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Q: Do I really need to eat within 30 minutes after a run?
A: You’ve probably heard of the post-exercise “window of opportunity”, the 30 minutes after a run or workout that has been touted as the best time to eat and refuel. That’s because of the idea that muscles are most receptive to replacing lost glycogen (or stored carbohydrates) in that half-hour immediately after a hard effort. Glycogen is important due to its use for energy production during workouts. Delaying glycogen replacement can hinder an athlete’s ability to recover from longer or higher-intensity workouts and leave them open to increased injury risk.
Short answer: No.
Long answer: It can’t hurt to have a little snack!
While many nutrition experts still recommend the 30-to-60-minute refueling window post-exercise, recent research shows that there might be a lot more wiggle room. That previously small window starts to look more like a gaping hole that takes into account the type of exercise, how much you’ve previously eaten and what kind of shape you’re in.
Previous research has shown that there is an increased rate of carbohydrate uptake and glycogen synthesis in the two hours post-workout. Ingesting some sort of protein with carbohydrates can be beneficial to muscle glycogen replacement, as both carbs and protein work together to get glucose back into the muscle. While more specific recommendations can be given to runners based on body weight, the general recommendation is to consume 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate and 15 to 20 grams of protein.
But, there’s no perfect formula. The body continues to recover up to 48 hours after a hard workout or long run, so eating consistent, balanced meals containing adequate calories, carbohydrates and protein is important long after that initial recovery meal or snack. As long as you’re eating well generally, you don’t need to stress about timing your post-workout snack. Most runs don’t require any special fueling (you don’t have to force down a 500-calorie smoothie if it doesn’t sound good), but if you’re hungry, it’s generally good to eat.
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Getting some kind of food in as soon as you can after a workout or long run is beneficial for future training sessions and injury prevention, but a longer window can allow for a little more flexibility and less stress overall.
Some ideas for post-workout fueling options include:
- Chocolate milk (regular, soy, pea)
- Greek yogurt with nuts and berries
- Rice cakes with avocado and hard-boiled egg
- Mozzarella cheese stick with an apple
- Almond butter stuffed dates
- Protein smoothie
Do you have a question for our RDN? Send your trail-running-nutrition quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kylee Van Horn is a licensed Sports Registered Dietitian and competitive trail runner.
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