Runner’s recovery diet

Boost your recovery with these foods

When your focus has been all about completing a certain race on a certain date in a certain time, it is easy to lose sight of doing the right kinds of things as soon as you cross/stagger over the finish line. The trouble is, to recover quickly and move on to your next challenge, you really need to be thinking about recovery straight away and that means focusing on what you should be eating and drinking to help sore, aching muscles. Think about eating and drinking for replenishment, recovery and repair and you really won’t go far wrong.

What and when to eat after a run?

Despite the euphoria and fatigue you will probably be feeling, you need to eat and drink something fairly quickly as soon as you stop running. Your body will need carbohydrates to start the recovery process properly, so a snack like a banana, some pretzels, nuts, dried fruit or an energy/recovery bar is ideal to give your system something to work on. For those runners who can’t face food, a drink packed with the right kind of ingredients will do the trick.

Chocolate milk is a firm favourite with runners who prefer something dairy based to a sports drink. In fact a study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that chocolate flavoured skimmed milk aided recovery at least as well as recovery drinks. A study at Northumbria University, discovered that athletes performed better in subsequent exercise if they’d consumed a milk-based drink after their runs, compared to water or sports drinks. Bananas contain potassium and carbs, so their suggestion was a smoothie with half a banana, a teaspoon of honey and 250ml (8.5oz) of milk. In one glass you will have protein, carbs and fluid – all great for your recovery, replenishment and repair. You can of course choose from a variety of different drinks at this time, but make sure you have something that has carbohydrate in it.

Think carbohydrates and protein

In an ideal world you should eat something substantial within two hours of finishing your race, but the sooner the better. You must focus as much on when you eat after you finish a run/race, as what and how much you consume. Depending on the severity of your workout, you need to be eating something fairly quickly to start replenishing. Aim to have a meal that is between a quarter to a third carbohydrate specific, (think rice, potatoes, pasta, cereals, bread, pancakes or even tortilla); the equivalent amount of protein (fish, eggs, meat, pulses, soy foods, dairy); then mix it all up with fruit and vegetables making up the remainder (which will provide more carbohydrate content).

In a broader sense you also need to think about what you eat over the coming days to help your body recover and repair the damage of distance. How slavishly you stick to the recovery guidelines, depends on how quickly you want to exercise again. If you’re planning to go out running again soon, then the 24-48 hours after a hard workout are important. If it’s a big race and you’re planning to take a few days off, then you can be slightly less rigid.

In terms of what food groups you need to concentrate on, experts suggest a 3:1 ratio of carbs to everything else. You can certainly try this, or you can experiment a little with your diet and see how you recover. And don’t forget that you need to keep taking on fluids. Not too much, but making sure you’re hydrated is an important aspect of recovery.

The good news is there are lots of food ideas you could think about from beans on toast (great for protein, fibre and carbs) to a skinny latte! Yes caffeine is fantastic at aiding recovery because it assists in glycogen replenishment. It can help muscles take on more glycogen by as much as 66% according to research in the Journal of Applied Physiology when runners drank the equivalent of 5-6 cups of coffee. Now that might seem slightly excessive because you could actually feel a little hyper after all that coffee. But in a general sense, if you can integrate some decent amounts of caffeine into your diet, it will certainly help.

Foods that are high GI items like crackers, bagels, white bread, potatoes (especially baked potatoes) and rice, are terrific for replenishing glycogen. And let’s not forget our old friend peanut butter. It may have a high fat content, but at least it contains unsaturated fat which is slightly healthier, as well as bags of vitamins and antioxidants. Ginger is great at delaying the onset of muscle soreness, so that might be worth incorporating in a cup tea or a stir fry or stew. Honey can also help muscle recovery, so honey on toast or a bagel is a great snack.

And here’s something to think about. A lot of runners like to have a protein shake or drink after a hard run. But according to the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming protein before exercise will enhance recovery better than having that protein drink afterwards. Why? Because the body turns the pre-race/exercise protein into amino acids and they can hurtle straight into action in terms of muscle repair, as soon as you finish your workout.

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