What Should I Eat After a Run?

bowl of yogurt and fruit

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 

In This Article

What you eat after a run matters. Your body has been strained and taxed and has given its all. It's essential to replenish lost nutrients and fluids, especially after a longer and more strenuous run.

Here's how to effectively refuel after a run, maximize the benefits of each run, and get ready for the next. You'll also find suggestions for the optimal foods to nosh on post-run.

Overview

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 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 in the short-term. 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. Exercise also breaks down muscle cells and fibers that will need to be repaired.

Run Intensity

Your post-run nutrition needs will vary based on the type of run you do, your fitness level, and your body's overall needs. Following a short, low-intensity run, simply resume regular healthy eating habits.

After long or very intense runs (or other types of strenuous exercise), your optimal recovery will depend on replacing energy stores as quickly as possible while focusing on replenishing specific combinations of nutrients.

What to Drink

It's also important to replace fluids lost through perspiration. Drinking fluids should be your first priority, before food. You want to rehydrate with water or a sports drink after your run.

Plain water is fine if you ran for less than 90 minutes. After a long run, however, a sports drink can provide the added benefit of replenishing glycogen and electrolytes. Just be sure to avoid overly sweetened beverages and those that are high in caffeine.

Hydration Tip

To ensure that you have rehydrated adequately, take note of the color of your urine. If it's a light shade of yellow (like lemonade), you're good. Dark yellow urine, on the other hand, is a sign that you need to drink more.

It's recommended that you drink before, during, and after exercising. The guidelines for daily water consumption are around 3.7 liters (125 ounces) for men and 2.7 liters (91 ounces) for women.

Keep in mind that the more you exercise, the more you'll need to drink to replenish the fluid you lose.

When to Eat After a Run

It's ideal to eat soon after you end your run—particularly if it was an intense one. The theory is that eating sooner can minimize muscle soreness. Studies suggest that muscles are the most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise.

The clock starts when your cool-down ends. Aim to consume a post-run meal or snack no more than a half-hour after you finish a long or especially intense run.

You don't have to have a big meal. A snack is fine as long as it contains carbs and protein. You can have 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 nausea after a long run. If you can't stomach solid food right away, try to drink some cold, nonfat chocolate milk. This will provide the ideal amount of protein and carbs, plus B vitamins (making it a great recovery beverage).

What to Eat After a Run

What you eat is as important as when you eat it. You want to aim for a healthy combination of carbohydrates and protein.

Make sure your post-run meal has carbs to replenish your energy stores and protein to rebuild your muscles.

Protein

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, you want to aim to eat between 0.14 to 0.23 grams of protein for every pound of your body weight.

For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, you'd need between 18.2 grams and 29.9 grams of protein after a tough workout. Here's an example of what that might look like:

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

Consuming protein after your workout will also help curb post-run hunger.

Carbohydrates

A ratio of 3 to 4 grams of carbohydrate for every gram of protein is a good target for a solid post-run recovery meal.

For example, pair 10 grams of protein with 30 to 40 grams of carbs. For longer runs or a more intense workout (like sprints or running hills), you might need 20 grams of protein with 60 to 80 grams of carbs.

Carbs in the form of glucose are the easiest to break down and use as fuel. That said, it's not ideal to eat sugary or sweetened foods. Look for nutrient-dense carbs such as:

  • 1 large sweet potato (37g carbohydrate)
  • 1 cup cooked whole-grain pasta (40g carbohydrate)
  • 1 slice whole-wheat bread (12g carbohydrate)
  • 1 cup brown rice (45g carbohydrate)
  • A serving of fruit and/or vegetables (carb counts will vary depending on type and size)

Recovery Snack Ideas

You may not always have the time or energy to prepare a meal after a run. In these cases, carefully chosen protein bars can be a convenient, healthy alternative. Look for bars with at least a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

Other examples of quick nutrient replacement include:

  • 1/2 a bagel with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • One banana with plain Greek yogurt (straight up or blended)
  • Protein shake
  • Post-run smoothie with fresh ginger or cinnamon (both have been found to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness).

Common Mistakes

The most common post-run mistake is overindulging after a stint of intense, calorie-torching exercise. While you do need to replenish nutrients and fluids after vigorous activity, you don't want to overdo it.

If you aren't mindful of the ingredients and portions, certain "healthy" post-run fuel like smoothies can become a source of excess calories and sugar (and often without enough protein).

Other mistakes to avoid include:

  • Drinking alcohol after an intense workout. Research shows alcohol can prevent protein from doing its job of rebuilding and repairing muscles.
  • Overdoing it on protein. Most Americans (even athletes) get plenty of protein in their diet and don't need to supplement. While you do need protein after a hard workout, there are also dangers of having too much.
  • Waiting too long for your post-run meal. Remember that your body needs to refuel as soon as possible after your run ends.

A Word From Verywell

Refueling adequately after a run is important and doesn't have to be complicated. It can help to think of post-run refueling as being the final part of your workout. Make sure to drink enough to replenish fluids and have a quick snack or meal (with a healthy balance of carbs and protein) within 30 minutes of ending your cool down. This will maximize your recovery and help your body reap all the benefits of a hard workout.

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Article Sources
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