Eating after a run is essential to kickstarting the growth and repair process. But what you eat is arguably even more important. Here are a few options that you might want to include as part of your post-workout routine. And a few suggestions from some of our top athletes too. But first…
Carbs or protein?
Ideally both. Protein is very popular these days. But after a run it’s important to get a good mixture of carbohydrates and protein to help you recover properly. Your body mainly uses carbohydrates (stored as glycogen) to fuel high intensity exercise and because we can only store a limited amount at any one time, it’s vital that you restock afterwards.
Protein is just as critical as it provides the body with amino acids to rebuild muscle – which should make you stronger and faster. However, too much protein can slow carbohydrate absorption so it’s important to try and keep a balance.
How much to eat after a run?
Sources suggest that, ideally, you should aim for a ratio between 3/4:1. To be clear, that’s roughly three to four servings of carbohydrates for every serving of protein. If you’ve gone on a long or intense run then making sure you fuel up on both carbs and protein properly is even more important to the recovery process.
When it comes to how much protein you need, experts recommend ingesting 15-20g of protein after a tough run. If you want to be even more accurate, try to eat 0.14 grams of protein for every pound of your body weight. So if you weigh 150lbs, then you should be aiming for around 21 grams of protein. To find out how much protein you need, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.14.
More familiar with kilograms? Just multiply your weight by 2.2 to convert it into pounds. Then multiply that by 0.14 to find out much protein you need.
When to eat after a run?
Most sources agree that the best time to eat after a run is directly after you finish – ideally within half an hour. During this window of time, your muscles will be more receptive to protein and better at refueling on glycogen.
But if you can't top up during this time or even if feel hungry afterwards then don’t worry. All is not lost. Just try to ingest something as soon as you can. Muscles can take more than 24 hours to recover completely so it might be a good idea to snack regularly throughout the rest of the day – provided you are eating healthy foods, of course.
What to eat after a run?
Now that you’ve got the ratio and timing down, let’s look at some of the best individual foods for recovering the right way. Some of them you can eat by themselves and others you might want to make into a meal, but they’re all good at helping you make the most of any exercise you do.
Of course, these are just suggestions and to get the most out of any exercise, a well-rounded diet is essential. Where possible try to stick to natural foods, rather than anything processed.
Beets (or beetroot) have lots of nutrients and very few calories. They been linked to helping with brain health, inflammation and blood pressure. They’re also said to increases blood and oxygen flow to muscles making them ideal for recovery after a run and, potentially, helping to boost performance when consumed before a run too.
If you want to satisfy cravings for something sweet then fruit is an excellent choice. Avocado, bananas, cantaloup, kiwis, peaches, pears and watermelon are particularly beneficial after a run – but for different reasons. Watermelon, for example, contains lycopene which helps reduce muscle pain. Kiwis, on the other hand, are full of potassium and magnesium (which help muscles relax) as well as antioxidants (which prevent inflammation).
If you’d rather refuel in liquid form and still want something fruity then pineapple juice could be for you. It can boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, aid digestion, boost heart health and may even help fight cancer. It tastes pretty good too.
3. Mixed nuts
A handful of nuts (ideally including almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts) can help start the recovery process with a healthy blend of protein, fat and salt, as well as some calcium and zinc to help boost bone health.
4. Chicken breast
Chicken breast is ideal because it is often leaner than other parts of the bird and its bovine and porcine equivalents (cows and pigs). It’s low in saturated fat and has a good amount of omega-6 fatty acids. It’s nutritious and, because it’s a lean protein source, it can help you lose weight and gain muscle.
Salmon is often described as a superfood. Although this name is itself often described as a marketing term, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that salmon is very good for you. It’s another great lean protein source and full of omega-3 fatty acids, which help with your heart and blood pressure, as well as reducing inflammation. It also contains vitamins A and D, and a good amount of calcium.
6. Beans and Legumes
From chickpeas and lentils to black beans and Edamame. Beans and legumes come in many forms and many of them offer numerous health benefits – whether it’s boosting healthy gut bacteria or reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels. They’re also packed with protein and unlike meat, (which also has lots of protein) they’re full of fiber too. Another benefit? Most of them are very versatile and can be added a salad or cooked meal without much fuss. Medical News Today suggests that soybeans (Edamame), kidney beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), navy beans, black beans and pinto beans are the most healthful around, but most of them are pretty good for you.
Versatile and super nutritious, eggs offer a very healthy mix of protein and healthy fats. They also contain all nine amino acids (the building blocks that make up protein) which means they are a complete protein source so they’re excellent for recovery. Want a tip? Try a fried egg with some avocado and wholemeal toast. Delicious and nutritious.
8. Greek yoghurt
Greek yoghurt is particularly beneficial after a run because it packs a lot of protein and is a source of calcium too. It can also help maintain a healthy gut, which is always a good thing. It’s also associated with lowering blood pressure and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Cottage cheese is another high protein option that’s relatively low in calories.
9. Chocolate milk
This one has been making headlines around the world for a while now. But for good reason. There have been many studies investigating chocolate milk in relation to recovery after exercise and most seem to come to the same conclusion: that it’s actually very good for you. Apparently it has the ideal amount of carbohydrates and protein for replenishing glycogen levels. So, you don’t even have to feel guilty about drinking it – after a workout at least.
Want some more suggestions? We recently published an article on what to eat before a run, and many of the suggestions included there work well after a run too.
What athletes eat after a run:
Trail-running duo Katie Schide and Germain Grangier
“After a run, my first choice would be gnocchi at our friend’s hut in Italy,” says Katie.
“But if we’re at home then a big veggie stir fry with tofu and rice or soba noodles is good too. Just cut up a bunch of vegetables (any kind you want) cook in a pan with a bit of oil and maybe some soy sauce. Throw in some tofu or beans then serve with rice or noodles.
“Germain would then put either cheese or pesto on that despite the flavor profile of the dish. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll make a dressing with tahini, lemon juice and maple syrup.”
“Right after a run, I like to drink a few glasses of organic juice (peer, apple etc.) and water. I also like to have a fresh fruit."
If it is a long workout in the mountains I have a real meal only twice a day. So I snack in between and eat dry fruits, almond butter, dark chocolate or the Katie cake of the day (her pumpkin bread is great). Then for dinner, I’ll eat veggies and carbs but usually not a lot of protein.
Pro triathlete Josh Amberger
“If I’ve been running in the morning and I feel like a proper breakfast I'll have some bircher muesli with yoghurt, fruit and some honey added in,” says Josh.
“In the afternoon, I’d probably have a protein smoothie or maybe a boiled egg. Just something to refuel the muscles but not ruin the appetite before dinner.”