Nutrition — What’s the best food or drink to recover after long runs?

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Coach Joe English

A reader named John W. from Florida writes in with a good question that every runner should have on their mind — what are the best foods to eat after a long run to help with recover? We did a video on the topic of recovering from the marathon recently in our video series, but let me expand on this with some recipes and further commentary. First John’s question:

“I’ve heard people say that eating and drinking right after my runs is important to speed recovery. First, is this true. And, second, what are the best things to eat or drink to help with recovery?”

To answer the first part of your question John, it is absolutely true that runners should be eating and drinking within the first 30-45 minutes after their run to help ease and speed their recovery. That window of time is critical in that the body is primed to reload depleted muscle energy stores and to start the rebuilding process from the damage done during the workout. And by easing your recovery, I mean helping to alleviate a great deal of the soreness, stiffness and fatigue that comes in the 24-48 hours after a long run. In fact, one of the prime drivers of when you’ll be ready to train hard again, is whether you’ve reloaded yourself properly in those first critical minutes after your workout. If it is taking you two or even three days of feeling totally wrecked after your long runs, then look to your post-run recovery regime for help.

Basic recovery procedures
First, let’s start with the basics. Rehydrate the body by drinking 32 ounces of fluid immediately after running and then every two hours for the next 4-8 hours after the workout. Use a sports drink or electrolyte solution to replace lost electrolytes. Second, you want to “eat” 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrate for each kilogram of your body weight and about 15 grams of protein in those first 30-45 minutes after the end of the workout. Third, when I say “eat” I may mean drinking instead of actual eating these foods. Liquid foods (e.g. smoothies and shakes) will be easier to digest and will be absorbed more quickly than solid foods. But if your body is screaming for something solid, then this is a signal from your body that it needs more food. Liquid foods also can often go down when the stomach is still tender after a difficult workout, so most of the recommendations below are for liquids.

The best recovery foods for runners
Whether you want to buy pre-manufactured recovery drinks or make them yourself, there are wide range of ways to get those carbs and that protein into your body. In terms of recovery products, I would suggest looking at Endurox R4 Nutrition    Whats the best food or drink to recover after long runs?. Endurox R4 uses a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrate to protein, so it will provide the nutrients you need immediately after a workout. Because this is a powder, all you’ll need to do is to add two scoops of the product to a bottle of water and presto, you’ve got your recovery drink right there in seconds. The drawbacks to me with this approach are the cost (Endurox like most recovery supplements will run you about $35.00 for a 14 serving container) and that Endurox contains both whey and soy protein, which will not work for those on dairy free and soy free diets. To purchase Endurox R4 from Amazon, click here. Nutrition    Whats the best food or drink to recover after long runs?

My good friend Coach Dean Hebert loves to use a different tried and true method: chocolate milk and a banana. Simple, elegant, easy. Available at any grocery store in an instant. Again, this won’t work for those on dairy free diets, but then Dean is old school (I say that in the best possible way) and this has worked for generations. Just make sure to drink enough to get in at least 15 grams of protein.

Two recovery smoothie recipes
If I were looking to improve on these two methods, I would go with one of the following smoothie recipes that can be made from scratch and will provide all the nutrition you need. These smoothies can be made ahead of time, but the first recipe must be refrigerated because it includes dairy. My first recipe is one that I used for years, but have moved away from due to the fact that I’ve moved to a vegan diet. It will work for the vast majority of runners.

Coach Joe’s Recovery Smoothie for Runners (contains dairy)
In a blender, mix together:
-one banana
-one peach (sliced in the jar or canned will speed things up)
-1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
-1 serving powdered vanilla whey protein
-8-12 ounces 2% or non-fat milk, or soy milk
-4-8 ounces low-fat or non-fat vanilla yogurt
-1/2 cup crushed ice

Coach Joe’s Alternative Diet Smoothie for Runners (no dairy or soy)
A great deal of literature tells us to avoid eating both dairy and soy products, so here is a very healthy alternative version of this smoothie that will provide a complete recovery potion without either of those food groups. I give full credit in my knowledge of this area to Brendan Brazier and his incredible book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life Nutrition    Whats the best food or drink to recover after long runs?. The ingredients may be slightly more expensive and not as widely available, but shop around at a health store and you’ll find them.

In a blender, mix together:
-one banana
-1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
-1 tbsp ground flaxseed
-1 tbsp hemp protein powder
-1 tbsp agave nectar
-1 tbsp hemp oil or EFA oil blend (hemp, flaxseed, pumpkin blend)
-4 oz hemp milk (to add creaminess)
-1 cup water
-1/2 cup crushed ice

Drink these recipes down and then make sure to get in plenty of fluids in the hours after your run. You’ll be amazed at the difference in the speed of your recovery and your level of fatigue the day after your runs.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News

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8 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. Nutrition — What the best food or drink to recover after long runs? « Running Advice and News July 29th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    […] To continue reading, click here. […]

  2. 2. George July 30th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing those smoothie recipes, Joe. The second one sounds really great. I'd also like to share two drinks that I find are great for post-run recovery: The first is Amazake rice shake, and the second is So Delicious Coconut Milk Kefir. I blend either of these with a couple of bananas and about a cup of frozen berries, and I'm good to go.

  3. 3. coachjoeenglish July 30th, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks Greg.

    That is so WEIRD. I just came from Whole Foods and the checker (noting the contents of my lunch no doubt) asked if I had tried the new SO Delicious Kefir products. I guess will have to try them!


    Coach Joe

  4. 4. Jimmy August 3rd, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Joe– Glad to see the vegan recipe here. Hemp is a great source of raw, plant-based protein. I personally eat hemp every day, and it's a great recovery food. Brendan Brazier's book is excellent.

    Another good source of raw plant-based protein is rice protein from Sun Warrior. Cheers!

  5. 5. coachjoeenglish August 3rd, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Yes, red rice protein is another great source of plant-based protein.

    Thanks for sharing the brand name, I will check it out.


  6. 6. Coconut-Oil-Taylor September 2nd, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Great Article Joe.

    Everything sounds so healthy and delicious, specially the second one. I would love to try them out myself.
    Thanks for the recipes, these are really very helpful for Vegan Athletes.

  7. 7. Training — Tips for Dealing with Fatigue in Runners | Running Advice and News March 26th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

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  8. 8. Training — Tips for Dealing with Fatigue in Marathon Runners « Running Advice and News March 26th, 2010 at 10:13 pm

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