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Here’s Exactly What To Eat After A Run

Accelerate the recovery process by eating right.

Long-distance runners often focus on what to eat before a training session to ensure enough carbohydrates to top off their glycogen stores for high-intensity workouts or long runs, but post-run nutrition is equally important.

Of course, you do need proper hydration and carbs as a fuel source for your muscle fibers during your workouts, but what you eat after your training sessions will greatly impact muscle recovery.

The best food for a post-run snack or post-run meal will depend somewhat on your workout duration and intensity but should include a complex carb source and lean proteins.

In this guide to what to eat after a run, we will discuss the goals of post-run nutrition and the best foods to have after running in your recovery meal to facilitate these sports nutrition goals.

what to eat after a run

Why Should I Refuel After A Run?

Before we discuss what to eat after a run, I want to state that I am not a registered dietitian, however, I am a certified sports nutrition coach.

There are several key goals or purposes of a post-run snack or post-run meal.

Understanding the purpose of eating after your training sessions will help you choose the right foods for your post-workout meal.

Here are the main goals of post-run nutrition and hydration:

#1: Rehydrate

Rehydrate the body by replacing fluids and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which are lost through sweating.

#2: Refuel Carbs

Refuel the body with carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores.

#3: Replenish Amino Acids

Provide the muscles with amino acids to support muscle protein synthesis,1Atherton, P. J., & Smith, K. (2012). Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. The Journal of Physiology590(5), 1049–1057. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225003 the process by which muscle repair, muscle recovery, and muscle growth occurs.

Amino acids2Lopez, M. J., & Mohiuddin, S. S. (2022, March 18). Biochemistry, essential amino acids. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557845/ come from lean protein sources such as eggs, cottage cheese, turkey breast, tofu, chicken, tuna, etc.

what to eat after a run

#4: Refuel Macronutrients

Refuel with calories from carbs, protein, and healthy fats. 

#5: Replenish Antioxidants

Provide the body with healthy foods with antioxidants to help reduce oxidative damage3Sies, H. (1997). Oxidative stress: oxidants and antioxidants. Experimental Physiology82(2), 291–295. https://doi.org/10.1113/expphysiol.1997.sp004024 to contribute to post-workout muscle soreness.

Note that even if you are running for weight loss, your body needs calories after high-intensity exercise or long workouts to support the muscle protein synthesis process and especially to build muscle.

Being in a caloric deficit can compromise muscle recovery and overall workout recovery, slowly compromising your energy levels and increasing the risk of injury. 

You actually need to be in a slight caloric surplus to build muscle,4Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2020). Magnitude and Composition of the Energy Surplus for Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy. Strength and Conditioning Journal42(5), 1. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000539 which is why fat loss and building muscle are generally rather incompatible at the same time.

Studies5Protein Supplementation During or Following a Marathon Run Influences Post-Exercise Recovery. (2018). Nutrients10(3), 333. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10030333 have found that post-race nutrition can significantly impact muscle recovery, muscle soreness, and overall healing after a marathon.

Even though most (or all!) of your training sessions won’t be as long as a full marathon, the same principles apply: post-run nutrition is a key component for workout recovery.

what to eat after a run

How Soon After a Run Should I Eat?

Generally, most running coaches suggest consuming a post-run snack within 15-30 minutes after finishing your workout.

Ultimately, the sooner you can get the nutrients for muscle repair and glycogen resynthesis into your body, the better.

Many runners struggle with appetite after running, especially after high-intensity workouts, races, and long runs.

It can be unappetizing to have a big turkey sandwich on whole grain bread if your stomach is queasy after running.

In these instances, I highly recommend consuming liquid calories.

Smoothies with fruit and Greek yogurt, homemade protein shakes, and low-fat chocolate milk are great options.

Chocolate milk provides essential nutrients and the ideal 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio6Pritchett, K., & Pritchett, R. (2012). Chocolate Milk: A Post-Exercise Recovery Beverage for Endurance Sports. Acute Topics in Sport Nutrition59, 127–134. https://doi.org/10.1159/000341954 to support muscle recovery after exercise.

Chocolate milk is considered a complete source of protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids. This is one reason it is often used as an effective post-workout recovery drink for endurance athletes. 

what to eat after a run

How Much Should I Eat After Running?

The standard recommendation7Jentjens, R. L. P. G., van Loon, L. J. C., Mann, C. H., Wagenmakers, A. J. M., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2001). Addition of protein and amino acids to carbohydrates does not enhance postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology91(2), 839–846. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2001.91.2.839 for carbohydrate refueling after long endurance exercise is to consume 0.6–1.0 g/kg carbohydrate within 30 min and again every 2 hours for the next 4–6 hours.

For example, if you weigh 165 pounds (75 kg), you should aim to eat 45 to 75 grams of carbohydrates within 30 minutes after finishing a half marathon.

Because there are four calories for every gram of carbohydrates, this equates to 180-300 calories of carbohydrates.

High-carbohydrate foods that can replenish glycogen stores include whole grains such as oatmeal and quinoa, fresh and dried fruits, starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and white potatoes, corn, and legumes.

It is also important to consume protein.

Protein provides amino acids, which are critical for numerous physiological processes including muscle protein synthesis,8Weinert, D. J. (2009). Nutrition and muscle protein synthesis: a descriptive review. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association53(3), 186–193. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732256/ and protein can facilitate glycogen resynthesis.9Cintineo, H. P., Arent, M. A., Antonio, J., & Arent, S. M. (2018). Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Frontiers in Nutrition5(83). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00083

The standard recommendation is to consume a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to proteins after endurance exercise, such as running a half marathon, with the goal of having at least 20 grams of protein (20-25 grams is ideal).

Studies have demonstrated10Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W. D., Broad, E. M., Jeacocke, N. A., Moore, D. R., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology591(9), 2319–2331. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.244897 it is best to eat 20 to 25 grams of protein immediately after exercise and then every three hours for the next 12 hours.

Therefore, I recommend having about 20-25 grams of protein and 75-80 grams of carbohydrates after running to optimize refueling your body.

If you are trying to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to have a separate post-run meal or snack for refueling.

Rather, I suggest timing your runs just before your regular meal times. 

This allows you to still have your post-workout meal within the optimal window without consuming additional calories above your normal meal plan goals.

what to eat after a run

What To Eat After A Run: Our Top Picks

Given the goals of post-workout nutrition for runners, here are some of the best foods to eat after running:

  • Hummus on whole-grain crackers, a whole-grain tortilla, or carrot sticks.
  • A protein bar made from real food ingredients that doesn’t contain sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners and has a good balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats, along with a sports drink or a piece of fruit. I love Jambars because they are organic and made with a medley of fruit and whole grains. Plus, they have the perfect ratio of carbs to protein for post-run nutrition.
  • Hard-boiled eggs with a carb source such as a baked sweet potato, whole-grain toast with peanut butter, or a whole wheat English muffin.
  • Greek yogurt with fruit and low-sugar granola.
  • Smoothie or protein shake made with banana, berries, Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, a clean protein powder (I love Happy Viking Protein Powder), almond milk, spinach, and nut butter.
  • A stir fry made with veggies like bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, and snap peas over brown rice with a lean protein cooked in a healthy source of fatty acids such as olive oil or avocado oil. Protein options can include salmon, chicken breast, tofu, etc. 
  • Whole grain bagel or bread topped with cream cheese, avocado, and lox or tuna salad.
  • Sweet potatoes with almond butter or a handful of almonds.
  • Chocolate milk with overnight oats made with protein powder and fruit. You can even make the overnight oats with chocolate milk for a decadent post-run recovery meal!
  • Healthy high-protein cereal with milk or Greek yogurt, flaxseeds, and mixed berries. I love Seven Sundays cereal after running.
  • Lentils or beans with veggies like bell peppers, broccoli, and mushrooms over brown rice.
  • A healthy wrap with lean meat, veggies, cheese, and a piece of fruit.
  • Whole-grain pretzels with hummus, cheese, or nut butter. I highly recommend OMG Pretzels. There are so many different flavors, from savory to sweet, which can help you find a taste that suits your digestive system after running. The sodium helps replenish electrolytes.

If you’re struggling to find what to eat or how much to eat after running, working with a sports nutritionist or registered dietitian can help you develop the best running nutrition plan for your needs.

Still after some more meal inspiration? Take a look at our Recipes For Runners:

References

  • 1
    Atherton, P. J., & Smith, K. (2012). Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. The Journal of Physiology590(5), 1049–1057. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225003
  • 2
    Lopez, M. J., & Mohiuddin, S. S. (2022, March 18). Biochemistry, essential amino acids. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557845/
  • 3
    Sies, H. (1997). Oxidative stress: oxidants and antioxidants. Experimental Physiology82(2), 291–295. https://doi.org/10.1113/expphysiol.1997.sp004024
  • 4
    Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2020). Magnitude and Composition of the Energy Surplus for Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy. Strength and Conditioning Journal42(5), 1. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000539
  • 5
    Protein Supplementation During or Following a Marathon Run Influences Post-Exercise Recovery. (2018). Nutrients10(3), 333. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10030333
  • 6
    Pritchett, K., & Pritchett, R. (2012). Chocolate Milk: A Post-Exercise Recovery Beverage for Endurance Sports. Acute Topics in Sport Nutrition59, 127–134. https://doi.org/10.1159/000341954
  • 7
    Jentjens, R. L. P. G., van Loon, L. J. C., Mann, C. H., Wagenmakers, A. J. M., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2001). Addition of protein and amino acids to carbohydrates does not enhance postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis. Journal of Applied Physiology91(2), 839–846. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2001.91.2.839
  • 8
    Weinert, D. J. (2009). Nutrition and muscle protein synthesis: a descriptive review. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association53(3), 186–193. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732256/
  • 9
    Cintineo, H. P., Arent, M. A., Antonio, J., & Arent, S. M. (2018). Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Frontiers in Nutrition5(83). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00083
  • 10
    Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W. D., Broad, E. M., Jeacocke, N. A., Moore, D. R., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology591(9), 2319–2331. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.244897
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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