Probably the most important thing a runner can do after a run is refuel. Many times, other commitments, the family and kids waiting, not feeling hungry, or just being plain tired, prevents runners from taking that post-run step of replacing the carbs they've burned on the run as well as ingesting some protein to aid in a quick recovery.
A runner can burn close to 1000 calories on a 10-miler. That's a lot of calories. It's important to replace what was lost as soon as possible. Ever fall a sleep right after a long hard run? The nap may have felt good, but did you feel sluggish the rest of the day? The next day? That was probably due to your muscles not having been refueled after your hard run. It's kind of like driving your car past the oil-change date. It starts to run a little rough. Even if you don't feel like eating, it's best to at least down a sports drink soon after the run so you're at least replacing some of the lost carbs.
A good rule of thumb is to eat a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein within 45 minutes of finishing a run. Most research says this ratio consumed shortly after a workout is optimal in speeding-up recovery and getting your tired, broken-down muscles the nourishment they need to rebuild and repair. Nonfat or lowfat chocolate milk actually has this 4:1 ratio and makes a great post run recovery snack. Don't worry too much about having exactly the 4:1 ratio. The most important thing to take from this is that for a post-run snack, you need to consume more carbs than protein. Too much protein can slow rehydration and glycogen replenishment.
How much should you eat? Not a lot. Your snack only needs to be about 220-440 calories (200-400 calories [50-100 grams] coming from carbs and 20-40 calories [5-10 grams] coming from protein.) If you've finished an easy short run or a laidback long run, then go with a lighter snack. If it's been a hard quick speed workout or a hard long run, then go with a more substantial snack. After an endurance race such as a marathon, it's a great idea to repeat this snack combo every couple of hours to keep a constant refueling supply to your muscles hard at work repairing themselves. Remember the you're not adding calories on top of your regular caloric intake that will just sit there and turn to fat. You're replacing the calories you used as fuel on your run.
So besides chocolate milk, what are some other foods to have handy for a post run snack? Listed below are just a few of the foods to include on your post-run food grocery shopping list.
Post-Run Snack Shopping List
Fruits—Fruits are a great source of simple carbs. Yep, that's right, simple carbs. Usually when you think of simple carbs you think of the bad carbs like white bread and doughnuts. Fruit contains the simple sugar fructose which is a simple sugar, but fruits are also packed with lots of fiber and they're also nutrient dense with lots of important vitamins and minerals. Fruit makes a great post run snack because the simple sugar it contains is digested quickly and can quickly be converted to energy your muscles need in order to repair themselves after your run. Here are just a few of the great fruits you may want to include on your shopping list.
apples (fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants)
bananas (potassium, fiber, vitamins C and B6)
blueberries (vitamins C and K, fiber)
cherries (vitamin C, fiber, potassium)
cantaloupe (vitamins A and C, potassium)
figs (fiber, iron, calcium, potassium)
raisins (potassium, fiber)
Vegetables—Vegetables are a great source of complex carbs and other nutrients. Listed below are just a few of the many great vegetables to consider for your post-run eating.
carrots (vitamins A and K, potassium, lutein, beta-carotene)
broccoli (vitamins C, K, A, B6; fiber; potassium)
celery (vitamins K and C, fiber, potassium)
corn (fiber, potassium, vitamin C)
leafy greens (i.e., romaine, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, mustard greens, etc.) (vitamins A and K, fiber, antioxidants)
butternut squash (vitamins A, C, E; fiber; potassium)
summer squash and zucchini (vitamins C and B6, potassium, fiber)
sweet potatoes (vitamins A and C, fiber, potassium, beta-carotene)
tomatoes (vitamins A, C, K; potassium, lycopene)
Grains—Whether it's bread or pasta, look for 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat. If it's not clear how much whole grain is used, check the nutrition label. Low fiber means more processed/refined grains have been used. Also check to make sure the sugars content is low. Then check the ingredients list. The ingredients are listed in order by how much is contained in the product. So, whole grain or whole wheat should be listed as the first ingredient. Sometimes it's hard to find 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat products. If that's the case, buy products that have the the highest fiber content per serving (3 grams or more). 100% whole wheat products will also have more protein since the grains have not been processed or refined. Avoid products where the first ingredients listed are "enriched flour" or "enriched bleached flour."
100% whole wheat pita
100% whole wheat tortilla
100% whole wheat crackers
100% whole wheat bagels
100% whole wheat English muffins
whole-grain cereal (cold or hot)
pretzels (choose the whole grain variety that's baked not fried; Check the label. Some of the flavored varieties contain extra fat and calories)
100% whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta
Oatmeal (steel-cut is probably the most healthful, but the quick-cooking and instant varieties are good too. Be sure to check the fat and sodium content of the instant varieties.)
Quinoa (Besides soybeans, quinoa is the only other plant that's a complete protein. It's tasty and has the texture of pasta. It cooks quickly and can be used as replacement in many pasta dishes as well as being prepared as a hot breakfast cereal.)
Dairy—Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium which is needed for strong bones, but most people are unaware that calcium is also a key ingredient in the energy production process for muscle contraction. Just be sure to select the low-fat or no-fat varieties. Milk is also fortified with vitamin D which helps build a strong immune system.
part-skim mozzarella string cheese
1% or fat-free cottage cheese
low-fat or fat-free yogurt
low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt (contains twice the protein of traditional yogurt)
low-fat chocolate milk (has the perfect 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein)
Meat, Fish, Eggs and Meat Substitutes—Meat, fish, eggs, and meat substitutes are great sources of complete proteins. Fish containing Omega-3s (healthful polyunsaturated fats) help improve cardiovascular health and can help reduce blood pressure. Lean meats and poultry are also high in iron, B12, zinc, and phosphorus. It's no longer taboo to eat eggs. Research has shown that they're not the bad health culprit as once thought. Eating an egg a day is fine. Eggs are high in protein, iron, B12 and folate.
lean cuts of red meat
deli-sliced turkey, ham, roast beef (Watch out for high levels of sodium and fat. Not all deli meats are equal. Some are made with lesser quality and higher-fat meats. A good trick is to have it lean deli meats shaved or sliced very thin. That way you can pile it on your sandwich and it looks like more than the same serving size of a thicker cut.)
ground turkey or chicken (make sure it's lean white meat)
tuna (select varieties packed in water; the new pouches are great!)
salmon (select varieties packed in water; the new pouches are great!)
veggie patties (there are a wide variety of veggie burgers and black bean burgers as well as soybean-based chicken flavored patties in the frozen foods section that are low in fat, high in protein, quick to cook, and pretty tasty.)
eggs and egg substitutes (the yolk contains the fat including the omega-3s as well as vitamins A, B12, and E. Because the yolk contains the fat it contains about 3/4 of the egg's calories. The egg white contains more than half of the protein, iron, and selenium.)
Nuts and Nut Butters—Nuts are a great source of protein, vitamin E, folate, and magnesium. They also provide a small amount of fiber and iron. They're a great source of heart-healthy fats (mono- and polyunsaturated). Keep the serving size small (about 1 oz).Be sure to eat the raw or toasted varieties that contain no additional oils or salt.
almonds (great source of Vitamin E)
walnuts (contains more omega-3s than any other nut)
peanuts (1 oz packs 8 grams of protein)
tomato-based pasta sauce (tomato-based sauces provide potassium; vitamins A, C, and K; and antioxidants. Meat varieties will provide some protein too. Select sauces with less than 700mg of sodium per 1/2-cup)
hummus (made with chickpeas and tahini [sesame paste], and is a great source of protein and calcium)
guacamole (avocados are a good source of potassium, vitamin E, heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and folate)
trail mix (skip the candied variety; focus on ones mainly consisting of dried fruit, granola, and nuts.)
dark chocolate (choose varieties that are made of 70% cocoa or higher. Keep the serving size small. One square of a 70% Dark Chocolate Lindt Bar and 1 oz of almonds make a great snack)
energy bars (be careful. Some are loaded with fat. Select ones with 6 grams or less of fat, 200 calories or less, 25-30 grams of carbs, and 5-10 grams of protein.)
sports drink (for post-run refueling be sure to select varieties that are not low in carbs.)
There are hundreds of different combinations for snacks using the foods listed above. Here's just a few.
Post-Run Snack Ideas:
English muffin with peanut or almond butter
apple slices and a mozzarella cheese stick
apple slices and peanut or almond butter
apple, pear, or peach slices with low-fat cottage cheese
baby carrots with peanut butter or hummus
leftover chili makes a great post-run snack
wheat crackers with hummus
wheat crackers with tuna salad (made with lowfat mayo)
turkey wrap (lean turkey wrapped in a tortilla)
pita bread with hummus
pita or tortilla with tuna
pasta with meat sauce
pasta with tuna
scrambled egg and 100% whole wheat bread sandwich
sports drink and a mozzarella cheese stick
So, stock your cupboard and your fridge, train hard, and don't forget to refuel. You're tired muscles will thank you for it!