What Should I Eat After a Run?

There's much to be gained from a long, hard run. Depending on your goals, you can pare away extra pounds, improve the health of your heart and lungs, strengthen the muscles in your legs and butt, build the endurance to compete in a race, and boost your mood by stimulating the release of feel-good hormones and brain chemicals.

There's also a lot to be lost, at least for a short period. Intense exercise consumes glycogen—the energy source that the body stores to fuel activity. When you sweat, you lose fluid as well as minerals such as sodium and potassium. And exercise breaks down muscle cells and fibers that will need to be repaired.

All of these need to be replenished, which is why what you eat after a run matters. Following short, low-intensity runs, simply resume your regular healthy eating habits (assuming you follow a balanced diet). But after long or very intense runs or other exercise, recovery depends on replacing energy stores as quickly as possible and focusing on specific combinations of nutrients. It's also important to replace fluids lost through perspiration.

What to Drink After a Run

Be sure to rehydrate with water or a sports drink after your run. Drinking fluids should be your first priority (before food). Plain water is fine if you ran for less than 90 minutes, but after a long run, a sports drink has the added benefit of replenishing glycogen and electrolytes. Avoid sweetened beverages and too much caffeine.

To make sure you rehydrate adequately, take note of the color of your urine the next time you pee. If it's a light shade of yellow (like lemonade), you're good; a dark yellow means you need to keep drinking up.

When to Eat After a Run

Studies suggest that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. The theory is if you eat soon after a long run or intense workout, you can minimize muscle soreness. The clock starts when your cool-down ends, so aim to consume that post-run meal or snack no more than a half-hour from that time.

This doesn't have to be a big meal. Just be sure to get both carbs and protein. Then go for a bigger meal in a few hours.

If your run was shorter or less intense, quick refueling isn't necessary. You still need a healthy meal, but you can eat it within an hour or two instead of right away.

Some runners experience a bit of nausea after a long run. If you can't stomach solid food immediately after a long run, drink some cold, nonfat chocolate milk. It provides the ideal amount of protein and carbohydrates, and also contains B vitamins, making it a great recovery beverage.

What to Eat After a Run

What you eat is as important as when you eat. Aim for a combination of carbohydrates and protein. The carbs will replace the glycogen that was used up during your run. The protein helps to rebuild muscle fibers that were broken down and damaged.

Carbs replenish your energy stores. Protein rebuilds your muscles.

Protein

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, it's ideal to aim for between 0.14 to 0.23 grams of protein for every pound of your body weight. If you weigh 130 pounds, for example, then you should eat between 18.2 grams and 29.9 grams of protein after a tough workout. That could mean:

  • 3 ounces of chicken or turkey breast (21 g protein)
  • 3 ounces salmon (21 g)
  • 3 ounces lean beef (21 g)
  • 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese or nonfat Greek yogurt (14 g)
  • 2 large eggs (12 g)

Another reason to consume some protein after a run: It will be most effective at curbing post-run hunger.

Carbohydrates

A ratio of 3 to 4 grams of carbs for every gram of protein is a good target for a solid post-run recovery meal. So if you consume 20 grams of protein, pair it with 60 to 80 grams of carbs (after a long run or otherwise intense workout session). Carbs in the form of glucose are the easiest to break down and be used as fuel. But it's still not good for you to eat very sugary or sweetened foods. Instead, try nutrient-dense carbs such as:

  • 1 large sweet potato (37 g carbohydrate)
  • 1 cup cooked whole-grain pasta (40 g)
  • 1 slice whole-wheat bread (12 g)
  • 1 cup brown rice (45 g)
  • Fruit (varies)
  • Vegetables (varies)

Recovery Snack Ideas

Of course, you may not always have the time or energy to prepare a meal after a run. Carefully chosen protein bars can be convenient, healthy options. Look for bars with at least a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

Other examples of quick nutrient replacement would be a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter or almond butter; a protein shake; or a banana with plain Greek yogurt—straight up or blended into a post-run smoothie. Toss in some fresh ginger or cinnamon: both have been found to decrease post-exercise muscle soreness.

Common Mistakes

The most typical post-run mistake is thinking it's okay to overindulge after a stint of intense, calorie-torching exercise. While it is important to replenish nutrients and fluids after vigorous activity, be careful not to overindulge. While it's true you may have burned lots of calories during your run, it's not a great reason to eat more than might be healthy for you. Watch out for smoothies, because they can often be a source of too many calories and too much sugar , without enough protein. It's also a mistake to:

  • Wait too long for your post-run meal. Your body needs to refuel ASAP.
  • Overdo the protein. You may hear over and over again how important it is, but most Americans (even athletes) get plenty.
  • Drink alcohol after an intense workout. Research shows alcohol can prevent protein from doing its job of rebuilding and repairing muscles.
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