Post Run Recovery: The Nutrition Tips to Help You Improve Performance

What to eat after a run? .Cook,Eat,Run burger bowl

This is the transcribed podcast episode from this week’s Cook Eat Run podcast  with a little added information, some recipe links and pointers in the direction for more information. If you’d like to listen to this episode in an audio format – download it here on Apple Podcast, Spotify or anywhere you download your podcasts from. 

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I chatted with Laura Matthews, Registered Nutritionist, a Personal Trainer and also a Sports Nutrition Advisor. Her PT training was with Future Fit Training, who Dame Kelly Holmes also trained with, and who provide evidence based information, all accredited through Association for Nutrition. She is the real deal! Laura used to be Head of Nutrition for Jamie Oliver, working with him for ten years to look at the nutrition in his cook books and restaurant menus. More recently, Laura has been working with professional runner, Steff Twell, and supporting her efforts to get to the Tokyo Olympics in July. Find Laura on instagram @ lau_matthews_ or online at www.lauramatthewsnutrition.co.uk. 

Today, we are talking about Post Run Fuelling.

Why is it so important that we consider what we eat post run? 

The main purpose of post exercise fuel is to help the body recover, repair and adapt, and also rehydrate. It is important to tailor your nutrition depending on what your training session is and how long it is.

If you are doing an easy run, or even a rest day, you may need fewer calories than on medium-heavy days. So think about what type of session it is you are going to do: is it high, medium or low intensity and how long are you actually going to be running. And don’t forget to think about that any post-run strength or stretching sessions you’re doing that may increase the overall energy and time you’re working out for. 

What’s the best thing to eat after a run?

You need to look at the other sessions in that week too, but as you ramp up the intensity in both duration and speed, you need to look to increase your protein intake and your carbohydrate intake. A 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio is what we’re looking for, but as long as you’re including both in your post workout meal, you should be good! 

What's the best thing to eat after a run?

Do we need to think about the ‘protein window’? The 20-30 mins after a workout where we are supposed to be refueling with protein? 

It depends on the individual, how much training they are doing and the intensity of that training. Are they for example doing two training sessions that day?

The two hours after exercise are really important for accelerating recovery; muscles are more receptive to nutrients to begin that rebuilding process during that period. But you need to consider the timing of your next training session. Is it twenty four hours or just twelve? If it’s twelve, you do want to ensure you get adequate fuel and nutrition in the first half hour after finishing the exercise session. 

It is good to plan ahead as to what you are going to eat post exercise rather than arrive home starving and eat the nearest thing to hand. Planning ahead is also a good way to support you reaching that goal. Somewhere between 15 and 25 grams of protein per meal, if you are not training twice a day, is going to cover the needs of most runners. It is best to stagger whatever your protein intake is across the day, rather than include it all together in one whole ‘protein feast’.

Try to include protein, fats and carbohydrates with each meal then you know you’re covered, almost going through a tick list with each meal to ensure you’ve got each food group.

Why are Carbs and Protein the two most important  macronutrients in terms of refuelling? 

Protein is key to building and repairing muscles and the micro tears you can get from running. Carbohydrates are really important to restore glycogen in muscles and liver. Milk is a brilliant post run drink, because it’s a good blend of carbohydrates and protein.  A hot chocolate or milky coffee is a really good post run option / recovery drink. 

Dairy free alternatives can be useful but check the protein content as it can be lower than milk, and often they don’t have the same nutrients as milk which is fortified- that’s when you might want to add a nut butter or a protein powder to a smoothie.

Almond milk has less than 2% nuts and 0.5% protein compared to cow’s milk which is about 3.5% protein which is a huge difference. Soya milk is a good match for protein but make sure you are buying fortified dairy free milks where you can. That means that the vitamins and minerals which are naturally in cows milk are added to the dairy free alternatives. So look out for the unsweetened and fortified dairy free milks if you are going for those. Make sure you use them with other higher protein foods to give you that boost.

Do we need to buy specific protein shakes? 

This is a really interesting area, especially in the last few years. Protein powders have become so popular, and heavily marketed. Protein powder is useful if there is limited time to prepare food, or you have limited access to food preparation at the time, say when you are travelling. They can be quite expensive. Protein from real foods like eggs, nuts and lentils, fish and meats is important. Also, meat free alternatives are becoming more available but it is important to check the salt content.

There are so many plant based proteins like broccoli and grains to name just a few, that it is not that difficult to get it into our diet. 

What suggestions do you have for post morning workouts or runs, or when you have run in the evening but you are not about to sit down to eat a main meal? 

A glass of milk and a banana, or a smoothie made from fruit and yoghurt with nuts for an extra protein boost. A small piece of flapjack of something like that, a handful of nuts and dates or dried fruit – although the dried fruit gets a bad rap because of tooth decay issues! You don’t have to have typical breakfast foods: Cheese can also be eaten or nut butters with yoghurt and fruits.

what to eat after a run? Cook, Eat, Run flapjacks 1

What about nausea? A lot of people feel sick or are not hungry after a race? Why does that happen? Is it important to try and eat despite feeling sick? Any ideas to avoid the nausea? 

If it’s a morning run, consider if you are dehydrated already? Nausea is often a symptom of dehydration. Even an afternoon run, you may not have drunk enough during the day and are starting dehydrated. I try to keep water in every room in my house so I can’t avoid it. Consider flavouring the water too – use herbs such as rosemary, or lemon/citrus or cucumber.

Have you eaten too much previously or not enough? You need to be mindful of what you eat right beforehand. You might want to minimise spicy foods right before a run as they tend to irritate the gut. 

Should people who are feeling sick still be encouraged to eat something anyway? Might they feel better if they ate something? 

It’s very dependent on the individual and they will need to test stuff out on themselves to see what food and drink works before and after a run. Also, consider when your next work out is and how important it is to fuel correctly.

Post Race, should I have something in my kit bag to eat immediately afterwards, or just rely on the goodie bag? 

Quite often, when you’ve finished an event, good fuelling thoughts can go out of the window! You might have another event coming up quite soon, for example if you’re using a half marathon as part of your marathon training, planning ahead as to what options you are going to have, where you are going, with whom could be helfpul. Again, trying to incorporate an element of protein, carbohydrates, fat and dairy into your meal. 

how do you refuel after a run?

What about the day after a run? Say it’s Monday afternoon after the long run on Sunday? Should we still be thinking about muscle recovery, or are we home and dry? 

It is important to replenish the body, but just as you are thinking about day to day fuelling. Include all the food groups, not necessarily at every meal. Think about wholewheat options for your carbohydrates: can you get brown rice, brown pasta or brown bread? Often the fibre and protein content are higher in these brown foods. Also thinking has the meal got protein in it, and a little bit of unsaturated fat, fruit, vegetables, vitamins, minerals, extra fibre and dairy for extra calcium. Teenagers, particularly girls, are particularly at risk of not getting enough calcium as they opt for dairy free. 

Are there any other plant based sources of calcium, apart from teff, that we could be looking out for? 

Leafy greens are a great option, for example spinach and kale. Or Teff – an Ethiopian grain that’s high in iron and calcium. Here’s a recipe for Teff Pancakes from Cook Eat Run! 

Sign up here for three free Cook Eat Run Recipes 

Laura has been working with professional marathon runner Steff Twell. When I think of professional athletes, I imagine their food is weighed and perfectly packaged and pre- portioned just for them. Is that true? 

No. Certainly the work I’ve done with Steff started with going back to basics so she’s on board with all the key food groups, the importance of each one so that she can understand where to get those elements (protein, carbohydrates and fats) from each food. We walked the supermarket together to improve her knowledge; we went to Borough Market a while ago to make it real and tangible. Talking about statistics and numbers can be boring, to be honest. 

Food is such an enjoyable part of our lives. Lots of runners tell me they run to eat! So let’s eat real, tangible food! 

I try to excite her with food through ingredients and how she can incorporate them into her diet. We cooked some recipes together, for example a pasta and mackerel salad, really simple with the mackerel flaked through the wholewheat pasta with some green beans, a little drizzle of oil and some extra vegetables, some tomatoes and bit of feta. Kind of following a Mediterranean diet with good quality fats . Nothing weird or wacky and yet quick too. 

We spoke a bit about travelling as she is going abroad a lot. We discussed foods she could take with her, to fuel her and yet would survive in ambient temperatures, going through the airport. For example, tins of fish, nuts, malt loaf. While the tinned fish might lose you some friends, imagine you are in a country you didn’t really trust the ingredients, or know what you are going to be able to get. 

Do you look at her overall calories per day, or is it more of a weekly assessment? 

I’ve certainly done food diary work with Steff in the past,  to work out where she was at and what her requirements are. Then work that back to try and help her work out some recipes which are going to help her hit the targets she needs to meet. It also depends on the training she is doing during the week, particularly the intensity of workouts. We look at reducing spicy foods which can irritate the gut, and also reducing fibre just before a big race. 

For more Post-Run recovery meals, both savoury and sweet treats, check out my book Cook Eat Run 

Don’t forget to subscribe to Cook Eat Run, my new nutrition and running podcast, Season 1, Episode 1 out now. would really appreciate ratings and reviews, plus suggestions for future topics! 

2 Comments

  1. 11th March 2020 / 12:54 pm

    Fantastic first episode. The audio quality was great and the content was really informative. I have been looking for more help with my nutrition and I will be tuning in again for some more advice and guidence!

  2. Marianna
    15th March 2020 / 2:24 am

    Really enjoyed the podcast! Good mix of being informative but also chatty and not feeling scripted or stilted. Looking forward to the next one 🙂