What we consume immediately following our runs plays a key role in determining how well and the speed at which our bodies recover. Proper replenishment ensures we have the glycogen stores (fuel reserves and enough energy) to successfully complete our next workout. Repairing the damaged muscle tissue is essential to improved performance and avoiding injury. And returning our bodies to a state of balance ensures our immune systems do not get worn down from the stress of physical exercise – that we stay healthy.
We need to replenish both water lost through sweat and carbohydrates burned as fuel. The amount of carbohydrate we burn depends on the duration and intensity of our workout. After a 45-minute medium intensity session we may deplete about half our glycogen stores. However, it would be possible to almost completely deplete these stores in an intense speed or weight-lifting workout of the same duration.
There is a period of time immediately following a workout I like to call the “golden window”. This golden window lasts for about 30-45 minutes, but really, the sooner the better. It is in this time period our bodies have a heightened capability to turn carbohydrates into glycogen stores, which means you could be fully replenished and ready to go again in about 12 hours – instead of 24 to 48 hours.
Protein has been shown to enhance carbohydrate uptake. But not too much! We only want about 1 gram of protein to 3 or 4 grams of carbohydrate. More than that actually inhibits the restoration of glycogen.
Along with helping to replenish glycogen stores, protein also provides essential amino acids for the rebuilding of our damaged muscles. Which is good news as a hard, intense or long run means we will have sustained microscopic damage to our muscles that must be repaired before our next workout.
In addition to protein, antioxidants have also been shown to hasten the recovery process. When found in whole foods, the vitamins A, C and E, the minerals zinc and selenium as well as multiple phytonutrients such as curcuminoids (found in turmeric) and catechins (found in green tea) are known to combat post-run muscle soreness and manage the healing process.
After an intense run, our immune system is temporarily compromised – and could remain so longer than necessary if proper nutrition doesn’t help to bring it back into balance. The stress of exercise eats up the amino acid glutamine, with is known to support the immune system. Providing our bodies with complete protein sources will ensure we’re getting enough glutamine.
Being in a state of low glycogen stores is also stressful to our bodies. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates as stated above will not only help with replenishment – it will also aid in rebalancing our bodies, helping us to avoid catching the latest virus or bug going around.
Putting Replenish – Repair – Rebalance into Practice
What does eating for to effectively rebalance, repair and rebalance look like in practice?
Our post-run nutrition will be carbohydrate based, in the amount of 0.50 to 0.75 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 150lb person would consume between 75 to 110g of carbs. Add to that a bit of protein, between 14 to 26 grams. Because we don’t often feel like eating the minute we finish a tough run, it’s a good idea to consume post-run nutrition in the form of a recovery drink. This also helps with rehydration and is easier to digest.
My number one recommendation is to make your own recovery shake. If you need to make it ahead of time and bring it with you, then do that. There is, quite simply, nothing on the market that can rival what you can make in your own kitchen. If you’re in a pinch, grab a banana or a fruit smoothie or juice. However, good planning goes a long way when it comes to recovery nutrition.
Here is a general recipe for a great recovery shake (throw all ingredients into a high-powered blender and blend until smooth):
- ½ cup coconut water
- ½ cup tart cherry juice
- 1 banana
- 1 cup frozen fruit (one or more of blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, mango, papaya, peaches, raspberries, blackberries…)
- 1-2 Tbsp whey plain unflavoured whey or vegan protein powder or 3 Tbsp hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds, which are high in complete protein)
- piece of fresh ginger (optional)
- 1 scoop greens powder or 1-2 kale leaves (optional)
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds (only if you’re going to consume right away – if you’re taking the shake with you, leave the chia out as it will turn your shake into a gel due to its high soluble fibre content)
By replenishing our glycogen stores, repairing muscle damage and rebalancing our immune systems, we will in turn be rewarded with greater energy, improved performances, and better resistance to injury and illnesses.
Happy running 🙂