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You’ve just come home from a tough workout and your legs are stiff, you’re dripping with sweat and your phone has been buzzing with notifications. We get it – so often we get sucked into our phones (whether it be social media or the latest news) or get distracted playing with our kid, only for time to slip away. And then by the time we’ve showered and gotten clean clothes on, it’s been an hour or more since we actually finished that workout. Don’t fall into this trap! Your number one priority post run should be to refuel, and this is especially important after harder efforts, long runs and races.
Following a session, your body’s carbohydrate stores and fluid levels will likely be very low, which puts you at an increased risk of infection. To prevent yourself from getting sick as well as ensuring the best possible training effect and recovery, eating something within some 30 minutes after you’ve ended your session is key.
When you do in fact give your body what it needs post activity, you’re not only helping it ward off infection, you’re helping it with recovery, muscle repair and muscle growth, as well as promoting strength development. With a proper post run meal, you make the most of your session and ensure an overall positive training effect – and that meal is best had soon after you undo your shoe laces. Getting food in your system within a half hour or so compared to hours after your session ended makes a huge difference, as this is when your chances of muscle growth and prevention of muscle breakdown are the highest. Why that is? It’s actually rather simple and straightforward. The hormone insulin increases in your bloodstream following intake of carbohydrates and protein, and its ability to stimulate muscle growth and prevent muscle breakdown peaks right after training. In other words, we want that increase of insulin so that it can go do all that awesome work for us and make sure we didn’t just sweat for nothing.
“The most important thing is that you eat within 30 minutes, and that you’re getting in a good chunk of both protein and carbohydrates.”
Both protein and carbohydrates are essential in this process, and while making sure you get enough of each is important, don’t get caught up in the exact numbers (as that can easily turn into a different sort of trap). The most important thing is that you eat within 30 minutes, and that you’re getting in a good chunk of both protein and carbohydrates. Protein plays the more crucial part of the two, while immediate intake of carbohydrates is a little less critical unless your next session will take place within 24 hours (essentially later the same day or early next morning). The body’s ability to store carbohydrates is the highest right after training and we therefore benefit from including a good amount of it in our post run meal if our next session is coming up shortly, but after 24 hours and beyond, stores are normally filled anyway.
Even though we advise you to not get too hung up on numbers, let’s just take a quick look at some benchmarks. For protein, it’s recommended to shoot for about 0.3 g per kilogram body weight, and for carbohydrates, you want to shoot for around 1-1.2 g per kilogram body weight. For someone who weighs 68 kg (150 lbs), that would be about 20 g of protein and 70 g of carbohydrates. Let’s just pause here though, and remind ourselves that most things on our plates will naturally contain both protein and carbohydrates, and that us humans typically combine a range of ingredients into an actual meal. In other words, it’s easier to get in the desired amount of nutrients than what one might think at first glance, as even pasta – typically viewed as a carbohydrate source and nothing but – contributes with a whopping 5 g of protein per normal serving of 100 g (and 70 g carbohydrates, for those interested). If you don’t hit the benchmark numbers exactly within the first 30 minutes, don’t fret – aim for as much as you can, guaranteeing you get at least something in your system, and then make sure you make up for the rest shortly after.
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And just a little note on the carbohydrates in your post run meal. Let these be of the simpler kind, by all means! This is when dried fruit, white bread, smoothies and such truly shine, as we want our bodies to quickly be able to absorb the nutrients. There’s a time and place for everything, and post run is when we need not to worry one bit about less fiber-rich alternatives.
Example Post Run Snacks
Oatmeal bowl with dried fruit, nuts/seeds and peanut butter
Hummus on bread
Yogurt bowl with granola
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Smoothie (mixing in yogurt, peanut butter, nuts/seeds, white beans or tofu is a hot tip for maximum nutrition)
Overnight oats with dried fruit and nuts/seeds
2 eggs + bread
Banana + nut/seed bar
Burrito with rice/quinoa and beans
Pasta with chickpeas or beans
Stir fry noodles with tofu
In general, stay away from food and dishes with high fat content immediately post training, as it will aid in quicker digestion.
You’re spending all the time and effort to put in the work in your training – so make the most of it by properly refueling! Don’t make it a habit skipping your post run meal (especially on harder effort days). We know it can be tough to eat within that 30-minute window – even more so if you’re traveling to and from where you’re training – so make sure you come prepared. Plan for and prep your snack before you leave for your workout, or even the night before if you’re heading out first thing in the morning. And also, don’t forget about rehydrating. Aim for some 0.5-1 liter of water more or less right after your session ended and then go for smaller sips in the hours to follow. Good luck!
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