To understand how the right foods can help after a workout, we need to understand how physical activity affects our bodies. The more you run, the more glycogen stores are depleted. You also lose water and electrolytes in the form of sweat. And finally, the muscle fibers are destroyed, which need amino acids from proteins to repair themselves.
Nutrition will help your body:
- reduce muscle protein breakdown
- increase muscle protein synthesis (growth)
- restore glycogen stores
- speed up recovery
When to eat after a run
The timing of your post-workout meal is almost as important as what’s on your plate.
It is ideal to eat immediately after the end of the race, especially if it has been intense.
The theory is that eating earlier can minimize muscle soreness. Research shows that an athlete’s muscles are more receptive to replenishing glycogen stores immediately after a workout and up to two hours after a workout.
There are two optimal recovery windows during which you should eat in order for the body to recover as quickly as possible.
This will help reduce muscle soreness and increase your ability to work harder on your next run.
First feeding window for optimal recovery
The first recovery window lasts 30 minutes after a long workout. Of course, the meaning of the term “long” will vary depending on the athlete’s level of training.
If you are a trained runner, a workout of an hour or more is considered long. If you’re training for your first half marathon and you’ve never run more than 5K, anything over 45 minutes is a long workout.
What to eat in the first window
The best nutrients in a 30 minute window are a mix of carbs and protein. It is recommended to consume 100 to 300 calories.
The carbohydrate to protein ratio should be 3:1 or 4:1. This helps the body synthesize muscle glycogen more efficiently than carbs alone. Eating too much protein, in turn, prevents the body from absorbing carbohydrates, which slows the rate of gastric emptying. However, a small amount of protein helps produce the amino acids needed for muscle recovery.
Eating right within the first 30 minutes after your workout is your first step to a better run tomorrow.
Examples of snacks:
- 1 banana + 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- ½ cup plain yogurt + 1 cup mixed fruit
- 1 medium sweet potato (excellent source of potassium) + some meat
- 1 medium apple + 2 tablespoons peanut butter
An energy bar is also suitable, but they are different and you should carefully study the composition of the carbohydrate/protein ratio.
If you have a sensitive stomach, eating right after your workout can be problematic. Some runners feel nauseous after a long or very strenuous run. In that case, try a recovery drink with the right ratio of protein to carbohydrates – liquid nutrition is easier to digest.
Second feeding window for optimal recovery
The second window lasts 1 to 2.5 hours after completing the workout. During this time, protein-rich foods, along with healthy fats and carbohydrates, are best.
The goal of eating within these two windows is to help your body deliver the right combination of nutrients at the right time, reduce inflammation, increase muscle glycogen stores, and repair damaged muscle tissue. It is important that you do not consume more calories than you actually need.
Examples of simple and digestible products for the second window:
- carbs: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, rice cakes, pasta, fruit (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi), oatmeal, buckwheat
- proteins: eggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, salmon, chicken, beef
- fats: avocados, nuts, nut butters
Don’t forget hydration
It’s important to make up for fluid loss, especially if you haven’t been drinking during your workout. If the run was less than 90 minutes, plain water will do.
However, after a long run, a sports drink will provide the added benefit of replenishing glycogen and electrolytes. Avoid drinks that are too sweet and contain caffeine, as they can cause stomach discomfort.
In hot weather, when athletes sweat profusely, electrolyte replenishment is especially critical.
What not to eat after a run
Although many foods help you recover after a run, some can interfere with the process, such as:
- Fast food: due to the high fat content, these foods will be absorbed more slowly and longer, which means that your body will receive the necessary substances later. Plus, fast food is high in calories, which means there’s a high chance you’ll eat more than you need.
- drinks and foods high in sugar: packaged juices, cola, various donuts and cakes. Too much sugar or a combination of sugar and fat can irritate the intestines and cause discomfort
- low carb foods: vegetables are, of course, useful, but when you need to gain strength, they are bad helpers
Common mistakes in post-workout diet
Too much food. Most of us tend to overestimate the number of calories burned during workouts.
Even if you’ve been working hard, post-workout nutrition is no holiday table. If the goal is to maintain a healthy weight, calorie intake should equal calorie consumption, and if you plan to lose weight, calorie expenditure should exceed consumption. And if after a workout the first, second and compote are regularly on the table, it will be problematic to lose weight.
Another key point is the correspondence between fuel consumption and training loads. This means that on more intense training days, you should eat more carbohydrates. Recovery days require fewer carbs, with an emphasis on lean protein and healthy fats.
Post-workout snacks for later. Sometimes you’re too tired and want to lie down, take a shower, or share your workout with friends on Instagram. But it is better to provide the body with a minimum proportion of calories, and then rest.
The good news is that a small snack within 30 minutes after your workout will help prevent not only a bout of fatigue, but also strong hunger, as a result of which you will eat more than planned.
Alcohol consumption. Avoid drinking alcohol for at least an hour after your run. Alcohol is a diuretic and promotes the loss of water and sodium, two nutrients your body needs after a workout.
Drinking alcohol after a run will lead to more dehydration and fatigue. In addition, alcohol prevents protein from doing its job of repairing muscles.