What you eat after a run is essential to maximizing workout gains and preparing for tomorrow's training. Here is what you need to know about what to eat after a run:
- Eat within 30 minutes of running
- Adequate protein to rebuild muscles
- Complex carbohydrates to replenish glycogen reserves
- Hydrate and restore electrolytes
What you eat after a run is about more than satisfying hunger. By choosing intelligently, you can restore muscles, replenish energy, and reduce muscle inflammation.
30-minute Magic Window
Let's talk about when to eat after a run before diving into what to eat after a run. There is a magic 30-minute window after a run where your cells are on high alert to re-build muscles, replenish energy stores, and rehydrate. You can maximize post-run gains and recovery by timing your protein, carbohydrate, and fluid intake within this magic window.
Protein: Re-build Muscles
Running breaks down muscles. Protein is critical for rebuilding muscles. Protein contains amino acids, which are the body's building blocks. Muscles use these amino acids to repair themselves after exercise and growing stronger in the process. A post-running intake of 0.2-0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is ideal for muscle recovery. For a 150-pound runner, this would be about 34 grams of protein.
Carbohydrates: Replenish Energy Stores
Running depletes glycogen in your muscles and from the long-term reserve in your liver. You want to replenish this glycogen to fuel future workouts. Your body synthesizes glycogen from the glucose of carbohydrates. After running, eat complex carbohydrates such as the ones found in grains, oatmeal, and pasta and avoid simple carbohydrates in soda and candy. The latter will make you feel good at first but will lead to a massive insulin spike followed by a low-energy, sleepy sugar crash.
How many carbohydrates should you eat? Stick to a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Set your protein intake first, and then adjust your carbs.
Water & Electrolytes: Rehydrate
Water is essential to almost every process in the body, especially sweating. Sweating keeps you cool when running but at the expense of water reserves. Sweating also depletes valuable electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.
You need to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes after you run. If you are dehydrated, you cannot sweat to prevent overheating. Without electrolytes, your muscles will cramp and misfire.
Start by drinking a glass of water after you run to jump-start rehydration. Continue to sip on water throughout the day. You also want to replenish electrolytes. Sports drinks are a great source of water and electrolytes during a workout. But Post-run, stick to the zero or low-calorie options because you don't need the simple sugars in sports drinks when you're not exercising. You can also get electrolytes from what you eat after a run. We'll cover in more depth below, but salty foods and added salt to meals will help replenish electrolytes.
Antioxidants: Reduce Inflammation
Running produces free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules with a lone electron pair that will attack other molecules to steal electrons. Inflammation, especially in the muscles, is the casualty of this molecular war. You can't stop creating free radicals, but you can control your intake of antioxidants to neutralize free radicals.
Antioxidants are molecules that can neutralize free radicals by donating an electron without becoming free radicals themselves. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are two powerful antioxidants in the body, which have long given rise to their immunity and health benefits. For instance, when you hear about the powerful antioxidant benefits of Pomegranate Juice, what they are touting is the fruit's high concentration of Vitamin C.
Post-run, you want to eat fruits and vegetables with antioxidants --- fruits such as berries, grapes, and melons and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, carrots
Lastly, Eat What You Burn to Maintain Weight
It's a simple concept. If you want to maintain weight, replenish calories after a run that offset what you expended during the run. You burn roughly 100 calories per mile of running. To keep your current weight, balance your calorie intake after a run with calorie expenditure. If you are trying to lose weight, first set a reasonable target of 1 to 2 pounds per week. It takes about 3,500 calories to burn an excess pound of fat, which works out to 500 calories per day. Don't skip eating after running if you want to lose weight because you still want to re-build muscles, reduce inflammation, and replenish energy stores. Instead, experiment with eating 50 to 75% of what you burned on the run.
Sample Meal Plans: Eating After a Run
Here are few sample foods to eat after a run that follow the above principles. Experiment on your own to see what works best for you. If you stick with the protein, carbohydrate, electrolyte, and antioxidant principles espoused above, you'll be on your way to maximizing workout gains.
Greek Yogurt with Berries (Snack)
Greek yogurt has 2x protein of normal yogurt. Combined with berries, you have a post-run snack packed with protein, carbs, and antioxidants.
Bagel with Peanut/Nut Butter and Bananas (Quick Prep)
This is the perfect food if you are rushed for the time after a run. Nut butter ads protein to the carb-heavy bagel. Top the bagel with bananas to add texture, antioxidants, and electrolytes to the post-run meal.
Grilled Chicken and Roasted Vegetables (Meal)
This is one of the best meals post-run if you have time to prepare or if you have prepared the food the night before. Grilled chicken is a filling, tasty protein. Roasted vegetables will add fullness, antioxidants, and electrolytes. Broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower are great roasted vegetables readily accessible in the grocery store, even in frozen, steam-able bags.
Best wishes on chasing your running goals!
PEREGRUNE Founder & Chief Vitamin Engineer
PEREGRUNE engineers vitamins and supplements exclusively to improve the performance, health, and recovery of runners.
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 Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J., Ivy, J. L., & Antonio, J. (2008). International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 5:17.