You’ve finished your run. Aaaaaah. Now it’s time to get cool and refuel. Your post-workout nutrition is one of the most important fueling opportunities of the day. Because the foods that you choose can impact your next training session, you need a plan that provides fluids, carbohydrate, and protein—and you need to eat ASAP after a workout. Here are the key R’s of Recovery after training:
- Restore lost fluids and electrolytes
- Replenish energy stores
- Repair & Rebuild muscle
- Reduce immune system stress
Intense workouts lead to loss of fluids through sweating which must be replaced after exercise. Typically, you need to consume more fluid than was lost during exercise, since your body continues to excrete fluid through sweating and urination. Drink 24 ounces (3 cups) for every pound of body weight lost during the run. In addition to water, rehydration includes electrolyte replacement—primarily sodium. Fluids that contain sodium—like sports drinks—will reduce urine loss and drive thirst. Another strategy is to include sodium-containing foods post-exercise along with fluids to get the same result (think pretzels, crackers, nuts and seeds).
The carbohydrate stores that you burned as fuel during your run (muscle glycogen) need to be replenished. The only way to refill your gas tank is by eating and/or drinking carbs! During the first 30 minutes after exercise, your body’s cells are most receptive to replenishing energy stores. This timeframe is referred to as the “glycogen window.” For this immediate recovery period, your goals is to have 1.0-1.5g of carbohydrate/kg body weight.
Repair & Rebuild
Prolonged and high-intensity exercise breaks down muscle protein. Because of this, a small amount of protein is needed along with the carbohydrate to initiate muscle repair and rebuilding post-exercise. You want to have about four times the amount of carbohydrate compared to protein (4:1 ratio). Keep food choices low in fat to maximize digestion and absorption. Depending on your appetite and logistics, this recovery blend of carbs and protein can be in the form of a snack, smoothie or shake. Here are my “go to” recovery carbohydrate and protein combos:
- Banana and low-fat chocolate milk
- Raisins and nuts
- Fresh fruit and Greek yogurt
- Raisin almond bar with 100% fruit juice
- Fruit–yogurt smoothie
Reduce Immune Stress
Another reason that it’s important to consume carbohydrate is to support your immune system. Intensive workouts actually suppress the body’s immune system—and this may continue after exercise. But you can reduce this stress hormone response by having enough carbohydrate before and immediately after exercise. Choose fresh fruit, dried fruit and veggies that contain carbs plus antioxidants and phytonutrients to give your immune system an extra boost.
To continue the recovery process, you’ll need to have a meal 1-2 hours after exercise that includes a mix of fruits, veggies, lean protein and whole grains. Continue to hydrate with water, herbal tea or low-fat milk. Check out some of the delicious recipes on the web page for meal ideas. After a good night’s sleep you’re ready to run again!