Yesterday at lunch my wonderful friend Melanie asked me a question that I think many runners/athletes have at one time or another. Her question was "What do you eat after a run?" No matter whether you are a beginner or a seasoned athlete, fueling your body properly is a major concern. I know there are numerous schools of thought on how best to provide your body with the nutrients it needs as well as the optimum time to do it. I am by no means an expert, but I have learned a few things that work for me and thought this might be some information everyone could use. One key fact that plays into every workout is as follows: you have a window of about 30 minutes post workout in which your body is most receptive to nutrients.
Short distance (3 miles or less) training run: Post run needs after an easy short run are certainly not as demanding as if you have just run a half marathon. Calories out will more than likely not exceed calories in that day so don't get fooled by your body screaming "feed me". It is best to give your body some simple carbs and protein to replace your glycogen stores. I would suggest a banana or apple with some peanut butter. Another good suggestion might be a small protein bar with at least 10 grams protein and a good mix of carbs and fat. Yes, you need some fat in your diet to break down vitamins A,D, E, and K. That's my nursing education coming out, sorry. Just make sure you keep the calories in check. Sometimes new runners get caught in the trap of "I can eat anything because I ran."
Average distance (6 miles or so): I picked 6 miles as an average because for me, that is my bread and butter when it comes to training runs. It's far enough to make you work but not so far as to exhaust you. For this distance or even a little farther you have burnt a fair number of calories and thus you need to replenish your stores. I am a big believer in post run recovery drinks such as Endurox R-4 and homemade protein smoothies using whey protein powder. Mix up a serving of your favorite recovery drink and follow up with a good balance dinner or high protein smoothie and I promise you will feel better the next morning. I know there are a ton of recovery products on the market from folks like Gatorade, Hammer Nutrition, Endurox, Powerbar, etc.
They all have good qualities, so just find the one you like best and go with it. Recovery drinks can improve the quality and rate of recovery after a hard workout. Additionally, signs of over work and poor recovery are fatigue, sore, achy muscles, and poor performance on your next workout.
Long runs (1 hour or longer): After a long run exceeding an hour or more you really need to replenish the nutrients you have depleted rather quickly. If you can get some good quality carbs and protein in quickly, you will be on your way to a great recovery. Again, I like recovery drinks because most of them offer not only carbs, but some protein as well. Of course you need to be hydrating throughout, but using sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, as part of your recovery, is a good idea as well because they replace those carbs your have lost over the course of your run. Sports drinks are absorbed quickly and paired with a protein bar, make a good recovery because not only are you replacing the lost carbs, you are providing your body with muscle building protein to repair the damage you have just done. Make sure to eat a regular meal within an hour or so to replenish your glycogen stores.
I truly hope this information is helpful. Again, I know everyone has different thoughts on what works, but this is some of the things that work well for me. Happy running, biking, swimming, or whatever you like doing!