Running, also known as the “king of cardio”, not only improves your cardiovascular health, but also strengthens muscles, improves bone health, burns calories, and relieves stress. Fueling your runs with the best nutrition possible can help you reach your health and fitness goals.
While the focus is often on what to eat before a run, what you choose to eat after a run can be just as important. Refueling with the right types of foods after your run can help prevent muscle loss, promote muscle recovery, and support your energy levels throughout the day.
But how do you know what to eat after a run? Read on to discover the best post-workout foods to help replenish your body and support your overall health and wellness.
The importance of good nutrition post-exercise
While running, your body is dependent on the glycogen reserves stored in your muscles for energy. Your body will produce glycogen, the primary source of fuel for your muscles and organs, after eating carbohydrates.
Additionally, while running, you’ll break down muscle fibers which will require the amino acids from the protein you eat to help your muscles rebuild. You’ll also lose water and electrolytes while sweating.
Whether you’re running before and after your workout, or if running is your complete workout, you’ll be left with depleted glycogen stores, micro-tears in your muscles, and lower levels of electrolytes after working out.
Eating complex carbohydrates post workout will restore your glycogen reserves and help prevent muscle loss. Furthermore, eating protein after running will supply your body with a good source of amino acids it needs to help build and repair muscle tissue.
Consequently, the best post-run nutrition is critical as it will speed up muscle recovery time, prevent muscle cramps and injury, and can even improve your athletic performance.
When to eat after a run?
Research suggests that the best time to eat after a run is immediately after your workout. It is during this window of opportunity that your muscles will be most efficient in utilizing both carbohydrates and protein to help your body recover after a hard workout.
If you miss this ideal window of time, do not worry. Try to have something to eat (ideally a mix of carbs and protein) as soon as you’re able. Your muscles can take a day or more to fully recover so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to begin the replenishment process.
What to eat after a run
Whether you have a big meal, or a small snack, what you eat after a run should provide protein to help rebuild your muscles and healthy carbohydrates to help replenish your glycogen stores. The following are examples of a healthy combination of carbs and protein:
Protein plays a critical role in repairing and rebuilding your muscles after a run and in many cases, protein shakes have become a requisite post-workout drink. Protein shakes are designed to provide rapidly absorbing amino acids which can reduce recovery time and help build lean muscle mass.
A well-balanced protein shake is a nice way to get many nutrients you need for recovery in a convenient and easily digestible drink. Ideally, try to find a protein shake that contains some carbs, or blend your shake with a healthy carbohydrate like a banana to optimize your post-run recovery.
Fresh fruit smoothie
A fresh fruit smoothie can give your body the fuel it needs and can help you recover more quickly after a grueling workout. The perfect smoothie should contain some protein, healthy carbs, and liquid to help replenish water and electrolytes.
Your protein options may include Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or nut butters, while your fruits may include bananas, pineapple, mango, or berries. Fruit provides an excellent source of carbs and powerful antioxidants which have been linked to enhanced recovery time and increased energy.
For an extra boost of protein, fiber, and antioxidants, try adding chia, hemp, or flax seeds to your fruit smoothie.
Hummus with fresh veggies
Hummus is a delicious Mediterranean spread made from mashed chickpeas blended together with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and a variety of seasonings.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, provide an excellent source of plant-based protein in addition to fiber. These little legumes are also chock full of important vitamins and minerals like choline, and vitamins A, C, and E.
On its own, hummus provides a blend of healthy carbs and protein, but using nutrient-rich veggies to dip into hummus takes it to another level. Try dipping carrots, pepper, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, or radishes into hummus to give it an even more powerful nutritional punch.
Eggs with toast
Eggs are an excellent high-quality protein source that provide all nine essential amino acids which can help maintain, build, and repair muscle. Additionally, eggs provide important nutrients like vitamins A, D, B12, iron, folate, and zinc.
When you pair eggs with a high-quality carbohydrate source like whole grain toast, the protein from eggs can build and repair muscle, while the carbs from the toast will help replenish your body’s glycogen stores making a perfect combo for your post-run meal.
Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
Greek yogurt is loaded with protein to help build and repair muscle and also provides an excellent source of calcium to support strong bones and teeth.
This high-protein yogurt also contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that can help restore healthy functioning of your gastrointestinal system. One 2020 review noted that probiotics may play a role in exercise performance and may help support recovery in athletes.
Fresh fruit will provide carbohydrates to help you replenish your glycogen stores in addition to vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants. Many fruits are also rich in water which can help replace the fluids you may have lost during your run.
Chomps meat snacks with a banana
Chomps meat snacks are the perfect portable and convenient way to get that much-needed high-quality protein in to help build and repair muscle after a long run.
Unlike most meat sticks, Chomps provides the highest quality grass-fed and finished beef and venison and free-range, antibiotic-free turkey without any fillers or harmful ingredients. Chomps also offer a wide variety of seasoning blends to satisfy any palate.
Bananas are not only rich in carbohydrates but they also provide potassium, an important electrolyte that is often diminished after participating in endurance exercises like running.
Salmon with rice
Salmon is not only full of helpful protein but is also brimming with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked with various health benefits for athletes. One 2020 review found that omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation, enhance muscle recovery, and increase performance.
Furthermore, salmon contains various key nutrients, including selenium, phosphorus, potassium, and B vitamins.
Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and barley are an excellent choice for replenishing your glycogen stores after a run and they also provide fiber, helping you feel fuller for longer. Salmon with rice is an ideal combo offering a variety of exercise recovery benefits.
A Runner’s Diet
A runner’s diet doesn’t have to be overly complicated or inconvenient. There are a wide variety of muscle recovery foods to choose from that can help build and repair your muscles after a workout.
These may include high-quality protein sources like eggs, hummus, Greek yogurt, Chomps meat sticks, or salmon. There’s no shortage of post-workout healthy carbs to choose from. These may include fresh fruit, whole grain toast, or brown rice.
Regardless of what you choose, it’s important to replenish your body with a healthy and balanced mix of protein and carbs. This combo will help you prevent muscle loss and will support optimal energy levels throughout the day. If you need more inspiration, check out our runner’s diet plan for pre-run and post-run meal ideas.
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