When it comes to post-run fuel, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormous amount of material out there that tells you what you should eat, what you shouldn’t eat, how much you should eat and when you should eat it. The ever-growing marketing platform for post-workout bars, drinks and supplements all screaming that they’re the best doesn’t make it any easier either. Then there are the countless studies that all seem to contradict each other that make it hard to decipher fact from fiction.
If you’re like me and all the talk out there about the laws of post run nutrition have you a little frustrated, you’ve finally come to the right article. Just like what you eat before a run, what you eat after a run does not have to be elaborate. It doesn’t have to be scientific. The point isn’t to get wrapped up in studies and expert advice. They can be helpful, sure, but your own experience and experimentation will tell you what’s best for your body and what helps you perform your best. The point of post-run fuel is to replace nutrients lost during exercise, encourage muscle repair and feel good! Instead of reading the studies, conduct your own by experimenting with the foods from this list!
Before we go into the foods themselves, here's a quick overview of some the most popular “rules” of post-run nutrition.
Rule #1 - Eat As Soon As Possible
One of the most popular debates in the post-run rules is whether or not a “window” exists after exercise in which your body is at it’s prime for nutrient absorbency. While it’s difficult to know for sure what the truth is (especially after reading this convincing 2013 study from the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition), many agree that eating immediately after a workout helps boost muscle recovery time. It’s no question that your body is craving nutrients and energy after a tough workout and it only makes sense that the sooner you replenish what was lost, the faster your muscles can recover for next time. Don’t freak out if you can’t eat right away, a healthy body absorbs nutrients anytime of day, but try to eat within an hour of finishing your run even if it’s a small snack.
Rule #2 - Eat Whole, Natural and Nutrient Dense Foods
Just because your body is starving for nutrients doesn't mean it’s going to dig deep and extract them from a potato chip. Choose things from the list below and avoid foods that are loaded with sugar, salt and long lists of ingredients, especially if you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce them. While any natural and nutrient dense food is acceptable, most athletes agree that the perfect post-run food should combine carbohydrates and protein because they are the key components for repairing muscle tissue and replenishing glycogen - the molecule in your body that is turned to energy. This is why whole wheat items and lean protein products like chicken and turkey often top post-run refuel lists
That’s it! That’s all the rules! Now for the food.
Remember the rule above - always aim to combine protein and carbs. I’ve separated the food items below by category since everyone likes to run at different times of day. Snacks are great for the runner on the go who wants a quick reboot when they can’t eat a full meal right away. Breakfast for those who enjoy an early morning run (or love breakfast anytime of day). Lunch and dinner for all of us who run later in the day or want something big and filling after a long run.
20 Post Run Foods That You Should Eat
The number one post-recovery food item of all time: H20
If that even counts as a food item. The most important thing to do after a workout is hydrate. Drink plenty of water, or get some hydration from your food with a snack like watermelon, cucumber or berries
- 12 Oz. Chocolate Milk: An increasingly popular post-workout recovery drink, chocolate milk has double the carbohydrate and protein content of plain milk, water and most sports drinks (and is also twice as satisfying to the taste buds).
- Apple or Banana with Nut Butter: Affordable, versatile, and satisfying - nut butters with fruit are a runner’s secret weapon. At one point I used to keep a jar of almond butter in my glove box just so I could grab a scoop on the way home from a workout. Use any kind you like - peanut, almond, cashew - all are quick protein powerhouses
- Hummus and Raw Veggies: Throw some cucumbers, carrot sticks and bell peppers in a lunch box along with a flavored hummus for a quick nutrient dense snack.
- Dried Fruit and Nuts: In the form of trail mix or an energy bar. I absolutely love a KIND bar after a workout. Unlike most energy or protein bars that have long ingredient lists (and tend to taste like chalk, in my opinion) KIND bars are made completely from nuts and fruits, are high in protein, and taste delicious. Trail mix is easy to keep in your car and is also easy to customize as most grocery stores have started carrying a great selection in the bulk food section.
- No Bake Cookies: Not only do they taste AWESOME, but they are packed with protein and fiber from the oats and peanut butter. Perfect after a workout or when your sweet tooth kicks in after dinner.
- Greek Yogurt with Fruit and Granola: Packed with protein, good carbs, probiotics and fiber, this trio is perfect power-house for post-run fuel.
- Whole Wheat Toast (or bagel) with Avocado: Top this one with a scrambled egg, turkey slices, tomatoes, or just a little salt n’ pepper.
- Fruit Smoothie: Use whole milk or greek yogurt and combine with fresh fruits like berries, bananas or pineapple. Add fiber and vitamins with flax or chia seeds.
- Egg Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread: This is a favorite of mine. I like scrambled eggs on buttered toast and topped with swiss and roasted tomatoes. You could also add turkey bacon or deli slices.
- Omelette: You can't really go wrong with eggs after a workout in any form. Nutrition experts call it “the perfect protein” and it’s easy to combine with other nutritious items like whole wheat toast and veggies. Fix yourself a big omelette and fill it with whatever fresh veggies you like
You can also check out my favorite 8 healthy breakfast ideas, all of which are DELICIOUS!.
- Turkey or Chicken Sandwich/Wrap: We all know how to make one of these. Make sure you use whole wheat bread and pack it with as many veggies as you have on hand!
- Hummus and Veggie Sandwich: This sandwich recipe from Popsugar Fitness has quickly become a favorite meal of mine - post workout or anytime! The hummus and avocado provide the protein, while the crisp veggies offer a satisfying crunch.
- Dark Leafy Salad with Fish or Chicken: If you’re going to have a salad after a workout, pack it with dark green leafy vegetables instead of iceberg or romaine. Spinach, kale, chard, and other varieties have more nutritional benefits. Add whatever other vegetables you desire - cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, olives - they all make good additions. Top with nuts or seeds for added crunch and nutrition. Last but not least, add a lean protein like chicken or salmon.
- Lemon Garbanzo Salad with Feta: If you aren’t feeling the greens, try this delicious protein-packed mediterranean salad instead.
- Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad: Another winning recipe from Popsugar, this chicken salad is filling and much lighter than it’s mayo-laden relative. I love it on a whole wheat english muffin or topped with toasted pecans.
- Salmon with Brown Rice and Vegetables: I was always a failure at making salmon at home until I learned how to make it perfect. Now I stock my freezer full of it. Salmon is an ideal source of protein (not to mention heart-healthy omega-3 fats). Serve with steamed veggies and brown rice to complete the meal with healthy carbohydrates and energy-producing B vitamins.
- Whole Wheat Penne with Chicken and Broccoli: Affordable, satisfying and super easy to prepare, this trio is a perfect combo for post run recovery. Top it with alfredo sauce, obviously, and sub the chicken for shrimp if you fancy. Another quick and nutritious pasta combo is whole wheat spaghetti with turkey meatballs and marinara.
- Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry: Even outside of recovery meals, this is one of my favorite and most frequent recipes to make for dinner. It is hands down the best thai curry recipe I’ve found that you can make with regular grocery store ingredients - and it just so happens that it combines ample protein and healthy carbs! Prepare it with brown rice and add chicken if you’d like to up the protein (although the garbanzo beans already provide plenty of it!). I’ve also added sweet potatoes on occasion, a delicious and nutritious addition in my opinion..
- Burrito Bowl: Filling and endlessly versatile, the burrito bowl is a great way to nourish your tired body after a tough run. Start with a nutritious carb as a base, like brown rice or quinoa, add veggies, lean protein and a flavorful sauce and you’ve got a nutrient powerhouse! The classic tex mex combines rice, black beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado, chicken, cilantro and lime. Go for an asian twist with rice, edamame, sprouts, salmon, sesame seeds and teriyaki sauce. Try it mediterranean style with quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, kalamata olives, red onions, feta, fresh parsley and greek vinaigrette. Try cajun style with rice, bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, lima beans, spicy shrimp, lemon, fresh parsley and tabasco
- Thanksgiving Dinner: Many of the items on the Thanksgiving table are awesome recovery foods, and you don’t have to wait until November to enjoy them! Fill up a plate with lean turkey breast, nutritious mashed sweet potatoes, fiber-full green beans, antioxidant-rich cranberries and a whole wheat dinner roll - maybe even finish with a slice of healthy pumpkin pie.
That about covers some of my favorite post run foods. Don't forget to download my FREE 7-day meal plan. It's packed with healthy foods to keep you fueled during your training.