What to eat and drink after a hard effort to optimize your recovery time
You have been steely focused on the big race for so long, with proper meals and snacks painstakingly planned out. Now all your hard work and commitment has paid off, and you’ve bounded across the finish line. While you may be tempted to reach for a celebratory beer after your feat of endurance, to best support a strong recovery, it is paramount that you first refuel your body adequately (and then afterward you can have a beer!).
Let’s focus on some of the key aspects of post-race nutrition for trail running.
Balance of carbs and protein
There is a plethora of research to support consuming a combination of carbohydrate and protein in the post-workout period, to promote faster refueling, muscle repair and maximum muscle protein synthesis (MPS). It is advised that protein is combined with carbohydrate in a ratio of about 1 to 3, with approximately 20-25 grams of protein (or about 0.25g per kilogram of body weight), to be consumed within an “anabolic window” of two hours. Examples of recommended post-workout snacks include:
- 50g of almonds or cashews plus 1 cup probiotic natural yogurt
- 2 cups probiotic natural yogurt blended with fresh fruit (banana and berries) to make a smoothie
- 85g lean meat with 2 slices wholegrain bread and salad
The branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine, found in whey, casein, egg, meat and fish, is a key driver of muscle protein synthesis and recovery after exercise, and should be included in the meals 24 hours following your run.
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
All forms of exercise exert stress on the muscles, and in trail running these stresses are the combined effect of repetitive movements at a relatively low level of intensity. Even well-conditioned runners can experience DOMS, especially after a race that includes lengths of downhill running on rough terrain. The symptoms of DOMS typically occur 24-48 hours post-race, and include aching pain, soreness and tenderness, stiffness of muscles and joints, and reduced motion. Anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, oily fish, fish–oil supplements, pomegranate and blueberries may all have a role in reducing this post-run soreness, and should be consumed in the hours and days following a race. There is also gathering evidence for the effectiveness of tart cherry juice in aiding post-exercise muscle soreness, by reducing inflammation and aiding recovery of muscle function.
For every 2 pounds of body weight you lose during running, it is recommended that you drink 1.5 liters of water. You should consume around 500ml in the first 30 minutes after your run and then keep drinking every 5-10 minutes until you have reached your target. Both water and sodium need to be replaced to restore normal fluid balance after long runs, which can be achieved by consuming a sodium-containing sports drink. Use the color of your urine to gauge your hydration levels. It should remain pale-straw colored.
Supporting the Immune System
We know that exercise causes altered immune function, and what is referred to as the “open window” theory is characterized by short-term suppression of the immune system following an acute bout of endurance exercise. It is thought that this decrease in immunity may increase susceptibility to upper respiratory illnesses (URI), which is commonly observed among endurance runners. Long bouts of exercise can also increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, free-radical damage and inflammation throughout the body. Adequate post-race refueling is therefore vital to support the immune system. As well as the recommended balance of carbohydrates and protein, nutrient-dense foods such as green leafy vegetables, almonds, salmon and oats should be consumed. A good-quality multivitamin or “greens” powder may also be beneficial.
Naomi Mead is a registered nutrition therapist with a passion for food and its therapeutic powers. Naomi trained and gained her accreditation at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition and contributes to Healthspan’s Nutrition Expert as well as Food First.