No matter how long you’ve been a runner or how far you typically run, it’s likely that you’ve heard about recovery. For most runners, recovery from a workout involves stretching, hydrating, and sometimes a snack or protein shake in the hours following a cooldown and shower. But what you might not know is why recovery, from a nutrition standpoint, is essential, and how you can plan the perfect recovery from your next hard effort.
In the world of sports nutrition, recovery is the act of refueling, and it should be started within 30 to 60 minutes of workout completion, especially if you’ve got another workout lined up in the next eight hours. This 30 to 60 minute window is when your muscles are primed to take in nutrients and glycogen so that they can begin to rebuild from the stress they just endured. When designed right, a recovery meal or snack prevents further muscle breakdown, helps to optimise muscle and liver glycogen stores, and ultimately promotes desired adaptations to training. Omit this recovery meal and your body will remain in a state of breakdown, and muscle soreness in the hours and days following the hard effort is more likely.
Runners have been known to recover with a variety of foods and drinks, often dependent on what they can tolerate. That being said, there are some guidelines that should be followed in order to recover quickly and effectively.
- Consider your carb sources. For quick and effective muscle restoration, pack your plate with foods that are high in glucose and sucrose rather than fructose. In other words, plan your recovery meal around starchy foods rather than fruits and soft drinks – you don’t have to totally avoid these items; just don’t make them your main source of carbs. As for simple versus complex, either type will promote restoration, but for best health, make your recovery meal count and choose healthy items rather than junk foods.
- Choose carbs first. It’s difficult to refuel your muscle and liver glycogen stores without any glycogen. So be sure to consume some carbohydrate in the hour that follows your workout. If you want to get technical about it, try to aim for approximately 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight. So if you weigh 68 kilos, you’ll want to consume approximately 68 grams of carbs. You can find this amount in something as simple as a large bagel topped with jam and a side of pretzels. If you just can’t seem to stomach this amount of carbs, consider the next tip.
- Don’t forget protein. Research has found that adding a small amount of protein – approximately 15 to 25 grams – to a recovery meal will speed your muscle recovery, and protein is critical if you skimp out on the recommended carbohydrate intake of 1 gram/kilo needed to recover properly. Consuming protein in addition to carbohydrate will help repair muscles, increase the amount of protein in your muscles, and help you adapt to your training (i.e. the next time you tackle the same, hard effort, it will feel a little bit easier).
- Remember to rehydrate. Any time you cross the finish line dehydrated, it’s important to restore hydration status as soon as possible. By adding fluids to your recovery meal and throughout the hours following exercise, you’ll ensure you recover quickly, both physically and mentally. But don’t reach for water alone – you need electrolytes too. Only when water is consumed along with foods containing sodium, chloride, and other minerals will water be retained in your system and effectively restore your hydration balance. How will you know when you’ve recovered the fluid you lost? Easy answer: Weigh yourself before the activity and after and determine how many grams you lost during the event. Drink that many mLs – and then some – until you recover the lost weight. If you don’t have access to a scale, another, easier tactic is to simply drink until your thirst diminishes and your urine runs a light straw color.