Q : I know I have to replace fluids, but do I need to eat after I run?
A : Yes! Eating will help you recover from the recent run and prepare for the next one. Your body needs to replace the fluids, sodium, potassium and carbohydrates used during exercise. Plus, you need protein to repair stressed muscles. Failing to eat well after runs can result in a lack of fuel and chronic fatigue.
Your body will absorb nutrients most effectively within 30 minutes of running, although you'll still enjoy some refueling benefits up to two hours after exercising. If you don't feel like eating right after a run, at least have a sports drink. This is only a start, since sports drinks provide no protein, few vitamins and only a portion of your carbohydrates.
Within two hours, make time for a meal with some healthy carbohydrates (grains, fruits or vegetables) and proteins (nuts, seeds, cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs or lean meat). And drinks lots of fluids.
The size of your meal should be proportional to the length of the run. Even if you're trying to lose weight, you need to refuel. Cut your calories at other times of the day, not when glycogen repletion and muscle repair are high priorities. Also, disregard the current trend of avoiding carbohydrates and eating mainly proteins. Runners need proteins, but carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of fuel.
If you're on the go, try these portable refueling snacks:
- cereal mix or bar
- dried fruit or nuts
- whole grain crackers with peanut butter
- fruit-filled muffin
- energy bar containing both proteins and carbohydrates
If you have a refrigerator or kitchen handy, easy refueling snacks include:
- cereal and milk
- fruit smoothie
- protein drink
- pancakes with fruit
- baked potato with veggies and melted cheese
Don't let your next long run be cut short due to a low fuel supply. Rehydrate and remember to eat!
Janice L. Dowell, M.S., M.H.S., R.D., L.D.
Registered Dietitian-- Sports, Cardiovascular & Wellness Dietitians Practice Group
Ms. Dowell is a Registered Dietitian and a member of the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Dietitians Practice Group and Weight Management Practice Group of American Dietetics Association. Currently an Outpatient Dietitian after completing her Masters Degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics, with Honors.