If you’re anything like us, you’ll have a post-run routine. It might go something like this: flop through the front door, check your splits on Strava, stretch or foam roll a little, sweat a lot, before eventually sticking your weary body into the shower. Somewhere in the midst of all this, you’ll also probably try to eat something to refuel and kick off the recovery process. But what’s the best food to eat after a run? Here’s your bulletproof sports nutrition guide to the perfect post-run feed.
What are the benefits of good post-run nutrition?
While we often focus on carb-loading pre-run and energy intake mid-run, what we eat post-run can feel like a bit of an afterthought. You know, you’ve done all the work and now it’s time to relax, right? Wrong.
After the exertion of running, you'll be left with low glycogen levels, micro-tears in your muscles and depleted electrolytes and minerals. To repair your muscles and replace lost nutrients, it's essential that you eat the right post-run food to consolidate those workout gains.
A good approach to post-run nutrition helps you:
- Replenish the glycogen stores in your liver and muscles
- Repair micro-tears in your muscles to speed up recovery
- Replace electrolytes and minerals lost through sweat
All of which are vitally important to keep you and your body running optimally.
What nutrients does your body need after a run?
- Carbohydrates: "After a hard run, the key nutrient that should be replaced is carbohydrate in order to start replenishing glycogen stores so that your body is ready for your next training session," says Renee McGregor, a performance dietitian who advises Team GB. The recommended amount is 1.2 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. “If you go into the next session depleted, you’re at greater risk of illness and injury.”
- Protein: "The addition of protein has been shown to be useful when this carbohydrate requirement can't be met as it encourages the uptake of carbs into the muscle," says McGregor. "In addition, protein starts to help repair the significant number of micro tears that occur during a hard run."
- Electrolytes and Fluids: "Rehydration is also critical, as only when you are hydrated can you convert carbohydrate to glycogen efficiently. Electrolytes, like sodium, chloride and potassium, help to replace losses from sweat but also help to draw more fluid back into the body," says McGregor.
How much to eat
While the amount you need to eat depends on the duration and intensity of your run, and your current physical fitness, you should shoot for the classic 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein in your post-run refuelling. This is the optimal ratio to maximise recovery.
- After long runs: The longer and harder you run, the more your body will need to recover. "After a long hard run, the ideal is that you initially take on 1.2 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight (either within a 30-minute window post-workout or at your next meal) and then follow every two to three hours with a further 1.2 grams of carbs and 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight that day," says McGregor. Be a bit more mindful of how you plan your meals and snacks for the rest of the day to ensure you’re getting your macros in these quantities.
- After short runs: And for shorter runs? "Recover initially with 1.2 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight and then aim for 1.2 grams of carbs and 0.4 grams of protein at each meal, and half of this for any snacks you may need,” says McGregor. “Your fitness level doesn’t need to be taken into account because the relative effort will still be the same.”
When to refuel
- Post-run snacks: If your next meal won't be for a couple of hours and you've done a long or challenging run, have a snack, such as a Veloforte Forza bar, within 30 minutes of finishing your session to kickstart your recovery. Equally, if you've had an easy session but you'll be doing a hard run within 12 hours – for example you run around 8pm and then again at 7am – then the 30-minute rule applies too!
- Post-run meals: If you did an easy run and don't have any other training lined up for over 12 hours, your next meal will do the job in terms of refuelling. Get a good combination of complex carbs, healthy fats and protein to set your body on the way to recovery.
Best recovery foods and snacks to eat after a run
Hopefully, you've now got an idea of the important nutrients you need to eat after a run, when to eat them and how much to indulge. But which are the best foods to deliver this nutritional bang with every bite? Here are some examples that’ll help your body crack on with refuelling, recovering and fighting inflammation.
1. Recovery bars
Recovery bars are a great post-run option for delivering fast and convenient nutrients that’ll keep you going until it's time for your next meal. But it’s important to make sure you’re getting the 3:1 balance of carbs and protein right. The Veloforte Forza & Mocha bars have everything you need in just the right ratio.
2. Fresh fruit smoothies
If you struggle to stomach solid food immediately after a run, try having some fresh fruit in a smoothie to up your carb intake and get some additional vitamins. Blend a banana (potassium-rich to replenish your electrolytes) with a couple of other fruits (try orange or strawberries for Vitamin C to help your body heal) and yoghurt or protein powder for your protein hit.
3. Chocolate milk
It may sound too good to be true, but chocolate milk is a brilliant energy source after a run. "It's the perfect combination of easily digestible carbs in the form of lactose and glucose; protein, electrolytes and fluid all in one," says McGregor. Just ensure you make it yourself or avoid choosing one that’s packed with added sugar.
4. Fresh yoghurt
Yoghurt is a fantastic source of protein to refuel your muscles so they're able to repair. Try adding fruit, honey or granola for an extra boost of carbs and fibre, or if you prefer a savoury option then blend some cucumber, garlic and lemon juice into your yoghurt to make a quick tzatziki and eat it with pitta bread for carbs.
5. Nut butters
Whether you go for classic peanut butter or something a little more fancy, nut butter is a fantastic source of healthy fats and protein. Peanut butter is a hefty source of B vitamins like biotin and niacin, which your body uses to release energy from food, while almond butter is packed with Vitamin E to maintain your immune function. To get that 3:1 carbs to protein ratio, try one of the following snacks:
- 2 heaped tbsp peanut butter, one medium banana and 100g fat-free yoghurt blended to make a smoothie
- One medium apple with 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 2 slices of wholemeal toast with 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 6 oatcakes with 2 heaped tbsp peanut butter
6. Protein shakes
Another strong choice if you struggle to eat after a run, protein shakes offer a convenient source of, well, protein, and can easily be consumed on the go. Mix your favourite protein powder with dairy milk for a boost of lactose and glucose for carbs, or blend it with a banana too if you're a bit more hungry.
7. Tuna, salmon or chicken
If you're ready for a substantial post-run meal, tuna, salmon or chicken are all protein-rich options to help your muscles repair. Salmon and fresh tuna (as opposed to tinned) are both sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation, while chicken is a lean complete protein source – and both pack in essential amino acids. Try out one of the following for your meal:
- Jacket potato with tuna
- Salmon with stir fried vegetables and rice
- Tuna steak with boiled potatoes and greens
- Chicken fajitas with peppers and onions
8. Salty foods
If you're a salty sweater or have finished up a long run, it's important to return your body's salt levels to normal. Eating salty foods such as salted nuts – in moderation – as part of your post-run snacking and normal meals can help to restore this balance.
Rehydration is important too
Sadly, we don't mean with your post-race celebratory pub trip. For shorter efforts, rehydrate by drinking plain water. If you've done a very long run or trained on a hot day, try adding rehydration salts to your water to balance your fluids and electrolytes or reach for a sports drink but be careful to choose one that’s not loaded with a bag of sugar.
One last tip to help beat runger
When you're deep in training, it can be easy to slip into a permanent state of insatiable running-induced hunger, or runger. If you're struggling with this, McGregor recommends getting a good intake of carbs, protein and essential fats, such as a whole grain bagel with avocado and poached egg. This will fight off the hunger, fuel your recovery and save you from endless snacking. Or leaving the supermarket with the entirety of Aisle 12 in your bag!