What Should I Eat After A Run? When you start to run, your body provides you with the energy to make it through the miles. When you’re done with your run, it’s time to refuel and take care of your body. That means eating something as soon as possible after your workout. To make sure your muscles can recover properly and you feel great the rest of the day, it’s important to eat the right foods post-run. Here are our top picks for refueling after exercise.
Basic Nutrition For A Runner’s Diet
A runner’s diet should consist of a balance of all three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) along with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and water.
While this is no different than a healthy diet for non-runners, runners usually have higher carbohydrate and protein needs relative to the general population, particularly runners training at a high intensity.
What Is The Best Food For Runners?
It’s all well and good to talk about nutrition for runners in a general sense, but what should a runner’s diet actually consist of in terms of optimal food for runners?
When it comes to creating the ideal diet for runners, not all foods are created equally. In other words, it’s not enough to focus on getting a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, along with an adequate total caloric intake.
The quality of your diet is paramount to actually meeting your nutritional needs as a runner. Below, we share examples of runner-friendly foods for each of the three macronutrients.
Although many popular diets seem to demonize carbohydrates, carbohydrates are usually considered a key component in nutrition for runners as they are the body’s preferred fuel source during vigorous exercise.
Carbohydrates are generally categorized as either simple carbohydrates or complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates consist of simple sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) like glucose, fructose, maltose, lactose, sucrose, and galactose. They are digested and absorbed very quickly but do not provide sustained energy.
Simple carbohydrates can also spike blood sugar levels and subsequent insulin levels. While this isn’t necessarily ideal for overall health, a runner’s diet should include some simple carbohydrates.
For example, simple carbohydrates are beneficial before and during a workout to top off glycogen stores, when there is neither the time nor blood flow to the digestive system to break down complex starches, fiber, protein, and fat.
Pre-run snacks and running fuel consisting primarily of simple carbohydrates can therefore provide a boost of energy for working muscles without causing digestive distress.
Examples of foods high in simple carbohydrates include fresh and dried fruit, applesauce, refined grains like crackers and white bread, cereals, packaged oatmeal, candy, juice, and sports beverages.
Complex carbohydrates are formed from polysaccharides, which are longer chains of sugar molecules strung together. Often called starches, complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, so they provide more lasting and sustainable energy.
Complex carbohydrates also usually contain fiber, which adds bulk or volume to the diet which increases fullness, aids digestion and promotes bowel regularity, and feeds the beneficial gut bacteria.
The majority of the carbohydrates you eat should be complex carbohydrates. Good sources of complex carbohydrates for runners include whole grains, tubers, and legumes.
Check out these detailed lists of carbohydrate-rich foods:
- Vegetables: Spinach, green beans, kale, artichokes, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, peppers, cabbage, parsnips, celery, asparagus, bok choy, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, onions, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, pears, peaches, passion fruit, oranges, grapefruit, berries, cherries, pineapple, kiwi, kumquats, plums, mangos, star fruit, grapes, nectarines, papaya, melon, guava, clementines, jackfruit, currants, pomegranates, apricots, figs, tomatoes, pumpkin, etc.
- Whole Grains: Whole, unprocessed oats, whole wheat, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, barley, brown rice, quinoa, teff, farro, arameth; pasta, bread, oatmeal, healthy cereals, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, soy, etc.
- Running-Specific Sport Performance Fuel: Energy and protein bars, healthy energy gels, sports drinks, dried fruit, etc.
As long as your body is well-fueled and your runner’s diet plan is generally meeting your nutrition needs, protein isn’t typically oxidized for energy while you run to the degree that carbohydrates and fats are.
However, protein is vital for runners because it helps refuel and repair your muscles after training. When considering optimal nutrition for runners, post-run meals and snacks that contain a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein have been shown to best help your body recover from your workout.
For example, if you are having a 300-calorie snack after a run, aim for about 60 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of protein.
Protein sources in a healthy runner’s diet include:
- Fish: Halibut, anchovies, flounder, salmon, sardines, haddock, catfish, mackerel, tuna, bass, trout, tilapia, mahi-mahi, cod, catfish, etc.
- Seafood: Scallops, crab, shrimp, prawns, lobster, crayfish, mussels, squid, oysters, clams, etc.
- Poultry: Turkey, chicken, squab, emu, duck, quail, etc.
- Lean Meat: Lean beef, pork, venison, bison, alligator, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, etc.
- Soy: Tofu, tempeh, edamame, soybeans, soy milk, etc.
- Low-Fat Dairy: Low-fat milk, cheese, ricotta, yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, buttermilk, etc.
Whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds also contain some protein, along with other macronutrients.
Healthy fats are also an important component of a runner’s diet. Fat increases satiety and is the body’s preferred fuel source during low-intensity aerobic runs like recovery runs and easy cross-training workouts.
Therefore, if you are doing lots of base-building Zone 2 training, you’ll want to consume a higher percentage of your calories from fat and reduce your carbohydrate intake accordingly.
Fat also provides more calories per gram than carbohydrates and protein, so increasing your intake is a good way to feel fuller on a smaller volume of food. This can be helpful for runners who struggle to meet their caloric needs or want energy-dense fueling options before, during, or after a run.
The following foods are good sources of healthy fats to include in a runner’s diet:
- Nuts and Nut Butter: Almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, kola nuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, etc.
- Seeds: Squash seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Healthy Oils: Olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.
- Dark chocolate
The best foods to eat after a run
Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced runner, the right food can make a big impact on your performance. Here are some suggestions for foods you might want to try out after your next run, plus some suggestions from our athletes too.
Eating after a run is essential to kickstarting the growth and repair process. But what you eat is arguably even more important. Here are a few options that you might want to include as part of your post-workout routine. And a few suggestions from some of our top athletes too. But first…
Carbs or protein?
Ideally both. Protein is very popular these days. But after a run it’s important to get a good mixture of carbohydrates and protein to help you recover properly. Your body mainly uses carbohydrates (stored as glycogen) to fuel high intensity exercise and because we can only store a limited amount at any one time, it’s vital that you restock afterwards.
Protein is just as critical as it provides the body with amino acids to rebuild muscle – which should make you stronger and faster. However, too much protein can slow carbohydrate absorption so it’s important to try and keep a balance.
How much to eat after a run?
Sources suggest that, ideally, you should aim for a ratio between 3/4:1. To be clear, that’s roughly three to four servings of carbohydrates for every serving of protein. If you’ve gone on a long or intense run then making sure you fuel up on both carbs and protein properly is even more important to the recovery process.
When it comes to how much protein you need, experts recommend ingesting 15-20g of protein after a tough run. If you want to be even more accurate, try to eat 0.14 grams of protein for every pound of your body weight. So if you weigh 150lbs, then you should be aiming for around 21 grams of protein. To find out how much protein you need, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.14.
More familiar with kilograms? Just multiply your weight by 2.2 to convert it into pounds. Then multiply that by 0.14 to find out much protein you need.
The Best Foods to Eat After a Run to Kickstart Recovery
We’ve rounded up the best foods for a runner’s recovery. Keep this shopping list handy!
If you’re a runner, you’re already taking care of your body in so many healthy ways. Running is aerobic, so you’re bettering your cardiovascular fitness each time you hit the pavement. You’re also strengthening your bones, muscles, and staying in check with a healthy weight. Kudos to you for giving your body so much healthy goodness with an excellent form of fitness—but it can’t stop there. There are certain food choices every runner needs when it comes to recovery, and we have the scoop for you. Eat This, Not That! chatted with Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, an award-winning registered dietitian, book author, and recipe developer, who reveals the best foods for a runner’s recovery.
Manaker tells us, “After a run, your body needs certain nutrients to support recovery by refueling muscles, replenishing glucose stores, providing rehydration, and reducing inflammation.” It’s important to place nutrition as your number one priority 30 to 45 minutes after going on a run. “Both protein and carbohydrates are important after a run. Electrolytes and antioxidants can be beneficial to include as well. Not refueling after a run can leave you feeling groggy and weak. And over time, skipping your nutrition may impact your post-run recovery,” Manaker advise.
To help you out, Manaker recommends some of the absolute best foods for a runner’s recovery that you should know about ASAP.
Any running is good running. Whether it’s training for a marathon, taking a light jog, or doing sprints, the health benefits of kicking into higher gear are huge. So how do you best optimize them? Most people have their pre-run regimen down—specifically what they’ll be eating before a run or competition. This is important, of course, but what you eat after a run is equally vital for recovery. The average post-run routine generally goes something like this: stumble through the door, sweat a bit, sit down, head for the shower. What’s missing here is the refueling stage. You need to recoup what you drained.
Depending on your goals—i.e. training for a marathon or just logging more consistent weekly miles—what you eat after a run should aim to refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate to aid the recovery process and maximize the training effect. The focus of post-run nutrition should be on replenishing glycogen (stored energy), repairing the damage caused to your muscles, and replacing lost nutrients and minerals like electrolytes.
Here are three guidelines to follow when figuring out what to eat after a run:
- Focus on complex carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores in your liver and muscles: The recommended amount is 0.5-0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 minutes after training—for glycogen resynthesis.
- Replace electrolytes, mineral, and water that you lost in sweat: Hydration is key since your body and muscles are mainly water. Just a 2 percent weight loss from sweat can cause performance and cognitive decrements. Although sweat rates and sweat sodium concentrations are highly individualized, look to add some sodium and chloride as those are the two main electrolytes lost in sweat. Factor in plenty of water too. About 16 fluid oz per pound of H2O will be lost during your run.
- Rebuild and repair your muscles that were damaged during your run: Adding some post-run protein to your diet has been shown to help with the uptake of carbs into muscle. Aim for 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Look for a 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio within 30 minutes. Don’t wait longer than two hours to re-nourish.
Now that you’ve got the ratio and timing down, let’s look at some of the best individual foods for recovering the right way. Some of them you can eat by themselves and others you might want to make into a meal, but they’re all good at helping you make the most of any exercise you do.
Of course, these are just suggestions and to get the most out of any exercise, a well-rounded diet is essential. Where possible try to stick to natural foods, rather than anything processed.
Beets (or beetroot) have lots of nutrients and very few calories. They been linked to helping with brain health, inflammation and blood pressure. They’re also said to increases blood and oxygen flow to muscles making them ideal for recovery after a run and, potentially, helping to boost performance when consumed before a run too.
If you want to satisfy cravings for something sweet then fruit is an excellent choice. Avocado, bananas, cantaloup, kiwis, peaches, pears and watermelon are particularly beneficial after a run – but for different reasons. Watermelon, for example, contains lycopene which helps reduce muscle pain. Kiwis, on the other hand, are full of potassium and magnesium (which help muscles relax) as well as antioxidants (which prevent inflammation).
If you’d rather refuel in liquid form and still want something fruity then pineapple juice could be for you. It can boost your immune system, reduce inflammation, aid digestion, boost heart health and may even help fight cancer. It tastes pretty good too.
3. Mixed nuts
A handful of nuts (ideally including almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts) can help start the recovery process with a healthy blend of protein, fat and salt, as well as some calcium and zinc to help boost bone health.
4. Chicken breast
Chicken breast is ideal because it is often leaner than other parts of the bird and its bovine and porcine equivalents (cows and pigs). It’s low in saturated fat and has a good amount of omega-6 fatty acids. It’s nutritious and, because it’s a lean protein source, it can help you lose weight and gain muscle.
Salmon is often described as a superfood. Although this name is itself often described as a marketing term, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that salmon is very good for you. It’s another great lean protein source and full of omega-3 fatty acids, which help with your heart and blood pressure, as well as reducing inflammation. It also contains vitamins A and D, and a good amount of calcium.
6. Beans and Legumes
From chickpeas and lentils to black beans and Edamame. Beans and legumes come in many forms and many of them offer numerous health benefits – whether it’s boosting healthy gut bacteria or reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels. They’re also packed with protein and unlike meat, (which also has lots of protein) they’re full of fiber too. Another benefit? Most of them are very versatile and can be added a salad or cooked meal without much fuss. Medical News Today suggests that soybeans (Edamame), kidney beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), navy beans, black beans and pinto beans are the most healthful around, but most of them are pretty good for you.
Versatile and super nutritious, eggs offer a very healthy mix of protein and healthy fats. They also contain all nine amino acids (the building blocks that make up protein) which means they are a complete protein source so they’re excellent for recovery. Want a tip? Try a fried egg with some avocado and wholemeal toast. Delicious and nutritious.
8. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is particularly beneficial after a run because it packs a lot of protein and is a source of calcium too. It can also help maintain a healthy gut, which is always a good thing. It’s also associated with lowering blood pressure and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Cottage cheese is another high protein option that’s relatively low in calories.
9. Chocolate milk
This one has been making headlines around the world for a while now. But for good reason. There have been many studies investigating chocolate milk in relation to recovery after exercise and most seem to come to the same conclusion: that it’s actually very good for you. Apparently it has the ideal amount of carbohydrates and protein for replenishing glycogen levels. So, you don’t even have to feel guilty about drinking it – after a workout at least.
Want some more suggestions? We recently published an article on what to eat before a run, and many of the suggestions included there work well after a run too.