During a prolonged exercise event – like a long run – stored glycogen will be depleted. To speed the recovery process, there are two variables to be aware of: when you eat and what you eat.
When you eat:
After a long run, your body will be craving calories. Science has shown there are two optimal “windows of opportunity” as far as eating after a long run. The first one is during the first 30 minutes post-run. If you have a sensitive stomach, then you may want to eat closer to the end of the window verses at the beginning. This will give your stomach time to adjust. If you don’t typically experience queasiness after a prolonged run, eat towards the beginning of the window. The second window opens one to three hours post-run.
What you eat:
During the first window, strive to eat around 100 to 300 calories. Look for foods giving you a 4:1 carbohydrates to protein ratio. The additional carbs will help restore the glycogen depleted from your muscles and liver, while the protein will help with synthesize glycogen. The protein also provides the amino acids and hormones necessary to start repairing muscle damage.
But the caution is to not eat too much protein. Sometimes the thought process is if a little is good, more should be better. It is
not. Too much protein can inhibit the glycogen absorption process.
Focus on whole foods you can keep in your race bag:
• A banana or apple with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
• ½ cup of plain yogurt with a cup of mixed fruit,
• If close to home, fry up an egg with one cup of spinach and pair it with a serving of fresh fruit.
Energy drinks, or nutrition bars made for recovery, are also good if you have a favorite or two. If choosing for the first time, read the label to be sure it contains what you need for recovery – carbs and protein.
During the second window, strive to eat at least 150 calories. While this food should contain around the same higher carb-to-protein ratio, it should also include some healthy fats.
Foods for the second window include:
• A protein shake with a salad with olive oil dressing
• Grilled chicken and salad topped with avocado.
• A salad topped with steak
• A vegetable omelet and fresh fruit.
• Or as strange as it may seem, a bowl of chili – a surprisingly well balanced post-run meal.
Proper timing as far as what and when you eat helps decrease inflammation, rebuild glycogen stores and start the muscle rebuilding process.