Nutrition for recovery is very important, obviously. But this does not mean that recovery nutrition is complicated. A proper meal (real food) will refuel, re-hydrate, and repair you.
When athletes think of refueling they should think about carbohydrates. Carbohydrate use increases as workouts become longer, more intense, or if you have multiple workouts a day. Depletion of carbohydrates and glycogen stores leads to fatigue, therefore replenishment is crucial to recovery. Athletes should consume a meal containing between 0.45 to 0.7 grams of carb per pound body weight soon after a workout. Keep fat low and the ratio of carb to protein a 4:1 ratio. For exceptionally long and hard workout athletes may need to have a second or third recovery meal, eaten every 1 to 2 hours.
The objective of re-hydration is to replace fluid loss and electrolytes. Carbohydrates from sports drinks also count for refueling (your meal will also provide you with electrolytes). Weighing yourself before and after a workout is important in determining how much to drink. For each pound of weight lost during exercise you should drink 24 oz. of water or sports drink.
Repairing muscle requires protein, but this does not mean that you should eat a 16 oz. steak – 20 to 30 grams of high quality protein is plenty. In addition, because muscle repair takes place over 24 to 48 hours it is more beneficial to consume protein throughout the day at each meal, not all at once.
In short, recovery meals should be eaten soon after a workout, have a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1, re-hydrate with 24 oz. fluids or sports drink for each pound sweat loss, eat protein throughout the day and not all at once and whole foods make great recovery meals. My favorite is 8 oz. chocolate milk with chicken pasta primavera or a protein bar with yogurt and fruit.