Speed Up Running Recovery: Consider Your Post Workout Nutrition

Looking for easy ways to speed up your running recovery?  I know I am. Turns out there is no simpler way to promote recovery than to eat the right kind of snack or meal soon after your workout– and I found the science that backs it up.

Eating within a half hour of a workout has been shown to improve recovery.  Including protein and carbohydrates in a post-workout snack significantly boosted glycogen store replenishment and has been shown to aid in muscle protein synthesis.  The benefits of a quicker and less painful recovery by eating shortly after your workout has been shown in many studies. 

Eating is usually one of the last things I do after a run.  I’m not usually hungry and I’m often in a hurry to get a shower and ready for the rest of my day.  However, after reading more on the benefits to running recovery below, you may find as I have, that making time for a snack or meal of protein and carbs will be well worth the effort.

How soon should I eat after a workout?

Key recovery factors after a workout are both hydration and nutrition.  Be sure to hydrate first as eating can interfere with getting properly rehydrated.  For more information on recovery hydration see the article here

Experts generally recommend eating a snack or meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein within two hours of an exercise session.  Timing really does matter and it has been found that eating sooner rather than later has the most benefits.

Studies show the body is most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within 30 minutes after exercise.  Eating quickly absorbed carbohydrates such a fruit (which can also help rehydrate you) and other simple carbohydrates seem to be best.

Some studies have even found that eating as soon as 15 minutes after completing a workout is the best time to replenish glycogen stores.   The same study found that a cell’s ability to rebuild and replenish diminished as much as 40% within 60 minutes. 3 R’s of Workout Recovery Nutrition (acefitness.org)

 Eating as soon as possible and including both protein and carbohydrates enhances the recovery process by restoring glycogen stores, stopping the breakdown of muscle proteins (especially if exercise in a fasted state), and supports protein synthesis in the body.  All of which are important for good recovery.

Looking a bit closer at this recovery process may give you the needed motivation to include a better snack or meal shortly after your workout.

Refuel to restore glycogen stores

The body uses glycogen which is stored carbohydrates during both aerobic and anaerobic workouts.  During aerobic exercise glycogen used primarily comes from the liver and anaerobic exercise primarily uses glycogen stored in the muscles. 

When running for any length of time it is likely both forms of glycogen are being used by your body.  Once these sources are depleted the body normally switches to burning fat for fuel.

Regardless of how much stored glycogen you have or use, it is important o replenish the body’s stores post workout for good recovery.  The body needs glycogen to function properly, especially the brain.  Carbohydrates provide the body and brain with the fuel needed and promotes the repairing and rebuilding of damaged area.

When stores of glycogen are depleted, you will likely experience fatigue until the stores are sufficiently replenished.  The body can even start to break down protein when there is not enough glucose available, impacting your muscle strength. 

Keep in mind, it can take more than a day to replenish glycogen stores depending on how depleted you are if you are not refueling soon after an intense workout.

Refuel for muscle protein synthesis

You may not realize it, but cardio exercise such as running does cause muscle break-down.  How much muscle is broken down will depend on each person’s fitness level, intensity, and duration of the workout.

Eating protein after a workout can maximize protein synthesis to repair muscles and enhance muscle growth.   It is generally recommended to consume 20-40 grams of high-quality protein post workout, but some studies showed more protein will likely yield better results. 

Refueling especially important after endurance workout

Muscle protein synthesis is also impaired when doing endurance workout such as a long-run lasting 90 minutes or more.  At the cellular level there is a higher level of muscle protein breakdown since the activity is constant as opposed to resistance training. 

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that 30 grams of protein is sufficient for recovery from exercise done lasting 90 minutes.  Studies have found that protein consumption after such workouts of between 30-45 grams showed an incremental increase in recovery up to 45 grams.

In a nutshell, not only is protein important in recovery, but the more the better (up to the 45 grams).  See the study here. Keep in mind that actual numbers you may need will vary based on your body composition, age, fitness level, and other factors. 

In addition to supporting protein synthesis, eating carbohydrates with protein can aid in stopping protein in your muscles from continuing to breakdown.   This is especially true if you exercise in a fasted state (first thing in the morning) or have a longer workout such as a long run over 90 minutes.

What kinds of carbohydrates should I use to refuel?

When choosing your snack it is good to keep in mind that the kinds of carbohydrates eaten is impactful in the recovery process. Adding both fructose and another glucose-based carbohydrate along with some salt was found to be superior in replenishing glycogen. 

Fructose takes a different pathway from glucose in the absorption process.  Utilizing both pathways will increase the absorption rate of carbohydrates in your body so they get in your system faster. 

Any fruit can be used, but blueberries may have other benefits that protect and rebuild the body faster.  Blueberries contain chlorogenic acid which has an anti-inflammatory effect that is specific to gut inflammation you may have. 

Other carbohydrates that may have multiple benefits for your recovery would be sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes contain the antioxidant cyanidin which helps neutralize some excise byproducts that inhibit good recovery.

The liked the following YouTube video which contains more information on effects of cardio exercise and how best to refuel.  Eat THIS After CARDIO for Maximum Recovery & Fat loss – YouTube

What are some simple snacks to eat to maximize recovery?

For the simplest of recovery food ideas see the list below which contain a combination of protein and carbohydrates:

Peanut butter sandwich

Yogurt and fruit

Chocolate milk and perhaps some pretzels

Post-workout smoothie (includes protein and carbs)

For optimal recovery, especially after an endurance workout, eat a post workout meal as soon as possible.  The meal should include 30-45 grams of protein, fruit, a second kind of carbohydrate, and some salt

Key Takeaways

For light to moderate exercise sessions of 30 minutes or less, you typically will not need to worry too much about refueling.  If you are doing high-intensity intervals, exercise longer than 45 minutes, or exercise in a fasted state then refueling should be a priority to speed up and enhance the recovery process. 

A combination of protein and carbohydrates has been shown to enhances the transport of glycogen to the muscles and promote protein synthesis.  Most studies have found that the sooner you refuel after a workout, the better and faster the recovery will be.

Keep in mind this is just one part of the recovery process.  Your overall nutritional habits will impact your running performance and your running recovery.  Eating a well-balanced diet with sufficient nutritional calories is important not only for good recovery but for a healthy lifestyle.

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