As a nutritionist, I get asked most often by runners, “What should I eat before a race?” That is a fair question. Proper nutrition enables you to run your best (big, resounding “duh”). But, what if I told you that eating after a run is equally, perhaps more, important?
Oh yes, it’s true. If you’re in public, kindly pick your jaw up off the floor.
Well, maybe you aren’t that surprised, because it makes sense. All muscle build happens after you exercise, and muscles need glucose to repair themselves. When you eat, your blood glucose rises, and your damaged muscles use that for repair. However, if you have little blood glucose available, your body can take glucose from healthy muscle to repair the damaged muscle.
It’s like trying to knit the top of a scarf by using yarn from the bottom: you’re getting nowhere, fast.
Thankfully there’s an easy way to prevent this vicious circle, and you’re going to love it because you get to eat more food! As soon as you finish stretching after a run, EAT!
Within 30 minutes of finishing your workout, eat a snack that consists of roughly these qualities:
- About 250 calories
- 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates: protein (Yes, it should have MORE carbs than protein.)
- Eat it within 30 minutes – proper timing is crucial. Take your snack into the shower with you if need be. You’re a runner, so people probably think you’re weird anyway.
Examples of good post-run snacks include:
- Yogurt (Those adorable individual cups are swell)
- Cereal with milk
- Certain granola bars (Nature Valley crunchy ones are delish – just prepare to get crumbs in every possible crevice in your life.)
- Half a bagel with peanut butter
Let’s say you haven’t been food shopping since the 80s, and all you have in the fridge is a stale donut and some batteries. Eat the donut – anything is better than nothing!
It is important to eat after any exercise, not just running. So cross-fitters, hikers, and strength trainers should all listen up as well: if your ultimate goal in exercise is to lose weight or reduce your body fat, this snack is all you need until your next meal.
Let me reiterate that, because it seems contradictory: even if you want to lose weight, you still need to eat after a workout. If you don’t eat, your blood sugar may dip too low to allow for adequate muscle build and recovery. So please, eat up!
If you’re looking to gain muscle weight (“bulk up”) or are happy with your body fat, eat a balanced meal 1-2 hours after your snack. Veggies, carbs, protein, fat – the whole delicious shebang.