Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned endurance athlete, running stresses the body in the short term, and all runners need to know how to optimize recovery. Runners have a 30-minute recovery window post-workout for replenishing the glycogen stores depleted by a hard run.

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The first thing most runners do as soon as they stop running is stretch, but the next thing they should do, at least within half an hour, is eat: between 100 and 300 calories in a mix of carbs and protein (about 3:1 or 4:1 carbs to protein). Consuming a carbohydrate-rich snack within 30 minutes after your workout will dramatically improve your recovery, decreasing muscle soreness so you can get on with your day, and also be ready for your next workout. 

When you run hard or long (at least 45 minutes to an hour), you sustain tiny tears to your muscles. (This is normal.) Your metabolic rate remains elevated for about 30 minutes afterwards, which speeds muscle repair. After that, your muscles will be much slower to recover without proper nutrition.

Some great post-race snacks include:

a bagel with peanut butter
banana or some blueberries with yogurt
whole-grain toast with hummus

Recipes for Runners
Photo: Kim Doerksen.

A little protein is recommended, since it will help kick-start the muscle-repair process, but too much could interfere with the body’s absorption of carbohydrate.

Some recovery drinks can be helpful for replacing carbs, especially if you don’t always feel like eating right after a workout. (Just read the label to make sure they’re not loaded with refined sugar.)

The time to up your protein intake is later, within two or three hours. Some ideas for your recovery meal:

Salad with shrimp, chicken or steak
Chili (regular or vegetarian)
Eggs (any style) with avocado
Tuna salad sandwich

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The benefits of observing this 30-minute window extend well beyond the few hours after your workout, and making it a habit will affect your whole training plan in a positive way. If you’re trying to improve your half-marathon or marathon time, for example, and you’re working out four to six times per week, it’s really important to be fully recovered for your next workout. And failing to follow the 30-minute window could leave you not only with lingering soreness, but more prone to injury.

Though ideally real food is preferred over shakes and bars, those can be ideal when you’re travelling, since they’re convenient and packable. Once again, read the label to make sure they’re not too high in processed sugar (or unpronounceable chemicals).

 

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