Post Run Nutrition – Why, When and What

By Rick Morris

Post workout and post run nutrition has received a lot of attention lately. You can’t walk down the sports nutrition aisle of any store without running into tons of sports recovery beverages, bars and supplements. Do you really need to worry about post workout recovery nutrition? Many distance runners completely ignore post run recovery. A common effect of intense or long runs and races is a suppression of your appetite. You just aren’t hungry and don’t feel like eating. Some other runners avoid post exercise nutrition because they are trying to reduce body fat or drop weight and believe that it would be better not to replace those used up calories. Are those good reasons not to consume at least some post run nutrition? I don’t think so.

Here is why I think you should always remember your post run nutrition:

Replace Energy Stores

The primary source of energy during your run is carbohydrates. After a long or hard workout, your body’s supply of carbohydrates is probably running low. Consuming some carbohydrates after your run will top off your energy gas tank, helping you recover faster and be more energetic later in the day.

Rebuild Minor Muscle Damage

Your muscles were working hard during your training run and they may be suffering from a bit of damage in the form of micro tears. Supplying your muscles with some post run nutrition will help repair that damage and get you ready for your next run or race.

Improve Strength and Fitness

Your muscles and bones react to stress by growing stronger. You can help your bones and muscles along with their strengthening process by supplying them with the building blocks they need;  specifically, protein, carbohydrates and minerals. Consuming some post run nutrition will get a quick supply of those essential nutrients to your hungery muscles, bones and connective tissues.

Avoid Over Eating

If you avoid post run nutrition there is a really good chance you will become ravenous later in the day. The usual result of high levels of hunger is over eating. You don’t need a large post run meal, but supplying your body with just  a bit of post workout nutrition will take the edge off your hunger later in the day and you can avoid over eating that could cause weight gain.

Timing your Post Run Nutrition

Post workout and post run nutrition could really mean eating any time after your run. Should you eat immediately after your workout or should you wait for a couple hours or more? To maximize the positive effects of post run nutrition you should consume some form of food as soon as possible after your run.  Studies have consistently shown that sooner is much better than later when it comes to post exercise eating. Try to get in some nutrition within the first 30 minutes after your workout. A recent study at the University of Texas compared post workout nutrition timing on a couple of groups of cyclists. One group consumed carbohydrates immediately after a workout while the other group waited for two hours before taking in the carbs. The group that ate right after their workout showed a 300 percent increase in glycogen resynthesis over the second group. So that common saying is true – “If you snooze, you lose”. Eat as soon as you can after your run, it will pay off in the long run – pun intended.

What Should You Consume?

The answer to this one is both simple and complex. Simply speaking, anything you eat will help with recovery. Even if you just suck down a soft drink and snack cake, the carbohydrate intake will help you recover. That being said, you should really try to take in some high quality nutrition. For distance runners that is a kind of “Catch-22”. The best post run nutrition choices would be whole, nutritious foods like fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, pastas, lean meats and whole grains. The problem is that those types of foods are not usually available right after a race or training run. Many times you are forced to rely on commercial recovery drinks, bars or gels. If those commercial nutrition foods are your only post run choices try to use those that combine both carbohydrates and protein. Some good choices are trail mixes, energy bars with a carbohydrate/protein mix, energy drinks with a carbohydrate/protein mix, chocolate milk, or even bagels with cream cheese and muffins. Just keep in mind that those types of post run choices are low in many essential nutrients, so be sure to balance your diet with some healthy whole foods later in the day.