Every run is a good run. Whether it’s marathon training, light jogging or sprinting, the health benefits of a higher gear are enormous. So what’s the best way to optimize it? Most people shut down their diet before running – especially what they will eat before a run or competition. This is important, of course, but what you eat after a run is just as important for recovery. The average routine after a run is usually like this: stumble through the door, sweat a bit, sit down, shower. What is missing here is the refueling phase. You have to regain what you drained.
Depending on your goals – i.e., training for a marathon or just more regular weekly mileage – your post-run diet should aim to refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate to aid the recovery process and maximize the training effect. The focus of your post-run diet should be on replenishing glycogen (stored energy), repairing the damage done to your muscles, and replacing lost nutrients and minerals like electrolytes.
Here are three guidelines to follow when figuring out what to eat after a run:
- Focus on complex carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores in your liver and muscles: The recommended amount is 0.5-0.7 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight within 30 minutes after training – for glycogen resynthesis.
- Replace electrolytes, minerals, and water that you’ve lost through sweat: Hydration is key as your body and muscles are mostly made up of water. Even a 2 percent weight loss through sweat can lead to decreased performance and cognitive decline. Although the sweat rate and the concentration of sodium in sweat are very individual, you should add some sodium and chloride as these are the two most important electrolytes that are lost in sweat. Also take into account plenty of water. Approximately 16 fluid ounces of H2O per pound will be lost during your run.
- Build and Repair Your Muscles Damaged During Your Run: Adding some protein to your diet after your run has been shown to help the muscles absorb carbohydrates. Aim for 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Look for a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 3: 1 or 4: 1 within 30 minutes. Don’t wait more than two hours to get back to eating.
The best foods to eat after a kickstart recovery run
1. Chocolate milk
Chocolate milk takes the top spot here because it happens to be the perfect post-run drink. It’s packed with high quality protein and those fast-digesting carbohydrates for muscle regeneration and glycogen synthesis. Low-fat chocolate milk already has a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4: 1 and is probably the most researched post-workout recovery option on this list for superior workout recovery benefits. Lactose intolerant? Become lactose-free and still benefit from all the advantages.
2. Greek yogurt with berries and honey
Greek yogurt is superior to traditional yogurt in that it contains much more protein – one cup provides 15 grams of protein compared to about 5 grams for the same amount of regular yogurt. Top this with mixed berries and honey for some fast-digesting carbohydrates and antioxidants for muscle recovery.
3. Eggs and toast
Each egg contains around 6-7 grams of high quality protein. Boil two or three of these in a few minutes, place them on a couple of slices of whole grain bread for high quality carbohydrates – and do the math. You are done.
4. Avocado toast with poached eggs
Start with a high-protein whole grain bread option like Dave’s Killer Bread, then mash some avocados with salt and pepper for healthy fats and some sodium and chloride for electrolytes. Top with a few poached eggs (fried or scrambled eggs is fine) for your protein.
5. Salmon, sweet potatoes, and asparagus
In addition to being a great source of protein, salmon offers post-exercise recovery benefits as it is high in healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Combine your fish with sweet potatoes or brown rice to add some carbohydrates. Add asparagus or broccoli to top off a full post-run meal.
6. Tuna and whole grain crackers
Tuna is handy to eat anywhere after your run. I especially love these extra portable tuna bags. Tear it open and your simple 24-25 gram protein snack is ready. Combine it with some whole grain crackers for high quality carbohydrates.
7. Cottage cheese with pineapple
Cottage cheese is a great source of protein, providing both whey protein (more digestible) and casein protein (slower). One cup of cottage cheese provides 28 grams of protein – plus its sodium content helps replenish lost electrolytes. Add in a favorite fruit (I’ll use pineapple) for an extra easy carb boost.
8. English muffin or bagel with nut butter and banana
Choose a whole grain English muffin or gel for an easily digestible, high quality source of carbohydrates with some healthy fiber. Top it off with nut butter (see Nooty protein-rich nut spreads), a sliced banana, and a dash of honey.
9. Protein oatmeal with blueberries and peanut butter
Oatmeal is a high quality source of carbohydrates and is rich in a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which is beneficial for digestion and intestinal health. Prepare your oats with milk and add ½ to 1 scoop of your favorite whey protein powder. Top with blueberries and blackberries, which provide powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids that aid regeneration. Top it off with peanut butter for healthy fat.
10. DIY protein shake
Protein shakes have long been the staple food for regeneration after exercise – especially for building muscle. It’s also the perfect elixir for post-run recovery. Get creative with your shakes. There are tons of protein options (whey, plant-based, nut butters, Greek yogurt, etc.) and the fruit choices (bananas, berries, pineapples, mangoes, etc.) are also diverse. Adding extra nutrients like spinach, kale, or avocados will earn you extra points. Here is my perfect smoothie recipe for post-run regeneration:
Berry Have a good rest
Put all ingredients except protein powder in the blender and blend on low. Then protein powder and mix again until a smooth consistency is achieved.
- 292 calories
- 34g of carbohydrates
- 25g protein
- 7g fat
Jordan Mazur, MS, RD, is the nutrition director for the San Francisco 49ers
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