Carbohydrate and Sodium Intake for Proper Recovery

This  month my IOC program has focused on proper carbohydrate and sodium refueling, alcohol consumption and exercise and the benefits and negatives of low carbohydrate training. March has been a very informative month, and I need to catch up on my blogging, I’ve been behind. Today I’ll focus on proper carb and electrolyte refueling.

As you all know, carbohydrates are what gives us energy to train, race, and just live day to day. While exercising, we must take in carbs so we don’t become depleted and bonk mid training or race. Today isn’t about during training, it’s about proper refueling of carbs post exercise. So, logically, we burn carbs, we need to take them back in. Let me add here though, that this isn’t for exercise lasting 60min or less. This is for longer, or more intense shorter exercise. 2-3hours +, unless your 60-90min training or racing session is very intense.

Also, while training and racing, we are sweating, and losing electrolytes. Each of us has a different amount of electrolytes in our sweat, so not one amount works for all athletes. Like carbs though, we must replenish our bodies with electrolytes. The two main electrolytes lost in sweat are sodium and potassium

Carbohydrate Factors: There are many different factors to how much glycogen we consume, and conversely, how much glycogen we can store.

  • Degree of depletion- how much carb we took in during exercise and the type of carb will dictate how much carb we can replace and store.
  • Muscle damage done during exercise
  • Gender
  • Co-ingestion of other nutrients

Sodium Factors: There are recommendations in place for how much sodium athletes take in during exercise.The range for endurance athletes is 400-800mg/hr of sodium. Depending on how much sodium you are taking in during exercise, you may need higher amounts to rehydrate and bring yourself back to fluid balance.


  • Post exercise, you want to replenish your glycogen stores with 1-2g/kg. Lets say you weigh 150lbs=68kg. So, you would need to take in at least 68g of carb.
  • You are dehydrated when you have lost 2% of your body weight. Let’s take the 150lb athlete again. After exercise, they’ve lost 4 lbs. 2% of 150 is 3 lbs. So, anything over 3 lbs = dehydration. For every pound over 2%, you need to rehydrate 16-20oz per pound. Sodium intakes should match, or be greater than in sweat lost. So, if you are normally taking in 400mg/hour, try 600mg post.


  • The first two hours are the most important times for our bodies to be replenished. However, as long as you are eating healthy for the 24 hours proceeding exercise, you should be able to replenish both carbs and electrolytes
  • Nibbling instead of eating a large meal might work better for you and your situation. There was no difference seen in glycogen storage between dibbling and eating a large meal.
  • When consuming sports drink or other drinks for re-hydration, sipping a drink over 3-6 hours can often be better than guzzling 32oz in the first 30min. More research is needed at this point though.
  • The sooner you are to exercise or race again, the more important and shorter the recovery window. Anything less than 8 hours is deemed a short recovery window. Eat and drink quickly here!


  • High glycemic index foods have more availability of glucose, and could produce a higher rate of glycogen synthesis. But, focus on what you have available, what you like and make sure you eat enough.
  • To replenish sodium/potassium, commercially available sports drinks can often provide an adequate amount. There are some sports drink that provide more electrolytes than others.
  • Other drinks that have been commonly consumed are milk (low fat) and coconut water.
  • Since our goal is to provide carbohydrate and electrolyte replenishment post exercise, having a drink that provides carbohydrates, plus electrolytes can be key. In addition, adding carbs to a drink will slow the rate of gastric emptying, arrive at the intestines more slowly and slow the plasma volume recovery and not cause a decrease in sodium volume.
  • Lastly, if drinking water is your best option, then you can take in carbs plus electrolytes by eating a full meal. This can be achieved by taking in water in the same amount of a sports drink (16-20oz per lb lost) and eating a meal higher in electrolytes. Think things like soups or chili. Or, add an electrolyte tablet to your plain water as well.


  • Generally, males and females store muscle glycogen very similarly. The only difference is seen during a females menstrual cycle. Even then, it’s very slight.
  • Both males and females can be heavy sweaters, or be lighter sweaters. Figure out your sweat rate and how much you’ve lost during exercise, then go from there.

Alcohol and Misc:

  • As you can imagine, there are ethics guidelines to performing studies with athletes and alcohol. The generally accepted amount (for this study at least) was 12 drinks in an 8 hour period. What it showed was:
  1. There was a high rate of variability in the effect of alcohol
  2. Drinking alcohol can impair the storage of carbohydrate, but as long as you are consuming the proper carbohydrates in a 24 hour period, you will be able to catch up on your glycogen storage
  3. The best guideline for drinking alcohol after exercise is, to refuel first, then consume your alcoholic beverage.
  • There were some studies done looking at things that promoted better glycogen storage. Some are impractical, others, more realistic, depending on your sport.
  1. High doses of caffeine
  2. Prior creatine loading
  3. High molecular weight glucose polymers
  4. Protein- when not consuming enough carbs (1g/kg), taking in protein can enhance glycogen storage by stimulating insulin

A few weeks ago I spoke on the importance of protein/Lucine post exercise. In addition to 20-25g of protein, take in 1g/kg of carbohydrates in the hours post exercise (2 hours or less). In addition, consume enough fluid with electrolytes to replenish what was lost in your sweat.

Here’s to happy and fast recovering!




  • By Faith - on

    Thanks Cristina. I appreciate this info. I use a product called Recoverite after my long sessions. It seems to work well for me. I usually will take two servings unless I am going to eat within 30 minutes or so.

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