• Helen Phillips

Rapid Results from Proper Run Recovery


I read lots of posts on runners forums and in Facebook groups from people asking about what to eat before and after training. Protein powders and recovery drinks are heavily marketed at athletes, but they might not always be best form of recovery for us distance runners training.

In this post I'll share my top tips for Rapid Results for Run Recovery.

When training, in the gym, a speed session or long run, your body will have burned through a load of calories and depleted your muscle glycogen (how the body stores carbohydrate for use), stressed your muscles, that need to recover and lost fluids and salts through sweating. Post workout recovery foods and drinks should aim to replenish these lost nutrients, so you're well on the way to recovery and preparing your body for your next workout session.

What to eat and why

The calories you will have burnt will have been derived largely from carbohydrate, so carbohydrate should be the main focus of your post run recovery snack or meal. Your muscles will also have been worked, so need amino acids from protein to repair.

Lots of people use protein powders and shakes for workout recovery. Whilst you need some protein for amino acids to repair your muscles protein, protein powders won't replenish your depleted glycogen stores. Studies have shown that you also get better recovery nutrition from real food sources of protein and carbohydrate, rather than from shakes and powders. So drink a protein shake for convenience, but make sure you eat carbohydrate as well to replenish that lost energy.

The ideal post workout recovery snack contains both carbohydrate and protein, in an approximate ratio of 4 : 1. Great options include chocolate milk, smoothies and sandwiches made with ham, chicken, tuna, egg or cheese.

When should I eat?

After completing a tough workout your muscles are like sponges for nutrients. So protein, carbohydrate and other nutrients are taken up and rapidly for glycogen replenishment and muscle repair.

However, unless you're planning two demanding training sessions in a day it's not necessary to eat your recovery meal or snack immediately you finish training. If your next training session is the following day, or later in the week, waiting until your next meal to replenish lost carbs and eat protein for repair will be fine.

Make sure your next meal includes starchy carbohydrates (potato, pasta, rice or other wholegrain), a protein source and plenty of fruit and vegetables, many of which contain valuable antioxidants that have an anti inflammatory response and might help prevent muscle soreness.

Run for Reward

Do you reward yourself with a post run snack? A chocolate bar, cookie or cake? Be aware! Check out how many calories are in your run reward treat and how many calories you will have burnt whilst training. Overdoing run reward snacking is one of the major causes of weight gain in runners training for a marathon.

If you need a pick me up after training, snack on a banana or bagel. And if you're worried about weight gain or trying to lose weight from running, plan your training just before your next main meal, to avoid the temptation and need for a run reward snack.

Anything else?

Finally, remember to rehydrate well after runnig and replenish salts lost from sweating. Salts can be replenished easily in your regular food, but bananas are a great source of potassium and salty snacks, such as pretzels are a good choice, as is milk and chocolate milk if you need to replenish lost sodium.

So in summary:

  • Carbohydrates are needed to replenish glycogen stores burned for fuel

  • Some protein is required for muscle repair

  • Aim to eat starch carbs, protein and fruit and veg in your next meal

  • Don't over indulge in post run snacks

  • Replenish lost fluids and salts

  • And finally, the best recovery nutrition is obtained from real food, rather than "recovery drinks", protein powders and shakes.

If you're interested in learning more about Running Nutrition check out Eat Right for Running. Click the here for more information.