There’s nothing better than a run. Whether you’re up and out the door before the sun comes up or squeezing in some time to train before dinner, running can provide a reset for your brain and body. Of course, no matter when or where you run, you always want to be smart about what to eat after a run.
A good run feels great, but when you transition from running back to walking, you’re out of breath, your post-workout muscles are sore, and you need some complex carbs to replenish your energy. So, you walk into your kitchen and pour yourself a glass of water.
Then you open the fridge. Do you go for nut butter, leftover pasta, cottage cheese, or fruit? Believe it or not, there’s a right way to eat after a run. Some runners believe a good hard run means they can fill their gut with anything they want — and sure, you can go for chocolate milk and cookies. Or you can choose to support the health of your body and make use of your workout.
Wondering what to eat after a run? Learn all about simple vs complex carbs and which ones you should eat post-run or after any kind of prolonged exercise.
What Does Eating Right Mean For Runners?
Every runner reaches a point when they realize their diet can help them or harm them. Running takes commitment. But you can easily undo your hard work by feasting on the wrong foods. The right runner’s diet will help you maximize the benefits of working out, keep you energized, and can even help with muscle recovery.
A runner’s diet doesn’t necessarily have to mean you’re giving up good food. There are a plethora of great, healthy, whole food options out there that can benefit your body, keep you satiated, and make your mouth water.
First off, you don’t really want to run on an empty stomach. Your body should have a healthy store of reserves to keep you going strong on your morning run. So, what foods work well to keep your energy up and your body functioning properly? Complex carbohydrates.
The Type of Carbohydrates You Consume Matters: Complex Carbs vs Simple Carbs
What are complex carbohydrates? Complex carbohydrates are essential minimally-processed or whole foods like beans, grains, and veggies with a low glycemic index. Simple carbohydrates are often highly processed foods made with lots of added sugars — think candy, cake, cookies. Simple carbs have higher glycaemic indexes and the energy boost you receive is short term. 1
Turns out, when you go for a run, your body burns a combination of carbs and fat. It stores carbs as glycogen in various muscles and in your liver. The better shape you’re in, the more loaded your glycogen stores. 2 Eventually, these stores get broken down into glucose and your body uses them as fuel.
Complex carbohydrates are great after a run but remember not to overload on carbs. You’ll still want a well-balanced bite after a run — think complex carbs with some healthy fat and a little protein. For example, avocado toast on whole grain bread with a little smoked salmon — now that’s a brilliant post-run bite.
Whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs can be another satisfying dish after a hard workout. Sweet potatoes with the tiniest pinch of salt and a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon will do the trick too.
One of the best ways to diet for running is to consider eating whole-grain foods, vegetables and making sure you choose lower calorie but higher nutrient foods. This type of diet can really protect your body and keep you healthy.3
On the flip side, when you consume a diet high in high-calorie refined flours and added sugar, it can tank your weight loss efforts and other diet-related health issues. 4
The trick with protein — don’t overdo it. And always combine your protein with a complex carbohydrate or vegetable.
Wondering What to Eat After a Run? Remember These Simple Tips About Carb Consumption
Carbing up before you run with nut butter like peanut butter or almond butter can help sustain you while on a long run. Non-meat proteins can be helpful as well — think Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, a piece of fruit or a veggie, or even a banana smoothie with whey protein powder.
Also, be sure not to load up on carbs and head out the door. Give yourself a good 40 minutes to an hour to digest before going to get your run on. If you’re heading out for a later afternoon or evening run, give your body the time it needs to process and absorb the nutrients you’ve consumed (a good 2 hours should do the trick).
Boost Your Hydration After A Good Run
After a good run, you’ll likely be looking to quench your thirst. But even if your thirst isn’t overwhelming, it is quite important to rehydrate your body.
Water makes up about almost 70% of your total body mass. But a good workout or run can disrupt your body’s fluid balance and this can affect safety and performance in the long run — especially if you work out in hotter climates. 5
Dehydration can exacerbate muscle and limit endurance. Try to drink 1 or 2 glasses of water an hour before you lace up your sneakers. Taking water with you as you hit the road is a good idea too.
Great Post-Run Carbohydrates to Eat: Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Quinoa, and More
Replenishing your nutrient store after a run is hugely important. Be sure and do your best to carve out a good amount of time to prep satisfying complex carbohydrates like high fiber steel-cut oatmeal, low-sugar cereal, or half of a whole grain muffin.
If you opt for oatmeal, add some fresh fruit to sweeten it up, but steer clear of sweetener, sugar, and syrup.
These snacks make great post-run snacks when you’re on the go —
- Apples and almond butter
- Bananas and peanut butter
- Homemade trail mix
- Carrots or jicama with hummus
Good go-tos for drinkable meals can be a whey protein shake or hearty smoothie.
Get Complex Carbohydrates From Fruits and Vegetables: Try Sweet Potatoes and Fruit Smoothies
Now, you may have heard that fruit is nature’s candy. High fiber foods can be good for you in moderation, but don’t go overboard. You can add variety to your diet by mixing up your smoothie game, but here are a couple of great recipes to use as your foundation. Mix and match ingredients to suit your taste buds.
With each of these, just blend until your smoothie hits your desired consistency.
The Basic Berry Smoothie
- 5 ice cubes
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 cup of frozen blueberries
- ¼ cup of milk (or almond milk)
- ½ a banana
The AB & B Smoothie
- 5 ice cubes
- 1 tablespoon of almond butter
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup of almond milk
- 1 banana
The Mango 50/50 Smoothie
- 4 ice cubes
- 1 cup of yogurt
- 1 cup of frozen mango
This smoothie is so refreshing it will blow your mind.
And if you’re looking for a filling full meal after your run, try playing around with these dishes:
- Oven-baked salmon with lemon-dill butter and broccolini
- Baked sweet potato with cinnamon butter and roasted beets
- Vegetable stir-fry on a bed of quinoa
As long as you combine vegetables, complex carbs, and protein, you’ll be in good shape.
Eating Right For Runners
Runners run because they love it. Protect your experience of running and your body by eating to support optimal muscle function. Stay hydrated. And… experiment with complex carbs and the whole foods you love most.
Of course, it’s okay to surrender to temptation once in a while, too. Variety in diet is essential, but don’t undo all your healthy effort by bingeing on sugary simple carbs after a run. Eat well. Run well. Be well.