6 Recovery Nutrition Tips for Long-Distance Runners
Proper nutrition following endurance running is vital to optimizing your recovery. In other words, what you eat matters—as does when you eat it. While food isn’t the only factor affecting your recovery (hello, sleep!), it plays a significant role in your ability to recover well. To help you make the most of your recovery, here are my favorite tips for recovery nutrition.
Eat and drink as soon as possible
Ideally, you should rehydrate and refuel as soon as possible and within an hour of finishing your workout or race. If you aren’t able to eat a meal shortly thereafter, be sure to at least consume a snack that contains both protein and carbohydrates and rehydrate to kick off your recovery. This helps to keep your body from breaking down and encourages it to begin repairs. If possible, following your snack, aim to eat a balanced meal within two hours.
Focus on rapid rehydration
While you sweated it out on the course or trail, your body was losing precious water and electrolytes. This is why it’s so important to begin rehydrating ASAP.
Endurance athletes should aim to replace 150% of the fluid lost based on body weight. Another rule of thumb is to drink 16–20 oz. per pound of body weight lost during your workout. That said, you may need to rehydrate with higher amounts of water and electrolytes in certain circumstances, such as if you were in a hot and humid environment.
When rehydrating, incorporating electrolytes, especially sodium, is helpful to aid in hydration and replenish those lost through sweat. This is where sports drinks or electrolyte powders could come into play.
Don’t skimp on carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel during moderate and intense exercise. They are also needed during recovery to replenish glycogen (i.e., the carbohydrates stored in your liver and muscles). To maximize this process, try to eat 1–1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per hour of exercise within the first three to five hours of recovery.
Pay attention to protein needs
Incorporating protein into your recovery nutrition is critical to preventing skeletal and muscular breakdowns. It also helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, or the repair of your muscles. What’s more, consuming protein with carbohydrates after endurance training can increase the glycogen in your muscles (i.e., your carb stores) synthesis by 40–100%, so you’re ready for your next workout.
Best practice is to consume 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight within two hours following your run. You could also consume this amount beforehand to assist in recovery.
Bring on the antioxidants
We don’t always think about antioxidants as part of recovery nutrition, but they can be beneficial! Examples of foods high in antioxidants include berries, tart cherries, and dark leafy greens. Research shows that tart cherry juice in particular may help to promote recovery. The recommendation is to drink 8–12 oz. (or 1 oz. of concentrate) per day for 4–5 days before your endurance run or race and 2–3 days following it for maximum benefits.
Make it all about you
While we can give tips and cite studies on recovery nutrition all day, it all comes down to you. What and when you should eat and drink following an endurance run depends on your unique physiological makeup and dietary needs.
Working with a Registered Dietitian
Working with a dietitian is always a wise move. A dietitian will consider your needs and performance goals to make sure you’re consuming the right amount of water and electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein to optimize your recovery. To really dial in your recovery nutrition, a dietitian can help you incorporate beneficial fats, vitamins, and minerals too! At Trail Transformation we have several ways you can work with our Registered Dietitian. Explore the options below.