What Should I Eat After a Run?

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Do you need to eat something after a run, even if it's just a few miles?

The main goals of post-run fueling are to replenish glycogen (stored glucose) supplies and facilitate muscle repair and recovery. If you're doing a shorter run (under 90 minutes) at low to moderate intensity, you should be able to achieve those goals with your normal eating habits (assuming you're already following a balanced diet) and there's no need to eat specifically to recover.

But after long runs or a very intense run workout, you'll want to replenish energy as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. If you eat soon after your long run or intense workout, you can minimize muscle stiffness and soreness.

You'll want to consume primarily carbs, but don't ignore protein. A good rule of thumb for post-run food is a ratio of 1 gram of protein to 3 grams of carbs. The carbs will replace the used-up glycogen that's normally stored in your muscles and liver. The protein helps to rebuild your muscles that were broken down and damaged during your run.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a carbohydrate intake of 1.5 grams/kilogram of body weight in the first 30 minutes after prolonged and strenuous exercise and then every 2 hours for the next 4 to 6 hours.

After that, you can resume your typical, balanced diet.

What Should I Eat?

Carbs in the form of glucose are the easiest to break down and be used as fuel. So high-glycemic index foods like potatoes, pasta, bread, and rice are good choices for refueling muscles. Pair one of those foods with a protein such as lean chicken or turkey breast (3 oz.), salmon (3 oz.), or a large egg and you've got yourself a solid post-run recovery meal.

Check out these quick lunch options for some ideas.

Of course, you may not always have the time or energy to prepare a meal after a run. Nutrition bars, such as Clif bars, Kind bars, or Power bars, are convenient, healthy options. Look for bars that have the 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Other examples of quick nutrient replacement would be a bagel with peanut butter, a protein shake, a banana and yogurt, or a fruit and yogurt smoothie. (Get recipes for delicious post-run smoothies.)

If you feel like you can't stomach solid food immediately after a long run, try drinking some chocolate milk. Chocolate milk provides the right amount of protein and carbohydrates, and also contains B vitamins —- making it a great recovery drink. And cold chocolate milk tastes pretty refreshing after a run.

Rehydration is Important, Too

Don't forget to rehydrate with water or a sports drink after your run. After a long run, rehydrating with a sports drink such as Gatorade gives you the added benefit of replenishing some of that glycogen that you used during your run. If you ran less than 90 minutes, you don't need to rehydrate with a sports drink -- plain water is fine. An easy way to check if you're rehydrated is to look at your urine.

If it's dark yellow after your run, you need to keep rehydrating. It should be a light lemonade color. 

Don't Overdo It

While it's important to eat something and replenish fluids after a long run, be careful that you don't overindulge and consume way more calories than you need. It's tempting to eat everything in sight after a long run because you're thinking about the hundreds of calories that you burned. That one of the most common mistakes runners make when trying to lose weight. Consuming some protein after a run is key because it will help you curb the post-run hungries. Get more tips on how to control post-run cravings.

More on Post-Run Recovery:

 Source: Muth, Natalie, M.D. Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals, 2015

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