Here’s How To Refuel After A Race For Optimal Recovery

You plan every element of your pre- and mid-race fueling meticulously. But what about how to eat after you've crossed the finish line?

Photo: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

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You have been entirely focused on a big race for so long, with proper meals and snacks painstakingly planned out. Now all your hard work and commitment has paid off, and you’ve bounded – or trudged, or sprinted, or limped – across the finish line. While you may be tempted to reach for a celebratory beer after your feat of endurance, to best support a strong recovery, it is paramount that you first refuel your body adequately (and then afterward you can have a beer!)

Let’s focus on some of the key aspects of post-race nutrition for trail trail runners.

1. Balance carbs and protein.

There is a plethora of research to support consuming a combination of carbohydrates and protein in the post-workout period to promote faster refueling, muscle repair, and maximum muscle protein synthesis (MPS). It is advised that protein is combined with carbohydrate in a ratio of about 1 to 3, with approximately 20-25 grams of protein (or about 0.25g per kilogram of body weight), to be consumed within an “anabolic window” of two hours post-race. Examples of recommended post-workout snacks include:

  • 50g of almonds or cashews plus 1 cup probiotic natural yogurt
  • A smoothie with 2 cups probiotic natural yogurt blended with fresh fruit
  • A sandwich with 85g lean meat, whole grain bread, and a salad

The branched-chain amino acid leucine, found in whey, eggs, meat, and fish, is a key driver of muscle protein synthesis and recovery after exercise, making those foods great additions to your diet in the 24 hours following your run.

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2. Remedy Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

All forms of exercise exert stress on the muscles, and in trail running these stresses are the combined effect of repetitive movements, often at a relatively low intensity. Even well-conditioned runners can experience DOMS, especially after a race that includes downhill running or lots of rough terrain. The symptoms of DOMS typically occur 24-48 hours post-race, and include aching pain, soreness, tenderness, stiffness of muscles and joints, and reduced motion. Anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, oily fish, fishoil supplements, pomegranate, and blueberries may all play a role in reducing this post-run soreness, and should be consumed in the hours and days following a race. There is also gathering evidence for the effectiveness of tart cherry juice in aiding post-exercise muscle soreness, by reducing inflammation and aiding recovery of muscle function.

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3. You saw this one coming…hydrate!

For every 2 pounds of body weight you lose during running, it is recommended that you drink 1.5 liters of water. Aim for around 500ml in the first 30 minutes after your run, and then keep drinking every 5-10 minutes until you have reached your target. Both water and sodium need to be replaced to restore normal fluid balance after long runs, which can be achieved by consuming a sports drink that contains some sodium.

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4. Support Your Immune System

We know that intense exercise causes altered immune function, and what is referred to as the “open window” theory is characterized by short-term suppression of the immune system following an acute bout of endurance exercise. It is thought that this decrease in immunity may increase susceptibility to upper respiratory illnesses (URI), which is commonly observed among endurance runners.

Long bouts of exercise can also increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, free-radical damage, and inflammation throughout the body. Adequate post-race refueling is therefore vital to support the immune system. As well as the recommended balance of carbohydrates and protein, nutrient-dense foods such as green leafy vegetables, almonds, salmon and oats can help boost your immune system while it’s recovery. A good-quality multivitamin or “greens” powder may also be beneficial.

Naomi Mead is a registered nutrition therapist with a passion for food and its therapeutic powers. Naomi trained and gained her accreditation at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition and contributes to Healthspan’s Nutrition Expert as well as Food First.

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