Nutrition is important for everyone, but when you’re a runner, what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat it become even more crucial. This is especially true after a long run, when you’ve been out pounding the pavement or hitting the trails, possibly for hours, and have used up a lot of your energy stores. We spoke with runner and dietitian Megan Kuikman, who gave us her best advice for how to refuel after a long run, particularly on those cold winter days.
Kuikman explains that there are two main nutrients runners should be concerned with after a long run: carbohydrates and protein. After you’ve been running for a prolonged period, you have used up a lot of your body’s carbohydrate stores, so you want to eat a meal or snack that will help you replenish them. You should also eat some protein to help repair the muscle tissue that may have been damaged during your run. She gave us some examples, including a pita stuffed with vegetables and chicken, oatmeal with greek yogurt and fruit or a tofu stir-fry with rice.
“Runners should also include fluids and electrolytes to account for any dehydration,” she adds.
She notes that hydration and electrolyte requirements will vary depending on the weather (i.e., how hot it is) as well as the intensity of your run, and that your post-run rehydration requirements don’t have to be met with water and electrolyte beverages. Food can also help you rehydrate, and Kuikman says soups are a great way to do this, particularly in the winter.
In the colder months, Kuikman says that your nutrient requirements won’t differ dramatically from the summertime, but the foods you choose to eat will likely change. Not surprisingly, you’re more likely to crave something warm, like a bowl of soup, when you come in from a winter run as opposed to the cold smoothie you might want in the summer. If you find you’re shivering after your long run, a warm meal can also help to warm you up, and a hot liquid, like a mug of tea or a bowl of brothy soup, can help you replenish fluids when you don’t feel like drinking a cold glass of water. Runners may not become as dehydrated in winter as they do in summer, but Kuikman says taking in fluids after a winter run is still important.
For runners who have difficulty tolerating a large amount of food after a long run, Kuikman suggests having multiple pre-planned options available that you know your body can handle. She says many athletes find liquids easier to tolerate after hard workouts or long runs, such as chocolate milk, a smoothie or even a latte. Other more substantial options that are easier on your digestive system could include a piece of toast with peanut butter, or a granola bar.
“Something is better than nothing after a long run,” she explains. “If only a small amount can be tolerated immediately post-run, this can be followed up by a more substantial meal later.”
Finally, Kuikman says that while there is no specific food that is better to eat in the winter months, now is the perfect time to take advantage of what the season has to offer. Beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and squash are all excellent options for runners, because they provide a source of carbohydrates as well as other nutrients that can support post-run recovery, boost your immune system and promote your overall health.