A long run can take its toll on your body and so can any kind of strenuous running routine. While you’re probably fuelling up well before a run, it is easy to forget about what happens after. Loss of salt and minerals such as potassium and sodium, glycogen store depletion, dehydration and fatigue, and even micro damage to muscles, as they become sore from all the pounding on the ground, will leave your body in need of some TLC after a run.1 And your choice of meals – both food and drink – play a big role in post-run recovery. Also, having a delicious but healthy post-run meal plan can serve as added motivation to keep fit!
What Does The Body Need After A Run?
Considering the stress your body experiences during a run, giving it the appropriate nourishment afterward is important for quick recovery. Here is what you should aim to consume after a run.
Carbohydrates: After a run or any form of exercise, your body eats into its energy or glycogen stores. Researchers suggest having carbohydrates in your recovery meal within about 30 minutes of completing a run. This can stimulate muscle glycogen resynthesis. Try and have foods that are easily digestible like fruit or vegetables which can bring blood sugar levels back to normal while also providing you with nourishment, antioxidants, and minerals.2
Protein: Having protein after a run is important if you hope to keep your muscles in good working order and to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. It is also optimal to have this recovery meal soon after you finish a run and not several hours later. Plus, combining protein intake with carbs is said to enhance your body’s ability to replenish glycogen and synthesize protein.The exact amount is something you will need to work out based on your body type, your weight, and the intensity of your runs. A rule of thumb that works for most people is to have 0.14 to 0.23 gm of protein for every pound of your body weight.3
Electrolytes And Fluids: Sports drinks are a popular choice among runners because they achieve the twin goal of hydrating you while also replenishing salts lost through sweat.4 However, you could also whip up fresh homemade juices and smoothies that give you a combination of minerals and fluids.
Best Recovery Foods To Eat After Running
Now that you know the kind of foods you should be eating after a run, here’s a look at some of the best foods you can pick from. You will need to choose how much of them to have and in what ratios depending on how intense your training session or run has been. For instance, after a marathon or a very intense run, you should rehydrate and get in a quick carb-boosting snack immediately. Follow it up with a proper meal a little later. For less intense running, you could focus on replenishing water and electrolytes first and leave the heavier eating to an hour or two later if need be.
1. Fresh Fruit
Not only does a fruit like banana make a great recovery food because of how easy it is to digest, but it also helps replenish potassium to keep the electrolyte balance after a sweaty run.5 Have oranges and you will benefit from the vitamin C in them – it can fight muscle damage and the oxidative stress your body experiences after a run.6 You can have fruits whole or try out some of these easy snack ideas.
- Fruit smoothies made from bananas or mangoes, combined with low-fat yogurt or skimmed milk
- Fresh fruit juice
- Fruit salad made with a handful of berries combined with mangoes or bananas
- Fruit with nuts or seeds scattered over
- Yogurt with fresh berries
- Cherry juice to fight post-run pain7
2. Chocolate Milk
Chocolate milk earns itself a special place on the list of recovery foods not just for its deliciousness but also because research indicates it does its job very well. A recovery food that is easy to carry to a gym or outdoors, chocolate milk is the perfect mix of carbs with protein. It will help your muscles recover and restore energy. Not to mention a little chocolate can be the perfect mood upper for a lot of people!8
Just be sure it is made from skimmed milk and doesn’t have too much sugar in it. You could amp up the drink with bananas if you’ve had an especially strenuous run.
3. Low-Fat Yogurt
Yogurt can be a versatile post-workout snack that has lots of the protein you seek. Add in some granola for a twist. The oats taste delicious and are also a good source of fiber to help keep up immunity in general. After a workout, the oats can also be that all-important carbohydrate source to restore energy levels and replenish glycogen stores. If you prefer your yogurt savory, just get plain low-fat Greek yogurt.9
Yogurt and honey is another great combo. Honey is a great natural sweetener that has a lot of goodness. It also gives you the instant energy hit you need after a tiring run. Yogurt and berries is another sensible (and yummy!) choice. By adding berries to your yogurt, you will get the antioxidants needed to counter the oxidative stress to muscles from the run.
4. Nut Butter
Nut butters are a good alternative to old-fashioned, cholesterol-laden butter. They taste great too! Have some almond nut butter that can give you vitamin E to combat muscle damage and oxidative stress after running.10 Try one of these combinations:
- Bananas and nut butter
- Nut butter on wholegrain toast
- Nut butter on crackers
- Apples with nut butter
- Creamy smoothie with almond butter, yogurt, and bananas
- Walnut, almond butter, oats, banana and honey or maple syrup recovery bars
5. Chicken Or Turkey
Lean proteins like chicken or turkey are a good way to have your protein after a run.11 Just be sure to cook them with less fat – ideally with healthy fats like olive oil. Steaming, poaching, or roasting the breast meat without the skin will keep the calorie intake down if you’re also weight watching or calorie counting.
The American Council on Exercise suggests slices of turkey breast in its exercise recovery snack ideas. Here are some more options you could try:
- Sliced chicken/turkey breast with mixed greens and a vinaigrette
- Sliced chicken/turkey breast with hummus
- Sliced chicken/turkey breast with avocado on wholegrain toast
6. Tuna Or Salmon
Fatty fish like tuna and salmon are good for main meals for runners because of their inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acid content. But they can work in smaller portions for post-run recovery snacks too. Research has found that because of their effect on the body’s inflammatory response, such fish can minimize the muscle soreness and pain you experience after exercise. Have them after a run or any kind of strength training that you do.12 Explore these combinations:
- Tuna on wholewheat bread/toast
- Mediterranean-style salmon couscous salad with red peppers, olives, cherry tomatoes, and lime vinaigrette
- Salmon, avocado, grapefruit salad with flaked almonds and lime vinaigrette
- Tuna with hummus, mustard, celery, and lettuce
- Tuna and wholewheat pasta with vegetables like green beans and onions for some flavor
What To Eat Depending On Run Intensity
Adapt what you’re eating based on whether you had a very intense, long, normal, or moderate-paced run. Regardless of whether your run was intense or not, do have proteins, antioxidant-rich foods, and anti-inflammatory foods that can repair muscle damage. The quantity of carbs you consume is what changes most.
Not Everyone Needs A Ton Of Carbs
Don’t use a blanket rule of loading up on carbs just because you’ve been running. Not every workout or training session need the same amount of calories or even the same mix. For instance, medium distance runners who cover anywhere from 0.8 km to 5 km a day in 1.5 to 30 minutes will take several days to burn through all their body’s energy stores or carbs unless they do such distances back to back.13 Aim at 1 to 1.5 gm of carbs per kg of body weight to replenish glycogen stores.14
If, however, you didn’t train as long or as hard, let your body burn some fat for energy and don’t take in as high an amount of carbs in your recovery meal.15
For a high-intensity session of running or exercise to train for a run, you should replenish your glycogen and carbs as soon as you can after the run. Go by what the American Council on Exercise suggests and have a healthy snack within 30 minutes of your run if you have been running at moderate to high intensity for more than 90 minutes.16
High Or Low GI
If you are aiming at weight loss or controlling your weight, it is also important that the carbohydrates you have come mainly from low glycemic index foods instead of higher glycemic index foods.17 That said, if you have run a very intense run, you may need to resort to high glycemic foods for instant energy. Also, these carbs are best had at mealtime. Time your runs so that recovery lines up with a regular meal, negating the need for an extra snack.18
|↑1||The body’s marathon effort. BBC Sport.|
|↑2, ↑3||Kerksick, Chad, Travis Harvey, Jeff Stout, Bill Campbell, Colin Wilborn, Richard Kreider, Doug Kalman et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 5, no. 1 (2008): 17.|
|↑4||Sawka, Michael N., Louise M. Burke, E. Randy Eichner, Ronald J. Maughan, Scott J. Montain, and Nina S. Stachenfeld. “American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 39, no. 2 (2007): 377-390.|
|↑5||Bananas, raw. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.|
|↑6, ↑10||Taghiyar, Maryam, Leila Darvishi, Gholamrez Askari, Awat Feizi, Mitra Hariri, Nafiseh Shokri Mashhadi, and Reza Ghiasvand. “The effect of vitamin C and e supplementation on muscle damage and oxidative stress in female athletes: a clinical trial.” International journal of preventive medicine 4, no. Suppl 1 (2013): S16.|
|↑7||Kuehl, Kerry S., Erica T. Perrier, Diane L. Elliot, and James C. Chesnutt. “Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 7, no. 1 (2010): 17.|
|↑8||Drink of Champions–Chocolate Milk?. Indiana University.|
|↑9, ↑14, ↑16||7 Smart Post-Workout Snacks and How to Know When You Really Need One. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑11||Food and drinks for sport. National Health Service.|
|↑12||Jouris, Kelly B., Jennifer L. McDaniel, and Edward P. Weiss. “The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise.” Journal of sports science & medicine 10, no. 3 (2011): 432.|
|↑13||Middle Distance Running. Sports Dieticians Australia.|
|↑15, ↑17, ↑18||How to recover after your run. BBC Good Food.|