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Daily Nutrition

Five Best Post-Run Foods, Ranked

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Earlier this year, a study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that for both men and women, post-exercise muscle glycogen recovery was the same for athletes that consumed sports supplements and potato-based products. 

That study is cool because I like french fries (which were an actual refueling option for the participants—specifically “Great Value Seasoned Fries”). But you know what I like more than just french fries? A supersized meal. Fortunately, that brings us to my favorite study of all time. 

The 2015 experiment published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that glycogen recovery was the same in fast-food meals and sports supplements. Options tested include: hashbrowns, hamburgers and Coke. Plus hotcakes. Henceforth, I want that to be my nickname.

So we know that it doesn’t really seem to matter too much what you eat after running for glycogen recovery, which is essential for adaptation to training. Of course, it may matter for other things, like your coronary arteries. But—and this is an important nutritional fact—YOLO. 

So we know that it doesn’t really seem to matter too much what you eat after running for glycogen recovery, which is essential for adaptation to training. Of course, it may matter for other things, like your coronary arteries. But—and this is an important nutritional fact—YOLO. 

Now is the time when I’d usually quote a nutritionist like the awesome Kylee Van Horn, then get into the biochemistry of glycogen synthesis and metabolism, finishing it off with a disclaimer about how different things work for everyone. But not today. Today, I am going to give you the facts confidently and directly (and satirically). They call me “Hotcakes” for a reason.

Before the amazing sports website Deadspin was gutted by private equity vultures, the writers on the site would make random ranked lists with little discussion of the reasoning. Inspired by Deadspin (RIP), here is the one true and factual (not really) list of best post-run foods.

Number 5: Milkshakes

A 2012 study in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal found that chocolate milk has unique benefits for recovery from exercise. A milkshake is basically chocolate milk, but better. Plus it has 100 percent of your daily value of two essential nutrients: your milks and your shakes.

Number 4: Salt-N-Vinegar Potato Chips

Electrolyte depletion can hurt performance and recovery, particularly in hot weather, as outlined in this 2017 study in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity journal. Salt is an essential electrolyte. Plus a 2020 study in the Sports Medicine and Health Science journal found that some types of vinegar may have ergogenic benefits that could supercharge performance.

I’m not sure what good “N” does, but I’m sure we could find a journal article to back it up. Finally, we know from the earlier study that potato products work well. Ergo, give me a big bag of Salt-N-Vinegar chips, and I will give you the world. 

Number 3: Waffles

In Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope said of waffles: “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.

Leslie Knope holds more authority than any journal article. And she clearly had great stamina to get things done, whether that involved uniting Pawnee and Eagleton, or organizing the Harvest Festival. To channel Chris Traeger, waffles are literally the greatest food that has ever existed. 

Number 2: Ice cream sundae

Imagine the sound an ice-cream truck makes. Now imagine how fast children will run after that sound. As their brains develop, models indicate that children are more susceptible to Pavlovian responses than adults. Thus, there is a natural, born association between ice cream (represented by the ice cream truck sound) and running (represented by chasing the truck). Don’t fight nature. Eat ice cream.

Number 1: Cheeseburger

I did an informal survey of athletes I coach about the best post-run foods, and the highest number said a cheeseburger, often accompanied by fries, and sometimes a beer. Cheeseburgers may prevent anemia (in some athletes), and it may reduce the screaming existential despair of realizing that no matter what we do, we all die (in other athletes).

If you’re vegetarian, you can substitute any patty as long as it’s not just a big mushroom. 

Number 6984: Bugs that fly into your mouth on the trail

Number 6985: Vegetable platter

Just kidding. The point of this article is actually not about the list at all. Instead, I just want you to use this time to reflect lovingly on your relationship with food as an athlete, no matter where that relationship stands. Yes, food is fuel. But food is also fun, family, friends, fulfilling and likely other words that start with F. 

The point of this article is actually not about the list at all. Instead, I just want you to use this time to reflect lovingly on your relationship with food as an athlete, no matter where that relationship stands. Yes, food is fuel. But food is also fun, family, friends, fulfilling and likely other words that start with F.

As you travel through your athletic life, focus on your health, ideally guided by a doctor or nutritionist. I chose extra-fun foods to make some jokes, but any foods work (even veggie platters). For athletes, what really matters is making sure you eat enough always. That may be a burger, it may be ice cream, it may be salad (with plenty of fun toppings to get the needed calories). Whatever foods you eat, try not to judge others or yourself in the process.

We’re all traveling down our different paths and trying to make sense of the world. Fuel that journey plenty, and remember one thing.

You are awesome. Somehow … someway … you’re even more awesome than waffles.

Hotcakes partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, The Happy Runner, is about moving toward unconditional self-acceptance in a running life, and it’s available now on Amazon.