By: Maria Martinez, MS, RD, LD from Nutriworks

Ever feel sluggish, heavy and overall low in energy the day or days after a hard workout? Or maybe you feel ravenous on the Mondays after your long runs? If you’re experiencing these symptoms, more likely than not you’re not giving your body all the tools it needs for optimal recovery after your runs. So, what are the things you need to keep in mind for the best recovery? Here are six things we suggest!

  1. Refuel. During any type of high intensity exercise, like running, you rely heavily on the carbohydrate stores in your muscles, also known as your glycogen stores, for energy. After you burn through these stores, it’s important to replenish them, so that you have energy for subsequent workouts. The best way to do so is to aim to consume carbohydrates within about an hour of finishing your workout. Foods such as fruit, grains, legumes, starchy veggies, or milk all serve as excellent sources of these much-needed carbohydrates. Moreover, be sure to also include one of these healthy sources of carbohydrates in each of your meals throughout the day, so that you can continue to build up the stores in your muscles and meet your body’s needs.
  2. Rebuild. While running, your muscles inevitably undergo some damage. In fact, all types of exercise cause microtears in our muscles that allow them to rebuild and get stronger. However, for that rebuilding to occur, you need to consume adequate amounts of protein! Much like with carbohydrates, it’s important to consume a source of protein within an hour after finishing a run or workout. Good sources include dairy products, protein powders, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or soy products. Additionally, to support this rebuilding process, be sure to also include a protein source at each meal throughout the day! That means adding eggs, turkey sausage, a protein shake, or Greek yogurt to breakfast, instead of waiting until lunch or dinner time to get a proper serving of protein as many of us may be inclined to do.
  3. Rehydrate. During runs, you lose both fluid and electrolytes through your sweat. To support recovery, it’s essential to replenish these lost fluids and electrolytes. You can replenish the fluid you lose by drinking water consistently throughout the day and restore electrolyte levels by salting the food you prepare at home or incorporating a salty snack, like pretzels, post-workout. One good rule of thumb is that you want to consume 16-24 oz. for every pound you lose during your run, so be sure you’re carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day and adding some fluid with each of your meals!
  4. Incorporate antioxidant-rich foods into your diet. Inflammation is an inevitable consequence of a hard workout, and to a certain extent, it’s beneficial in helping your body adapt and get stronger and faster. However, too much inflammation can lead to the prolonged feeling of soreness you’re trying to avoid, so including things in your diet that help fight some of the inflammation is beneficial. Work on making your plate colorful at each meal through the addition of a multitude of fruits and vegetables. Each different pigment in plants acts as an antioxidant, which helps fight inflammation. Also, try including more healthy fats in meals and snacks as well. These include fatty fish, like salmon or tuna, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Finally, consider adding some tart cherry juice post-workout. Not only is it a good source of carbohydrates, but it’s also packed with antioxidants that are anti-inflammatory!
  5. Don’t skip meals. Giving your body consistent fuel throughout the day on the day of a long run will help tremendously in the recovery process. This means you want to avoid skipping meals and waiting until the end of the day to try to consume all the calories our bodies need. Keep in mind that exercise is an appetite suppressant, so it’s normal to not feel that hungry after your runs. If this is the case for you, try incorporating liquid meals, like smoothies, so that you’re not missing out on nutrition when you need it the most!
  6. Plan ahead! Success doesn’t come without some planning in advance. If you know it will take you more than an hour to get a meal in after your workouts, plan to include a recovery snack with carbohydrates and protein immediately after instead. This can come in the form of simple, portable items that you can pack or prepare in advance, such as chocolate milk, a banana with a protein shake, or a protein bar with pretzels and water.

Keep these tips in mind as you continue your training for your upcoming races, and you should see drastic improvements in the way you feel in the days after your hard runs! And, if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start making changes to your diet, reach out and schedule an appointment with a sports dietitian at Nutriworks, Inc.

Nutriworks, Inc. is a sports nutrition consulting company that works with active individuals of all ages and skill levels. If you are active, you’re an athlete and learning proper nutrient balance, timing and portions can help you meet your weight, health and performance goals. We offer in-person appointments in Fort Worth, Dallas and Keller, as well as virtual appointments for athletes around the country.