Post-workout nutrition is an essential part of your overall training routine. Eating the right type and amounts of foods can help your body refuel and recover after a run. When you refuel properly, you have the ability to rehydrate the fluids and electrolytes you lost through sweat, replenish muscle glycogen stores, and repair muscle tissue.
Here’s the inside scoop on post-workout nutrition and what you need to know so you can be a better, faster, and stronger runner today (or after your next run)…
What is glycogen?
Glycogen is the storage form of glucose, or metabolized carbohydrates. It is stored in the liver and the muscle and provides the body with a readily available source of energy.
How does glycogen provide energy when you work out?
Basically when you eat sources of carbohydrates (like pasta, potatoes, fruit, milk), your body breaks it down and stores it in your muscle to fuel you through a run.
Why is it important to eat after running?
Every time we workout, we deplete glycogen storages – so it’s important to maintain these energy stores.
There’s a great study that shows the depleting effect of repeated exercise upon glycogen stores. In this study, athletes ran hard for ten miles on three consecutive days while eating a "typical American diet" (low in carbohydrate and high in protein and fat). By the third day, the athletes' muscles were glycogen depleted and the athletes felt extremely tired. They could have better replaced the muscle glycogen with three higher carbohydrate-based meals per day.
So for example, if you have a race or long run on Saturday, you need to eat not only pasta for dinner on Friday, but also carbohydrate-rich foods for breakfast and lunch.
How do protein and carbs help the body replenish its energy?
Carbohydrates help restore muscle glycogen (or energy) storages, promote muscle recovery, make you less sore, give you more energy to complete your next workout, etc. Protein serves as the building blocks for muscle anabolism, or growth.
How much protein should someone consume after a workout?
Ideal 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of simple carbohydrates to high quality protein. Go for the lower end for resistance or anaerobic exercise (such as cross training) and higher end for endurance or aerobic exercise (such as long run days or races).
Your body has a “window of opportunity” after exercise when your muscles are sensitive to certain nutrients and hormones that aid in more effective muscle recovery. With the right nutrients, within 1- hour post-exercise you can:
Recover more efficiently
Increase muscle mass
Burn more body fat
What are some foods considered good for a post-workout snack?
Recovery choices should include a foundation of carbohydrates with protein as the accompaniment.
Recovery snack ideas:
Low-fat chocolate milk
Trail mix + sports drink
PB & J on white bread (½ or whole)
Recovery meal ideas
Eggs + turkey bacon + whole-wheat toast
Pasta with marinara sauce + lean ground beef + side salad
Steak + potato + broccoli
Stir fry with shrimp
Maggy Doherty is a Registered Dietitian and owner of her own nutrition private practice, Doherty Nutrition. As a UCLA student-athlete on the Women’s Diving team, she learned how to use food to take her health and performance to the next level. She earned her Master of Science in Nutrition at the University of Illinois and has practiced as a clinical dietitian at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital. She is currently training for Ultra Expeditions’ Oktoberfest Trail Run Half Marathon and Vacation Race’s Joshua Tree Half Marathon.