What and when should you eat after a long run?
By Natalie Bickford, MS
It’s super important to nourish your body both before and after you’ve spent hours pounding the pavement or trails. During those last few miles, you might find yourself thinking a lot about a juicy burger and fries or tall stack of pancakes. That's probably because your body is craving carbs since you've been using up so much energy.
You just ran a lot of miles and, as a result, lost a lot of electrolytes through sweat and probably used up most or all of your glycogen stores, depending on the distance you ran. Your muscles have been working hard and as a result have little micro-tears in them that need to be repaired and rebuilt. The goal is to replenish those lost electrolytes and carbohydrates and eat quality protein to help with muscle recovery and growth.
A lot of runners get caught up in counting calories and macronutrients like protein and carbs. This can get really confusing and prevent you from listening to what your body actually needs. When you get home, take a second to figure out what your body is telling you that it wants. Since you just logged a lot of miles, you’ll probably be craving some carbohydrate-rich, hydrating foods.
When is the best time to eat after a long run? Experts say you should focus on eating a combination of carbs and protein within 45 minutes after a workout for optimal recovery. If you aren’t super hungry right away, have something to sip on like a nourishing smoothie or a light snack like a banana with peanut butter. Smoothies are our favorite way to replenish fluids, glycogen stores and get in some protein after a tough workout. Add some nut butter and/or yogurt for protein and sneak in some ginger to help with digestion and inflammation. It will leave you feeling refreshed and hold you over until you feel ready for your next meal.
Let’s dig in to some of our favorite post long run foods and recipes!
Also, check out this post on what to eat before a morning long run.
Best Foods for Recovery
Favorite carbohydrates: try to eat complex carbohydrates because they are loaded with other nutrients so you get more bang for your bite!
- Sweet Potatoes and Bananas are rich in minerals like potassium to help replenish electrolytes and prevent cramping. They're great on their own or mashed and mixed into cookies or muffins!
- Oats are also a good source of fiber, protein and B vitamins. We sneak it into a lot of our treats and snack recipes.
- Beets contain nitrates that help your blood vessels dilate, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to travel to your muscles for recovery. Throw them in a smoothie or hummus for a vibrant color or simply add to a salad.
- Quinoa we love using as a salad base because of it's high protein content.
- Brown rice is our favorite base for power bowls because it's full of nutrients like B vitamins, fiber and magnesium and has a perfect chewy texture.
Favorite proteins: focus on eating good quality proteins like grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, nuts and legumes
- Eggs are a good vegetarian source of vitamin D for strong bones and immune system. They’re also high in choline, which is important for brain health. Egg scrambles are one of Elyse's go-to post run meals!
- Nuts and nut butters are high in vitamin E, which plays a big role in fighting inflammation. They’re also high in and magnesium and iron. We love adding them to smoothies for a dose of healthy fats and extra creaminess.
- Grass-fed beef is one of the best sources of iron and vitamin B12, which are both crucial for energy levels and preventing anemia. You can't go wrong with a burger, meatballs or bolognese!
- Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and black beans are rich in minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium. Add them to a salad for extra protein or mash them up to make a vegetarian burger.
Favorite anti-inflammatory foods: always include healthy fats and plenty of vegetables with your meal to help your body recover, reduce soreness and prevent injury.
- Avocados are rich in healthy fats and vitamin E, which help fight off inflammation. We like to add avocado to pretty much anything for a healthy fat boost!
- Olive oil is made up of mostly monounsaturated fats as well as antioxidants that reduce inflammation. The perfect oil for tasty vinaigrettes and dressings.
- Leafy greens are high in antioxidants as well as important nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin C. Add them raw to a salad or cook them into a soup or stew!
- Ginger and turmeric are two powerful roots that have shown to be extremely effective in fighting inflammation. Add them fresh or dried and ground to sauces, smoothies and soups!
Find out more of our favorite anti-inflammatory foods!
Favorite Post-Run Recipes
*RFCFES = Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.
*RFES = Run Fast. Eat Slow.
Can’t Beet Me Smoothie 2.0 (RFCFES, p. 52)
Smoothie Bowls (RFCFES, p. 56)
Peaches and Molasses Quinoa Bowl (RFCFES, p. 69)
Steadfast Egg Scramble (RFCFES, p. 76)
Spinach and Sausage Frittata (RFCES, p. 79)
Make-Ahead Breakfast Burritos (RFES, p. 49)
Sweet Potato Waffles (RFCFES, p. 82)
Avocado Toast with Greens (RFCFES, p. 85)
Ginger Molasses Granola with whole milk yogurt (RFES, p. 54)
Kale and Edamame Orange Miso Salad (RFCFES, p. 96)
Pesto Tuna Melt (RFCFES, p. 107)
Power Bowls (RFCFES, p. 122)
Bonk Burgers (RFCFES, p. 139)
Sweet Potato Chickpea Cakes (RFCFES, p. 141)
Natalie is a nutritionist and personal chef in Portland, OR who specializes in women's health and sports nutrition. She loves creating simple, nourishing meals and recipes to fuel your life. Find Natalie at nataliecooks.com.