What to Eat After Running

Written by Noleen Arendse
Reviewed by Gareth Chapman

What to eat after running depends on how quickly you need to recover and prepare for your next run.

After running, eat carbohydrates and protein to help your body refuel glycogen stores and repair and build muscle.

You’ll also need to rehydrate using water and electrolytes. 

What to eat after running to prepare for your next run

For about 24 hours after exercise, the body is primed to absorb nutrients optimally to help with recovery. This is known as the post-exercise recovery window. [1]

Both carbs and proteins are essential for post-run recovery. [2]

Carbs refill glycogen stores and proteins help repair and rebuild muscles.

What to eat after running 1

As a general daily carbohydrate guideline on what to eat after running, aim to eat 3g of carbs per kilogram of body weight for the whole day. [3]

For protein, as a general guideline, aim to include at minimum 20g of protein in your first post-run meal. [4]

You’ll also need to rehydrate using water and electrolytes. 

The more you prepare before your run, the faster you’ll recover. For more on this, read What to eat before running

Eat within 2 hours of finishing your run so unless your run was late at night, you can wait until your next meal. 

If you’re not planning to run within 24 hours and you want to recover, eat within 2 hours of finishing your run. 

Aim to eat about 1 – 1.2g of carbs per kilogram bodyweight and 0.4g of protein per kilogram bodyweight. 

For example, someone who is 60kg or 132Ib would need 60 – 72g of carbs and 24g of protein. 

Also, remember to drink water and some electrolytes after your run to recover from any water lost due to sweating. 

If your next run is within the next 24 hours, eat or drink a recovery shake within 15 – 30 minutes after your run. 

To help your body recover as quickly as possible, aim to eat your recovery meal within 15 to 30 minutes after finishing your run. 

You’ll want to consume fast-release carbs and protein that’s easy to digest such as a milk-based protein drink. 

Once again, include about 3g of carbs per kilogram of body weight and 0.4g of protein per kilogram of body weight. 

Don’t forget to rehydrate and include electrolytes to keep the balance in check. 

For more on this, read What to Eat While Running

Sometimes after a run, your appetite can be suppressed so recovery drinks work very well, especially if they are delicious.

As a general principle, aim for 3:1 carbs to protein. 

Ready-made recovery drinks are easy to prepare and are formulated with carbs, proteins, and electrolytes. They are an ideal solution if you’re wondering what to eat after running. For example, if you’ve just finished a marathon, the Recovery Drink below is a good option to start replenishing the calories burned running a marathon. Skratch Labs also has non-vegan options and includes electrolytes. 

Post-Run Recovery Drink (vegan)
$36.95 ($1.48 / Ounce)
View on Amazon
03/09/2024 11:50 pm GMT

You can also easily make your own if you prefer to stick to homemade options. 

Tropical Smoothie
What to eat after running tropical smoothie
Recovery Hot Chocolate
High intensity run - chocolate milk
Mocha Shake
What to drink after running mocha shake
Berry Banana Shake
Berry oats smoothie

Recipes for recovery drinks

TROPICAL SMOOTHIE

Ingredients

  • 200ml / 7 fl oz / 34 cup tropical fruit juice
  • 200g / 7 fl oz / 34 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • Handful of ice

Method

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until mixed. 

RECOVERY HOT CHOCOLATE

Ingredients

  • 300ml / 10 1/2 fl oz / 1 ¼  cup skimmed milk
  • 25g / 10oz skimmed milk powder
  • 20g / 34 oz dark/butter chocolate (70%+ cocoa) broken into small bits

Method

  • Warm the milk and milk powder in a saucepan on low heat. Stir until the powder has dissolved. 
  • Add the chocolate pieces and stir until melted.

MOCHA SHAKE

Ingredients

  • 3 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1tsp instant coffee powder
  • 300ml/10 ½ fl oz /1 ¼ cups skimmed milk
  • 200ml / 7fl oz / 34 cup coconut water

Method

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve over ice if you prefer. 

If you prefer filter coffee, reduce some of the liquid for the skimmed milk and coconut water instead. 

BERRY BANANA SHAKE

Ingredients

  • 62.5 g / 2.22oz / ¼ cup vanilla whey protein or vegan option
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries or blueberries, sliced
  • 1 small frozen banana or pineapple
  • 165 ml / 10.68 fl oz / ⅔ cup skim milk (oats/coconut/almond milk)
  • ½ cup tart cherry juice
  • 2 tsp honey

Method

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. One serving is a glass, so refrigerate the rest. 

Vanilla Protein Powder
$39.99 ($1.25 / Ounce)
View on Amazon
03/08/2024 03:42 pm GMT

If your next run is within the next 24 hours, eat something within 15 – 30 minutes after your run. 

Ideally, you’ll want this to be in liquid form so that it’s easy to digest and quick to absorb. However, if you prefer to eat something, make sure that it contains fast-release carbs and at least 20g of protein. 

Here are a few ideas on what to eat after running:

Chocolate Milk
High intensity run - chocolate milk
Protein Bar
Baked Beans
What to eat after running baked beans on toast
Malt Toast with Nuts

CHOCOLATE MILK PLUS A PROTEIN BAR | 74g CARBS and 26g PROTEIN

  • 500ml / 17 fl oz chocolate milk
  • Protein bar (74g carbs and 26g protein)

WHOLEGRAIN TOAST PLUS BAKED BEANS | 78g CARBS and 26g PROTEIN

  • 2 slices wholegrain toast
  • ½ can baked beans
  • 150g / 5 oz fruit Greek yogurt or an egg

MALT TOAST AND NUTS | 60g CARBS and 17g PROTEIN

  • 3 slices malt loaf
  • 50g / 1 34 oz nuts

Make sure that you have been drinking enough water throughout the day and not just before your run. 

Proper hydration before, during, and after your run will prevent dehydration which can impact your performance, cognitive skills, and mood. [5]

Dehydration impairs your body’s ability to regulate heat. This can lead to an elevated heart rate which will make any run more difficult to do. You’ll also tire more easily. 

Ideal hydration levels can vary depending on the amount you sweat, the weather, and more. 

Generally, it has been shown that men should drink about a gallon (3.7L) and women 91 fluid ounces (2.7L). [6]

However, it’s best to check your level of hydration before and after your run. 

How to check your hydration levels

A simple test is to weigh yourself before and after your run. Any difference you see on the scales is purely caused by dehydration, so this gives you an idea of how much you typically sweat during a run. For every pound of weight lost, drink 16 – 24oz of water. 

Check the color of your urine. You should be aiming for a light straw color. If your urine is dark and smells strong, then you need to drink more fluids. 

 

Runners urine chart

What to eat before running urine chart

Examples of electrolyte drinks

It’s easy to make your electrolyte drinks or you can use pre-made electrolyte powders and sports drinks. 

  • Orange juice plus an equal part of water plus 1 tsp salt.
  • Sports drinks.
  • Coconut water plus an equal part of water, raw honey, the juice of a lemon, and a pinch of salt.
  • Ready-made electrolyte powders mixed with water according to the instructions. 
Diluted Orange Juice
What to drink after running orange juice
Sports Drinks
What to eat while running sports drink
Coconut Water
What to drink after running coconut water
Electrolyte Powder
What to eat while running electrolyte powder

Your gut needs blood flow to digest and process food properly. Running diverts blood flow from the gut to the muscles, lungs, and heart.

After a run, it may take a while for your stomach to recover which is why post-run drinks and meals should be easy to digest and quickly absorbed. 

Avoid heavy, hard-to-digest meals as the goal is to refuel as quickly as possible, especially if your next run is within 24 hours.

You’ll also want to avoid any foods that you might have an intolerance for to prevent upsetting your stomach. 

What not to eat after a run

Pizza
What to eat after running not pizza
Fatty Foods
Spicy Foods
What not to eat - spicy foods
Soda
What to drink after running not soda

High-Fiber Foods

These foods take longer to digest and can lead to bloating, cramps, and diarrhea after your run. 

  • Beans of all types
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Lentils
  • High-fiber, wholegrains

Fatty Foods

Fat takes a long time for your body to break down. Your body will divert energy from your run to digestion, resulting in you feeling uncomfortable and sluggish. 

  • Cheese and pizza
  • Red meat
  • Bacon and processed meats

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods irritate your stomach and can lead to heartburn and gastrointestinal distress. 

  • Chili
  • Curries
  • Anything spicy and hot

Soda

The gas in soda can potentially upset your stomach after a run. Rather avoid having a soda right away and give your stomach some time to recover. 

Only water

During a run, you’ll sweat out water and electrolytes. Your body keeps electrolytes and water in balance, so both will need to be replaced. If you only drink water, you run the risk of developing a dangerous condition called hyponatremia which is caused by an electrolyte imbalance in the brain. [7]

After running or working out, your body has a post-exercise recovery window of 5 to 72 hours. During this time your body is primed to refuel energy stores, build muscle, and repair tissue. [1]

Why your body needs carbs after running

Your body converts glucose into glycogen which is stored in the muscles and liver. During running, your body draws on the glycogen stores for energy.

After running, it’s important to refill these glycogen stores, particularly if you are planning to run again within 24 hours.

This is why it’s important to include carbohydrates in your recovery drink straight after running. Planning to turn a half marathon? Read Calories burned running a half marathon.

Why your body needs protein after running

Your body uses protein to build and repair your muscles. After a long run or training session, your body can repair and build your muscles for up to 72 hours post-run.

Including at least 20g of protein in your first meal or shake after your run, will make the most of the post-exercise recovery window.

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. [8] 

During higher-intensity runs, this glycogen is used to create ATP to fuel your muscles.

When fully fueled, most people have 90 mins – 2 hours worth of glycogen.

Your muscles and liver hold precious energy reserves in the form of glycogen, stored from the carbohydrates you consume. During higher-intensity runs, your body primarily taps into this glycogen bank to generate ATP, the fuel that powers your movements.

How much glycogen do you have? Most folks store around 375-500g of glycogenyou can see from the calories per gram calculator that works out to 1,500-2,000 calories. [3]

This translates to an estimated 90 minutes to 2 hours of running at moderate to high intensity before your glycogen tank may run low.

Factors impacting glycogen depletion

factors affecting glycogen depletion
  • Individual training: Trained athletes with larger glycogen stores and efficient utilization can last longer.
  • Intensity: Harder runs deplete glycogen faster than leisurely jogs.
  • Pre-run fuel: Skipping meals or relying on low-carb diets can put you at a glycogen disadvantage.
  • Sex: Studies suggest women might rely more on fat for energy during long runs, potentially conserving glycogen. [19]

Beyond simple carb-to-glucose: While glucose breakdown contributes to glycogen synthesis, other metabolic pathways also play a crucial role.

Calorie burn during running: It’s more than just weight and speed! Terrain, running form, and even genetics influence how many calories you torch. While the provided examples offer a helpful guideline, individual results will vary.

Your rate of calorie burn will be influenced primarily based on your weight and speed.

Use the calories burned running calculator to understand your own rate, for example:

  • Someone of 140lbs running 12 miles at a 10 min/mile pace (2 hours) burns 1,400 calories.
  • Someone of 190lbs running  12 miles at a 8:45 min/mile pace (1h 45mins) burns 1,700 calories

How to avoid glycogen depletion

  • Pre-run carb loading: Focus on smaller, frequent meals rich in complex carbohydrates in the 24 hours before your run. Aim for a fist-sized portion 4-6 times throughout the day.
  • Mid-run refueling: For runs exceeding 90 minutes, consider taking snacks or gels containing 30-90g of carbs every 45 minutes after the first hour.
  • Slow down! Lowering your run intensity allows your body to shift from carb-burning to utilizing fat as fuel, conserving your precious glycogen reserves.

By understanding and managing your glycogen stores, you can optimize your running performance, fuel your training, and conquer those longer distances. Remember, individual variations exist, so listen to your body and adjust your strategies accordingly. Happy running!

Additional tips

  • Experiment with different fueling strategies to discover what works best for you.
  • Use online calorie calculators and running pace trackers to gain a better understanding of your individual fuel needs.

Remember, fueling for your runs is a science and an art.

Use this information as a starting point, experiment, and discover what works best for your body and running goals!

There’s no “one snack for all” when it comes to what to eat after running.

If you have specific dietary needs or considerations, there are plenty of options out there. 

Try alternatives to work out what meals help you recover the best.  

Dietary restrictions

While fat-free Greek yogurt with honey is a great snack for some, if you’re allergic to dairy, you’d want to avoid it.

Here are a few alternatives for common food allergies or dietary restrictions:

  • Choose rice cakes instead of whole wheat toast if you’re allergic to gluten or wheat.
  • Almond butter instead of peanut butter for peanut allergies.
  • Oats milk instead of cow’s milk.
  • Coconut yogurt instead of dairy yogurt. 

For non-dairy options, you might need to include extra vegan protein powder to make sure that you are getting enough protein. 

Personal preferences

Some runners might prefer lighter, easy-to-digest snacks and meals. While others might prefer something more substantial. 

Choose meals and snacks that help you to feel your best after running. For example, some runners might find that they recover the best after a huge pasta dish a few hours after their run. Others might find they feel heavy and bloated.

It comes down to personal preference and what works for you. 

Digestive sensitivity

Avoid snacks and meals that you know you’re sensitive to, even if it’s just a slight intolerance. If you’ve reacted to a particular post-run meal before, it’s best to avoid it. 

The best post-run ritual is the one that works for you. 

However, there are a few things that you can do to help your body recover. 

Cool down with a gentle walk

Straight after your run, do a walk to cool down. This might be walking to your car or an extra slow walk around the block. Walking will help your muscles recover and also slow your heart rate down. 

Static stretch

Stretch out your muscles while they are still warm. Static stretches work best post run to lengthen the muscles and prevent stiffness. 

Post-run recovery drink

Before your run, make sure you’ve already prepared your post-run recovery drink. Make is something you’ll enjoy drinking, it will help you get across the line. 

Don’t forget to include electrolytes when you rehydrate. 

Active recovery

After an intense run, it might be tempting to stay on the couch for a few days. However, this won’t help with post-exercise recovery. 

After your run, plan a few active recovery sessions. This could be a slow run or cycle the next day, a walk, or a dynamic stretching class. Active recovery will help to get blood flowing into the muscles, which can help clear away lactic acid build-up and get the nutrients into your muscles for recovery. 

Avoid over-stuffing yourself right after a run, especially if you are wanting to lose weight. 

Avoid drinking too much or too little water. 

After a long, hard run, you might be tempted to stuff yourself to help with “recovery.” However, if you are trying to lose weight, this might not be an effective strategy.

Rather drink more water and electrolytes – it will help to curb any hunger and keep your appetite at bay. 

Another common mistake is not drinking enough water to help with recovery. Rehydration post-run is very important, so make sure that you are drinking sufficient water and electrolytes to help you recover. 

Lastly, your body needs fuel to recover and repair itself. If you don’t eat enough after your run, you won’t have enough nutrients to do this.

If you’re concerned about losing weight, you can keep your daily calorie count in check by eating more carbs and protein straight after your run and adjusting your other meals accordingly. 

Carbohydrates and protein are essential for post-run recovery. Aim to eat 1-1.2g of carbs per kg bodyweight with 0.4g of protein per kg body weight.

You should eat within 15 min up to 2 hours after your run. The sooner you eat, the quicker your body will recover. 

Avoid anything that is hard to digest. Fatty foods or greasy foods are hard to digest and may feel heavy in your stomach. High-fiber foods like broccoli or beans can cause bloating or cramps. Avoid any food that you’re allergic to. 

Yes, pre-made protein shakes and bars are a convenient way to help with post-run recovery. They are also easier to digest and are quickly absorbed. Always check the label before purchasing to make sure you are getting enough carbs and protein. 

While refueling is important, it’s good not to force yourself to eat right away after a run. Opt for an easy-to-digest snack or recovery drink instead and eat a more substantial meal within 2 hours of your run. 

Sources

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