There’s no arguing that proper nutrition is key to running performance and recovery from workouts. But what does “proper nutrition” actually look like? Where do sports drinks fit in? Did you earn that donut because you ran an extra mile?
The truth is, good post-run nutrition is going to look a little different for every one – and for every run! What you eat, how much, and how soon after your run will depend on the distance you ran, the intensity of your run, the heat, and your goals. Here I break down some general nutrition tips based on your run distance and intensity!
If your run is 30 minutes or less….
Your really don’t need to do anything special. Make sure you stay hydrated with pure water, and maybe time your run so that you’re eating a balanced meal within a few hours. Not going to be able to eat soon? Not a problem. Again, if you’ve got a meal coming up within a few hours, it’s more than fine to wait (most research shows that glycogen needs to be replaced within 24 hours….aka before your next run…in order for that next run not to suck. Makes sense, right? ). If it’s going to be more than five hours till you get a meal, you may want to drink a protein shake or make yourself a quick sandwich, if anything to keep yourself from getting so hangry that you over-eat or eat junk food at your next meal. With runs this short, there is no need for sports drink or any special recovery shake.
If your run is between 30 and 60 minutes….
Again, unless it’s over 90 degrees and humid, you don’t need sports drink before, during, or after your run. Same rules apply – time your run so that you can eat a balanced meal within a few hours. Can’t eat within 3-4 hours? have a snack with protein and carbohydrates and some fat for staying power. As your runs get closer to the 60 minute mark, you do want to make more of an effort to eat sooner rather than later, but again it’s not really a big deal.
If your run is 60 minutes or longer….
This is where things get interesting. For a run that is an hour or longer, you do want to make an effort to get some kind of nutrition in your system within an hour after you finish running. It’s okay not to be hungry right away – stretch, shower, then sit down to a balanced plate. You’ll want to get a good amount of carbohydrates and protein after a run of this length.
If you’re running for longer than 80-90 minutes, you’ll likely want to take in some kind of nutrition during your run so as to be able to finish strong. Starting at the 45 minute mark, you’ll want to take in about 100 calories every hour. Many people tolerate things like Gu, ClifShots, etc here, and they are certainly convenient, but you can eat “real food” during your runs as well. bananas, homemade granola bars, etc all work. My mother has been known to eat sour gummy worms during her long runs. Don’t like chewing and running at the same time? No problem – this is where a good sports drink with both electrolytes and carbohydrates can come in handy – again, you want to shoot for about 100 calories per hour.
After your run, hydrate with pure water and try to sit down to a balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein, and fat within an hour. Not going to be able to eat a meal that soon? Make a shake, sandwich, spoon some peanut butter on a banana….try to get at least 100 calories of carbs and protein in your system soon to prevent hunger until that next meal.
But what about intensity?
If you’re racing or doing a workout, your refueling needs become a little more “serious”. You do definitely want to try to get that recovery meal in your system as soon as possible. The catch, however, is that intense exercise often depresses appetite and if you pushed REALLY hard you might even feel nauseous. This is where the “recovery shake” idea comes in really handy – it gets you the nutrition you need after hard efforts in a palatable way. It may be several hours before your stomach is ready for a real meal – that’s okay. Drink the shake, and wait until you’re ready for solid food to sit down to a recovery meal. Again, this meal should contain ample carbohydrates and protein in order to restock muscle glycogen and repair microtrauma to the muscles (aka – that’s how you get stronger!). If you’re trying to lose weight, cut your calories from meals later in the day – NOT surrounding your hard efforts.
And what if it’s REALLY HOT?
If it’s hot and/or humid, you will likely want to hydrate with more than just water. Electrolytes are key in this case, and good news – you can get them without also consuming sugar (perfect for those runs under 60 minutes, where you truly do not need the extra calories from gatorade). Try something like Nuun or Hammer Nutrition – electrolyte powders with no sugar and less than 20 calories per serving. Again, if your run is over an hour, then sports drink with some carbohydrates in addition to the electrolytes is a good solution.
Want to learn more or need a more personalized recommendation for post-run nutrition? Make an appointment with a registered dietician!