Recovery meals, or the food your body needs after exercise to help repair and rebuild muscles, play an important part in your training. The key to effective recovery meals is to combine protein and carbohydrates and to do so no more than 30 – 45 minutes after exercising. Wait too long and your body begins producing cortisol, a hormone that causes muscles to atrophy.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to how much to eat after a run is this: for every hour you exercise, aim for 0.2 – 0.4 grams of protein and 0.8 grams of carbs per every 2.2 pounds you weigh. So, if you are a 140 pound runner who just completed an hour of training that equates to about 12 – 25 grams of protein and just over 50 grams of carbs in your post-workout recovery meal. Stick to complex carbs and lean protein for the best results. Of course, adding in fruits and vegetables, which are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as healthy fats, will round out your post-workout meal and provide numerous added benefits.
While you can resort to quick and easy processed foods and drinks to refuel, like protein bars and Gatorade, there are loads of fresh food options that can do the trick just as well or better, while providing a vast array of added benefits for your body and your health. Every nutritionist, trainer or coach may have their own favorite or recommended list of effective recovery foods, but we’ve put together a list of some of the top foods that are repeatedly recommended for inclusion in post-run recovery meals, in no particular order:
Eggs are one of the most complete proteins available and a single whole egg provides about 10% of daily protein needs. In addition to the crucial amino acids that your body needs to promote muscle recovery, you’ll also get a boost of vitamin K, which is vital for healthy bones, as well as other nutrients such as choline that has been linked to a reduction in inflammation.
Not only are these gems rich in complex carbohydrates, but they are filled with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These minerals are crucial to healthy muscle function. As an added bonus, the complex carbs in sweet potatoes are easily paired with protein for a quick and satisfying post-run meal. Just pop potatoes in the microwave and top with low-fat cheese, beans, Greek yogurt and/or veggies.
Not only do berries taste great but they provide loads of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Grab a handful after a run for a delicious treat (you’ll get the carbs you need to aid recovery), mix them into a smoothie with protein-rich sources such as milk, yogurt or almond butter, or add to high-protein cereal or oatmeal. Anthocyanins, found in deep red, purple and blue berries, may assist with post-workout muscle repair and recovery.
Skim Milk or Low-fat Yogurt
These are both good sources of protein, with an added natural dose of carbs. Additionally, you’ll get a boost from the calcium they contain, and if you choose yogurt with live cultures, the healthy bacteria may have anti-inflammatory benefits and will help keep your gut healthy. Studies have shown that chocolate milk is a great post-run recovery food, or combine milk or yogurt into a smoothie for a delicious and satisfying post-workout treat.
Whole grains are a key source of easily-digestible complex carbohydrates and are easy to combine into easy, flavorful meals and snacks. Additionally, they contain fiber, B vitamins and disease-fighting compounds, all of which will help you restore glycogen (needed for energy), aid metabolism and fill you up. According to Runner’s World Magazine, runners need at least 3 – 6 ounces of whole grains daily. The key to making good choices is to check the label and make sure it includes 100% whole grains. Some products look like they are made with healthy whole grains but have only a small percentage of whole grains in the ingredient list.
These rich protein sources also pack a hefty dose of complex carbs and soluble fiber, as well as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants such as folate, that aid in circulation and heart health. Additionally, beans are a low-glycemic index food, which means that they will provide a steady release of energy and will help keep blood sugar levels stable. The good news is that beans are super easy to incorporate into a quick post-workout meal. Add a can of drained and rinsed canned beans into a veggie-filled soup, mash and mix with salsa for a flavorful dip or combine with sweet potatoes or whole wheat pasta for a protein and carb filled meal.