In different online running groups, I often see the question, “What should I eat before a run?” And that’s a great question. But one that’s just as important (if not more so) to ask ourselves is, “What should I eat after a run?”
Eating within a certain time frame following a longer run or workout (I’m talking about a workout of at least 45-60 minutes, depending on your fitness level) can pay dividends when it comes to recovery and being prepared for future workouts.
But just how soon after a run should you eat something and what exactly should you be eating?
More great questions! Let’s unpack that a little more.
Why should I eat after a run?
Many experts agree that there are actually two optimal fueling windows following a longer run or effort. The first, and probably most critical, fueling window is within 45 minutes after the workout, and the second window is somewhere between one to three hours afterward.
Professional triathlete Brendan Brazier notes in his book THRIVE: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, “What is consumed after the workout is vital for cellular reconstruction.”
When you break down muscle tissue, which inevitably happens as you run or workout, that tissue needs reconstruction at a cellular level to repair and rebuild itself. Consuming “the right nutritional building blocks after the workout is the basis for a stronger, more vibrant, biologically younger body,” according to Brazier.
So what does all that mean? Basically, if you take in the recommended nutritional building blocks (macronutrients) after a prolonged run, you help your body to heal and “get better” faster.
More specifically, optimal recovery fueling helps to
- Replenish depleted muscle glycogen stores (with carbs)
- Repair muscle tissue (with protein)
- Reduce inflammation
Now, please keep in mind that I am not a nutritionist or dietician. There certainly is much more that could be said on this subject, especially if you have specific performance or weight-related goals. However, the concept of eating after a longer workout is not a new one. Multiple studies have shown various benefits from eating shortly after a prolonged workout.
These benefits include but are not limited to
- faster recovery times
- improved performance in subsequent workouts
- gains in aerobic capacity and muscle (with a decrease in body fat)
What should I eat after a run?
While experts don’t completely agree on the exact numbers, they do recommend a ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Depending on who you ask, that ratio ranges from 3:1 (carbs to protein) to 5:1 within the first fueling window.
But if you aren’t training at an elite or professional level, don’t stress too much about this. Just do your best to take in mostly healthy carbs, with a smaller amount of healthy protein after your longer runs or workouts.
Just because it’s low in this ratio, don’t think protein is bad. It actually produces amino acids and hormones that help to build muscles. But too much of it here slows the absorption rate of the carbs, which your body needs to replenish muscle glycogen stores.
Aim to consume around 100 to 300 calories using the recommended carb to protein ratio.
During the second fueling window, you can add in more protein, as well as healthy fats. This second snack (or meal) should be at least 150 calories.
To make this more practical, here are a few healthy, plant-based food combinations you can try that fit within the above recommended ratios and caloric requirements.
5 Plant-based recovery food combinations
- Recovery smoothie
- Come up with your own recipe or try my Chocolate Covered Cherry Recovery Smoothie
- Green smoothie (This is lower on the protein, but I love to make a blender full of greens with frozen pineapple, an apple, a lemon, a lime, a stalk of celery, and a handful of ground flaxseed blended with water. You could consume it alongside a handful of nuts to up the protein content.)
- Banana or apple with 2 tbsp natural peanut or almond butter
- Dried tart cherries (¼ cup) with large handful almonds (about 24 almonds)
- Hummus (¼ cup) with whole wheat pita bread
- Larabar (the following varieties fit the 4:1 ratio)
OR you can make your own! This recipe is a little higher on the protein, but you can always have some kind of fruit on the side (or a Green Smoothie 😉☝🏻) to raise the ratio of carbs to protein.
Add ½ cup natural peanut butter, 1 cup dates, and to food processor. Combine until sticky clump starts to form. If too crumbly, add another date or a few drops of water until mixture starts to come together. Squeeze together with hands, forming a large ball. Roll out on parchment paper (I like to bang/smack it with my hands to flatten) and cut into 8 equal portions. Wrap individually and store in fridge for a quick grab and go snack after a run (or anytime).
I hope, after reading this, you have a better understanding of what to eat and why it’s important following a prolonged workout or run.
By consuming the right nutrients at the right times, you have the ability to mitigate some of the repeated stress you place on your body run after run. Not doing so is a recipe for a slower recovery, increased fatigue and potential injuries. And who wants that?!
So next time you run or workout for an extended period of time, plan ahead and have a snack ready for when you finish.