories “count.” That is, I’ve counseled many frustrated dieters who complain they are not losing weight despite their hard workouts. They snarf down 300 or so “recovery calories” and then go home to enjoy a big dinner. To avoid over-indulging in recovery-calories, plan to back your training into a meal. For example, eat dinner soon after your 5:00 p.m. workout. Or, it that is not possible, eat part of your dinner right after the workout. For example, have a recovery bagel at 6:00 pm on your way home from the gym instead of potato with dinner at 7:30 pm.


Fuel wisely!



For more information on recovery needs:

Chapter 10: Fueling during and after exercise in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

1,344 Views 1 Comments Permalink Tags: recovery, nancy_clark, refuel, nutrition_after_exercise

Chocolate milk!!

Posted by Nancy Clark RD CSSD Aug 11, 2009

Chocolate milk is an excellent recovery choice. After a hard workout, your muscles want carbs to refuel and high quality protein to build and heal. Rather than buy an expensive engineered sports food, enjoy a tall glass of low fat chocolate milk (or any flavored milk, for that matter).

In a study with cyclists who:

--depleted their muscles during an exhaustive bike ride, and then

--refueled with equal amounts of carbs in chocolate milk or a commercial recovery drink,

--then the next day did a time trial,

the cyclists gained no performance benefits from the commercial drink.


The bottom line: Save your money—and also nourish your body with a whole food that offers far more life-sustaining nutritional value than just carbs and protein. Likely tastes better, too!



2,006 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: recovery, chocolate_milk, engineered_foods

Question: Should I use L-glutamine to reduce muscle soreness after a hard workout?

Answer: Supplementing with L-glutamine is an expensive way to get an amino acid .... you can get it in any protein-rich food. While L-glutamine might enhance recovery of patients in the hospital who have cancer, AIDS, or bowel problems and are not eating, the chances are that you, as a healthy athlete, can consume a  multitude of amino acids (not just L-glutamine) through your diet.


Certainly, the best way to enhance recovery is to fuel up before exercise with a carb-protein snack (recovery can actually start pre-exercise, so the "tools" to recover are already in your system) and then to refuel afterwards, again with some carbs + protein. The carbs provide fuel and the protein heals and builds.


Some popular pre- and/or post-exercise options include yogurt, a little cereal/milk, half a sandwich, or lowfat chocolate milk--all in portions that settles well. You really don't need to buy engineered foods. Simply pay more attention to having the right foods readily available; don't let nutrition be your missing link.


What you eat pre-exercise should last you about 60 to 90 minutes, and then you want to target about 200 to 300 calories per hour. Some athletes choose gels because they are convenient, but you need not spend your money on engineered foods. They are more about convenience than necessity. Other athletes enjoy banana, gummy candy, dried fruit, rice crispie treats, twizzlers ... and carb-based food that tastes good and settles well. Experiment to figure out what foods and fluids work best for your body. By staying well fueled, you will be able to recover more easily.


My Sports Nutrition Guidebook offers abundant information and food tips about how to best fuel before, during and after exercise, so you can get the most from your workouts.


Eat wisely and well, and enjoy less muscle soreness and better workouts.


Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics

1,882 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: carbs, recovery, protein, muscle_soreness

Muscle soreness

Posted by Nancy Clark RD CSSD Feb 1, 2009

I received an email from a new mom who is getting back into shape after having had her baby. She is now lifting weights, doing sit-ups, crunches, and some squats, and jogging on the treadmill. After her first day of exercise, she reported she felt every muscle in her body! Poor woman; I think she didn’t know the soreness would be even worse on the second day, and then recovery would set in and the muscle soreness would start to dissipate.

One trick to reducing muscle soreness is to refuel right after the workout with a carb-protein combination, such as a yogurt, glass of chocolate milk, sandwich, bowl of cereal with milk, etc. The carbs refuel and the protein helps heal.

In fact, eating a carb-protein combo before you exercise is also a good idea, because that pre-exercise snack gets digested and is ready and waiting to get used when the exercise stops.  So if plan to do a hard work out first thing in the morning, plan to grab a yogurt on your way to the gym, and then refuel with some cereal and milk when you return--hopefully within a half hour after the exercise ends. The sooner you refuel, the happier your muscles will be.


Nancy Clark MS RS CSSD

1,417 Views 2 Comments Permalink Tags: recovery, muscle_soreness

If you are doing double workouts (within 6 hours) or competing in a tournament situation, you need to rapidly refuel to get ready for the next bout of exercise.  A survey of 263 endurance athletes indicates they understand the importance of recovery after a hard workout, but they don’t know what to eat. They believe protein is the key to recovery. Wrong. Carbohydrate should really be the fundamental source of recovery fuel. Or better yet, a foundation of carbs with a little protein, such as chocolate milk.  A survey of exhausted cyclists who were given a choice of recovery drinks indicated they all enjoyed—and tolerated well—the chocolate and vanilla milks, more so than water, sports drink or watery chocolate drink. Chocolate milk is familiar, readily available—and tastes good! If you are  not lactose-intolerant, give it a try.


How long do your muscles need to recover? A study with elite soccer players suggests they needed five days for sprinting ability to return to pre-game level. That's four days longer than most athletes allow... Do not underestimate the power of rest in a recovery program.


Rremember: food is fuel. As an athlete, you shouldn't just eat,you should be sure to eat right!


Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

1,337 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: recovery, chocolate_milk

Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Nancy Clark RD CSSD

Member since: Jul 8, 2007

Hi! I specialize in nutrition for exercise, and help active people figure out how to manage food, weight, exercise, energy and enjoyment of eating. Let me know if you have any questions!

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