What to Eat After Running

Here’s how to replace lost fluids, carbohydrates and proteins to speed up recovery time.

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After a long or strenuous run, it's essential to replenish your muscles with the necessary nutrients and fluids lost during exercise. The goal is to replace lost fluids, carbohydrates (glycogen, which is your energy source during exercise) and proteins in order to speed up recovery time and be ready for the next workout.

Meghan Reynolds
Meghan Reynolds
Restoring fluids is the first priority post-run. Drink water or a sports drink with electrolytes (such as Gatorade or water with a Nuun tablet). Next, focus on your nutrition. Within 30 to 45 minutes of your cool down, consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein. This is the window when your muscles replace their power supply the fastest and will help prevent the feeling of post-run starvation.

Ideally, you want to consume a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio: four grams of carbohydrates for every one gram of protein. How glycogen – a molecule that turns into energy – synthesizes really depends on the type of carbohydrate you're eating. The closer it is to its simplest form, glucose, the easier it will be to break down and use as fuel. That's why high-glycemic index foods like potatoes, whole-wheat pastas or breads, and rice refuel muscles better than fructose. It's important to consume protein as well because it enhances both glycogen replacement and muscle reparation in the initial hours after exercise. Below are lists with sources of protein, my favorite meal options and quick ideas to restore carbs and proteins.

Lean sources of protein and grams per serving:

• 3 ounces chicken breast; 21 grams

• 3 ounces salmon; 21 grams

• 3 ounces lean beef; 21 grams

• 3 ounces turkey breast; 21 grams

• 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese;14 grams

• 4 ounces fat free Greek yogurt; 14 grams

• 1 large egg; 6 grams

[Read: 7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise.]

Best post-run foods:

• Quinoa salad (try our Mexican Quinoa Salad)

• Turkey or chicken sandwich on whole-wheat bread

• Whole-wheat pasta (or rice) with sauce and lean meat

• Salad with lean meat or fish

• Scrambled eggs or an omelet with whole-wheat toast

• Whole-wheat toast with avocado and turkey slices

[Read: Can CrossFit Improve Running?]

If you can't prepare something right after a run, here are a few good options for immediate nutrient replacement (aim to eat a meal within an hour of eating this snack):

• 12 ounces chocolate milk

• Protein shake (made with milk or water)

• 6-ounce container of Greek yogurt

• Apple or banana with peanut or almond butter

• Hummus and carrots

And finally, after restocking all of your lost nutrients, you come to the most important part of a long run – putting your feet up, relaxing and relishing in your great training efforts and optimal recovery!

[Read: What to Eat Before Running.]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns and feedback.

Meghan Reynolds, a USATF Certified Running Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor, is a runner, yogi and fitness enthusiast. She has run 11 marathons, numerous half marathons and sprint triathlons. In addition to coaching runners, Meghan is a yoga instructor. She received her 200-hour level certification in 2004. Her yoga teachings focus on alignment and creating space in the body, which she finds vital for runners and athletes whose repetitive motions create blocks and stress in the body. Meghan credits her running accomplishments over the last 6 years to her dedication to cross-training, yoga and allowing herself and her body to recover properly after her rigorous running schedules. Find her on Twitter and Google+.