Most runners know the importance of refueling after a tough workout. They may have even heard a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrates to protein is optimal to repair muscle damage. However, runners may not know which foods are the best choice to fuel their recovery.
After a tough run, there isn’t much time to waste before eating. Runners only have an hour to get nutrients to their muscles for maximum benefit.
“The 30–60 minute window of time right after a run is when our muscles are primed to take in nutrients like glycogen (to help refill stores) and protein (to help rebuild broken down muscle fibers),” says Kelly Hogan, MS, a New York City-based dietitian.
If runners miss out on refueling within that time frame, they may feel fatigued, lightheaded and unusually sore. The delay in recovery can affect your next run — and even the run after that.
Not every run requires a vigilant refueling strategy, though. While it’s important to have a small snack to recover from any run, even short recovery miles, it becomes absolutely crucial to eat right after a long run, workout or race.
“The more time you’re out there running or the harder the workout, the more important a post-run snack is simply because of the additional stress the body has gone through and glycogen stores that have been depleted,” says Hogan.
Post-run snacks do not have to be a gourmet feast that takes a long time to put together. Given that you only have 30–60 minutes to properly refuel for recovery, it’s best to have something quick and easy waiting at home.
For no-cook solutions, Hogan recommends Greek yogurt with fruit and honey, dates with nut butter and sea salt or simply a banana with peanut butter.
If you have more time to prepare something, whip up a smoothie with frozen berries, Greek yogurt, a banana and frozen greens. You can also toast a piece of whole-grain bread and top it with your nut butter of choice.
If you can stomach a more substantial meal, Hogan suggests a whole-wheat wrap with eggs or turkey and veggies. Or you can try every runner’s favorite meal: avocado toast topped with an egg.
Many runners have trouble eating or digesting food after they finish hard workouts. However it is still crucial to take in some form of carbohydrates and protein to aid recovery.
“Something simple and drinkable like a homemade fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt, some peanut butter or chocolate milk can work well,” says Hogan.
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If you’re very short on time or away from home, store bought options can give you a recovery boost after a workout. While any energy bar is better than nothing, Hogan has a few favorites she recommends to runners.
“I like Lara bars, Rx Bars or Picky bars because they have a decent amount of carbohydrates and protein to help with recovery and are super tasty, but simple without any added junk,” she shares.
Runners can also stash bags of nuts, dried fruit or trail mix in their gym bag or car. Hogan also recommends keeping apples or bananas handy and pairing them with single-serve nut butter packets.
Refueling is important, but it certainly isn’t complicated. Do your muscles a favor and have these snacks ready after your next hard run. It will make your training stronger and your recovery that much faster.