A runner’s post-workout fueling needs aren’t one-size-fits-all. In fact, they depend on several variables, including body size, metabolism, time spent exercising and the intensity level at which a workout is performed. Below, registered dietitians and nutritionists explain what fueling strategies will set you up for success—no matter how long or hard you run.
Short Run: Moderate
For short runs that are performed at moderate intensity, “a combination of protein and healthy carbs is good because it’s likely that your body [is] using a fat as its primary source of energy,” says Rebecca Gahan, owner and founder of Kick@55 Fitness in Chicago. “During periods of steady state workouts, your body breaks down stored fat (triglycerides) to glycerol and free fatty acids.”
A snack like a banana with 1 Tbsp. of almond butter and one or two eggs will give you the protein needed to rebuild muscles and the carbs for replenishing energy. Certain types of juice can also be useful for replenishing your body with the calories it burned during the workout. “Beet juice has been shown to enhance performance benefits by way of faster runs, improved endurance and increased blood and oxygen flow to working muscles,” says Maggie Michalczyk, M.S., R.D.N. “Beets contain nitrates that turn into nitric oxide in the body, which helps to promote blood flow through the muscles.” Try a post-workout beet smoothie made with beets, kale, apple and Greek yogurt or your favorite milk.
Long Run: Moderate
According to Michalczyk, it’s essential to refuel with complex carbohydrates and protein at a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio within 30 to 60 minutes after a long run. “Carbs are needed to refuel, and protein is imperative for muscle repair,” she explains.
While fish, chicken and turkey are healthy protein options for runners, vegetarians can reap similar benefits from a black bean quinoa salad with veggies and avocado, as this blend of ingredients supplies plant protein and complex carbohydrates. Those that don’t mind eating fish or meat can also consider salmon with wild rice and beans or whole-wheat turkey wraps with spinach, cheese, peppers and hummus.
Short Run: Intense
“On a short run that’s pretty intense or at a sprint, you are going to want to refuel with carbohydrates because carbs were the fuel source your body was mainly relying on when performing intense exercises,” Michalczyk says. Post-run fueling options for these workouts can include salmon, sweet potato or butternut squash. “The healthy complex carbs from sweet potatoes will help to replenish carbohydrates, and fish is great after a workout because it contains healthy fat for staying power and a healthy dose of minerals and vitamins like B12, which is crucial for energy production.”
Both Gahan and Michalczyk also recommend eating oatmeal with fruit and nuts. “This mix of healthy carbs, protein and fiber will help to refuel your muscles and keep you fuller for longer, thanks to the staying power of the fiber found in oats,” Michalcyzk says.
What Always Works
No matter the length or intensity of a workout, hydrating after it’s over is key. “While the duration of the run and each individual’s athletic abilities will certainly help guide their recovery nutrition, both short and long runs can be replenished with 100 percent pomegranate juice,” says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.P.T., explaining that this particular juice is a solid source of potassium and can boost muscle strength recovery. “Ensuring the proper balance between sodium and potassium is crucial to preventing muscle cramping, as well as serious side effects of sweat loss during a hard run,” Shaw says.