Post Race Nutrition: Recover and Refuel

Last week, we talked about how to eat before the race to maximize your performance. So, now we logically need to address what to do once the race is over. By this point, you’ve burned massive amounts of energy and the goal of the post-run meal is to recover and refuel. Of course, your recovery needs after a 5k are going to be very different than if you had run a marathon instead. There are, however, a few guiding principles you can use to make sure you properly recover after your race.

But, to fully understand the logic behind this approach, let’s first look at what a long race does to your body.


Why You Need To Recover

During a run, especially during long bouts, your muscles are under an incredible amount of stress. To meet the demands your making on them, your muscles need to stay fueled with glycogen. This is exactly why your pre-race carbo-load is so important; to make sure you have the necessary fuel in reserve.

But your body doesn’t only use glycogen during a race. That sugar is the primary source of fuel for everything you do throughout the day. So, after a race, you’re glycogen stores are low – if not totally depleted – and you need to replace them.

Carbohydrates isn’t the only concern, though. All that work literally destroys your muscles, creating countless microscopic tears in the fiber which need to be repaired. In order to properly recover, then, your muscles need protein.

And of course, when you run you sweat. That’s a lot of lost water that your body desperately needs. Rehydration, as well as getting more electrolytes,¬†is also important at this point.


The Size of Your Meal

As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to want to eat about 100 calories for every mile you ran. This is especially important for long-distance races, however a problem presents itself. After a long race, you are extremely susceptible to digestive upset and cramming 2600 calories in one sitting is an even worse idea than it would normally be. Spread those calories out, even if it takes a few days to completely replace them.

This brings us neatly to the topic of calorie-free recovery drinks. Don’t use them. Generally these products achieve their “calorie-free” banner by replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener. Along with all the other concerns connected to these substances, the fact remains that a big dose of simple carbs is exactly what you need immediately after a race.



After considering the effects that a race can have on your system, it becomes clear what your meal should contain: Carbs and protein.

Most runners use a ratio of about 80 percent carbs and 20 percent protein in their recovery meal, which can also be in the form of a drink. Several commercial products sell mixes or prepared drinks that will give you a dose of each in the appropriate measure. If you need something quick, though, chocolate milk is a classic DIY solution.

While fat usually accompanies protein, try to limit your intake. This is especially true when it comes to greasy foods. Remember, at that kind of exertion, your stomach is fragile and easily upset.

What have you found to be the best way to refuel post-run? Please share your tips in the comments!





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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.