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 at extra pounds, improve the health of your heart and lungs, strengthen the muscles in your legs and gluteal (butt) muscles, build the endurance to compete in a race (if that's a goal you have), 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 eats away at 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 things need to be replenished. After short, low-intensity runs you can achieve this simply by resuming your regular healthy eating habits—assuming you follow a balanced diet. But after long or very intense runs (or other types of physical activity), recovery will depend on replacing energy stores as quickly as possible and to focus on specific combinations of nutrients. It's also important to replace fluids lost through perspiration. Read on for more specifics about what you should eat after a long or intense run, how much, and when.

Timing Your Recovery Meal

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.

Carbs and Protein

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.

There are no hard and fast rules about how much of each nutrient is ideal for a post-exercise meal, although some general guidelines do exist. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, for example, 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.

Another reason to consume some protein after a run: It will be most effective at curbing post-run hunger. But experts and other sources feel it's more important to pay attention to how much food you feel your body needs after exercise and to eat accordingly. Do, however, make healthy choices.

Carbs in the form of glucose are the easiest to break down and be used as fuel. You can certainly choose high-glycemic index foods like sweet potatoes, whole-grain pasta or bread, and rice, but fresh fruit or veggies would be a healthier choice. Pair one of those foods with protein—3 ounces of chicken or turkey breast, salmon, or a large egg and you've got yourself a solid post-run recovery meal.

Quick Recovery Snacks

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 a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

Other examples of quick nutrient replacement would be a bagel with peanut butter or almond butter, a protein shake, and a piece of fruit, such as a banana and plain Greek yogurt—straight up or blended into a post-run smoothie. Toss some fresh ginger or cinnamon: Both have been found to decrease post-exercise muscle soreness.

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 chocolate milk. Besides being refreshing, chocolate milk provides the ideal amount of protein and carbohydrates, and also contains B vitamins, making it a great recovery beverage.

Rehydration for Recovery

Be sure to rehydrate with water or a sports drink after your run. Plain water is fine if you ran for less than 90 minutes, but after a super long run, a sports drink has the added benefit of replenishing glycogen.

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.

Don't Overdo It

Thinking that it's OK to overindulge after a stint of intense, calorie-torching exercise is a common mistake. But while it is important to replenish nutrients and fluids after vigorous activity, be careful that you don't 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, even if you happen to be trying to put on a few pounds.

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