What should I eat after a run?
The right foods can replenish energy and improve recovery after a run. Some tasty and nutritious post-run snack options include:
- Chocolate milk
- Energy bars
- Peanut butter.
Read on to find out why these things are particularly beneficial after a run but, first of all, let's take a look at when is best to eat after a run.
How long should I wait to eat after running?
After your run, especially if it's been a long run, it's important to replenish your depleted energy as quickly as possible.
Studies have shown that, after finishing a run, there is around a 30 minute (ideally 20 minute) window of opportunity in which to maximise recovery and replenish glycogen/energy stores in the body.1 At this time the muscles are most receptive to rebuilding these stores, plus eating the right foods within this time can also help minimise muscle stiffness and soreness.
What is the best thing to eat after a run?
For short runs, such as ones under 5k, you may find you don't require much replenishment, if any. After a run of this distance, glycogen stores are unlikely to empty completely. If you do feel hungry, it may be a sign that you are low in carbohydrates, possibly because you didn't fuel up properly before your run. In this case, take a look at my blog on foods to eat before a 5K or 10K run so you are better prepared.
For harder, short runs, glycogen stores will be diminished and, after 20 minutes of high intensity exercise, they will be close to depletion. After these harder, short runs, you must replace glycogen stores to ensure optimal recovery and to replenish them in time for your next run. Aim for 1g/kg body weight of carbohydrate in your post-run snack.
For longer runs, eating the right snacks is very important to help nourish your muscles and help your body recover faster. What you need is a snack which has a combination of carbs to replenish your energy, and protein to rebuild muscle. Experts recommend eating snacks which have a carb-to-protein ratio of 4-to-1 (1 gram of protein to 4 grams of carbs). Seek out high-GI foods – cornflakes with milk is an ideal option!
Don't forget to hydrate too!
Following your run, especially if it's a long one, make sure you rehydrate with plain water. You can tell if you are sufficiently hydrated by the colour of your urine. This may not be a subject we like talking about but it's a good indication as to whether or not you need to keep drinking more. If your urine is darker than a light lemonade colour then you are still dehydrated.
Post-run snack ideas
There are several good foods that can help replace glycogen stores and give your energy a boost following a run.
Some tasty and nutritious post-run snacks include:
Mango, watermelon and blueberries are particularly good glycogen-replenishing carbs to help you recover faster. Plus, all of these fruits are packed with vitamin C, which helps repair muscle damage caused by running.
Other benefits of these fruits include the fact that they are a good source of fibre, they help to make you feel full and can even stave off cravings for other, more unhealthy foods.
Add fruit to oatmeal, low-fat Greek yoghurt or make your own smoothie to give your post-run snack an extra boost.
2. Chocolate milk
Yip, hard to believe, but this childhood favourite is actually a firm favourite amongst runners too!
Not only does chocolate milk feel like a treat after a long run, it can help hydrate you and cool you down. Studies have also found that chocolate milk contains the ideal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio for post-run recovery.2 Protein is important in a post-run snack for assisting with glycogen uptake into the muscles.
The calcium in milk will help keep your bones strong and is a good option for people who find it difficult to eat solid foods after a run.
Smoothies made with fruit and low-fat Greek yoghurt, coconut milk or almond milk are another delicious and nutritious option for your post-run recovery snack. They can give your recovery a jump-start by providing an ideal combination of carbs, protein, fibre, electrolytes and antioxidants.
With most fruit being quite fibrous, they can often take longer to digest and do not, therefore, fit within the 20 to 30 minute window of opportunity to replace glycogen stores. Unless, however, they are physically broken down, which is where smoothies come in!
Blitzing your fruit in a blender breaks down the cellular structure of the fibrous fruit, making them so much easier to digest. It also increases the surface area of the food so your digestive enzymes can extract the maximum amount of nutrients – go super smoothies!
To make your smoothie even more nutritious, add a sachet of Balance Mineral Drink to it. This contains several vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, which together can improve energy levels and support muscle and joint health after a run.
4. Energy bars
An energy bar can be eaten quickly and easily and is a great post-run snack to help you recover. Try to look for bars with at least 40 grams of carbohydrates with moderate amounts of protein and fibre.
Choose bars containing dried fruits, honey, molasses or whole grains where possible. Many cereal bars have a surprising amount of sugar in them so, to avoid this, you could try making your own.
5. Peanut butter
For a quick, nutritious snack, have peanut butter. This itself is a great source of protein but adding it to banana, rice cakes or wholegrain bread creates a snack with even more energizing carbohydrates. Alternatively, toasted wholegrain bread with almond butter is a good option.
Fancy something more interesting, though? Take a look at some of the recipes on our food hub that contain peanut butter.
Orignally published 20 May 2015 (updated on 5 December 2019)