The hour after finishing a training run has long been regarded as über-important for taking on post-run nutrition.
Whilst this isn’t strictly incorrect, it’s certainly a long way from being the full picture.
Immediately after a workout your muscle glycogen cells (where you store most of your carb energy) are most receptive to being replenished which means that if you miss this critical window you will indeed end up with less energy stored in your body ready for your next workout.
But that’s only really a problem if you’re planning on working out at high intensity the next day as well.
If you’re on a rest or recovery day, this window of opportunity is far less important.
So why not just cover your bases and grab a big ol’ feed immediately after a run?
Because most of the time, after a run we are hungry as hell and if we’re not super-organised the post-run meal can turn into a feast of belly-busting proportions.
Don’t get me wrong, I still recommend getting quality nutrition down your neck pretty soon after a run just don’t bust a gut because you think it’s the right thing to do.
I’ve seen very little drop off in subsequent performance in my own training when I’ve missed this window, or even gone on a post-workout fast.
So my first tip is not to go too crazy with the post-run snack because if you pile into 1000 Calories after a 500 Calorie run, guess where the rest of those 500 Cals are going to end up? Tummy, hips, thighs, bum… or wherever you’d least like to see it.
The second problem with the conventional picture of the post-run meal is that it normally looks like a huge bowl of pasta. Or an energy bar. Or 6 rounds of toast.
There’s way too much emphasis on carbohydrates and not enough on protein (there’s something else missing too but I’ll get to that in a minute).
When you exercise your body causes tiny tears in the muscle fibres and these suckers need repairing after the workout is over. In fact you can break down around 10 grams of lean body tissue per hour though it does depend on how intense you are training.
The building blocks we use to repair cellular damage like this are amino acids and we get these from dietary protein.
Missing out on post-run protein is like leaving potential gains right there on the table. Sure you’ll get some improvements as your body strives to get it’s hands on a few chains of amino acids, but you’ll not release your potential unless you get some quality protein into your system ASAP.
For most runners about 20 grams of protein immediately after a run should do the trick.
Something like three scrambled eggs (with a tin of butter beans and a couple of handfuls of spinach is my personal favourite) or even a good old protein shake would fit the bill nicely.
There are still a couple of pieces missing from the normal post-run nutrition picture, namely hydration and antioxidants.
Let’s cover water first – shouldn’t take long.
If you’ve just come back from a long and sweaty run then pour three gallons down your neck, there’s a small risk of hyponaetraemia (where your fluids become too diluted) but in general you want to make water a major part of your post-run strategy.
Most sports drinks are a waste of money and you’d be just as well to add a little fruit juice and a pinch of sea salt to some clean filtered water, then drink constantly for the next couple of hours.
This’ll help replace the fluids lost during the run, and reduces problems like cramps, headaches and muscle aches.
So the final component of post-run nutrition then is the antioxidant factor.
In short, when we run we produce free radicals, which are pesky, unstable molecules that run amuck around our body destroying cells and predisposing us to disease.
It’s a natural process so you’re not going to prevent it from happening, but it’s important you have a good supply of antioxidants post-run to mop up these bad boys.
Heard of super foods? These are just foods that contain unusually high levels of antioxidants. Berries are my faves – nice dark, thin skins where the fruit has had to work extra hard to protect itself from the harmful rays of the sun and in doing so produces high antioxidant levels.
Getting your fair share of antioxidants is key to supporting the recovery process and ensuring you get the full benefits from your run.
My personal post-workout routine (whether it’s a run, weights, circuits or sprints) is a power smoothie:
- Protein powder
- Handful of oats
- Coconut oil
- Filtered water
- Almond butter
All blitzed in a blender and then washed down with a shot of Zambroza.
You’ve probably heard me talk about Zambroza over the last few months, and it’s certainly the quickest and easiest way I’ve found to get all the antioxidants I need after a workout.
So to summarise, don’t go mad trying to get huge plates of carbs in after a run because it’s only going to end up on your tummy.
Go for a combination of carbs and protein (about 3:1), wash it all down with plenty of clean, filtered water and get a good hit of antioxidants to boost your recovery.
Let me know what your own post-run strategy involves and what your favourite post-run celebration meal is!