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7 Best Recovery Foods for Long Runs

by Staci Marks on June 1, 2012

Marathon runners probably have their pre-run meals down to a tee; they already know which foods work best during runs for optimal performance. However, most runners don’t spend nearly enough time planning their recovery meals after a long marathon. Once they pass that finish line, much time is spent evaluating the run, stretching, and socializing, causing the prime 30 to 60 minutes after marathons to pass. This time is best for refueling, a critical concept that helps your muscles recover for the next race. The foods and fluids consumed after long runs matter because they affect performance in future runs. Plus, your body needs to replace fluid, glycogen, and energy. Here are the optimal post-run foods for recovery:

  1. Carbohydrate liquid drink

    Contrary to popular belief, diluted sports drinks and water are not enough post-marathon for your body to sufficiently regain sugars and electrolytes. Water and sports drinks are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, which leads to further imbalance of electrolytes and frequent bathroom breaks (which only increase fluid loss). Scientifically, the best drink for recovery is a beverage containing a four to one ratio of carbohydrates to protein, according to Running Times Magazine.

  2. Fruit smoothie with banana, yogurt, and milk

    Liquid fruit smoothies are favored during the 30 to 45 minutes after arduous runs because many athletes feel the need to relax their stomach muscles (and calm their sympathetic nervous system) before taking in solid food. Nutrients (carbs and protein) in the form of smoothies are ideal to digest because they can easily be absorbed by the body. Incorporating bananas, milk, and yogurt is a simple and easy way for your body to replenish lost nutrients.

  3. Bagel

    Bagels are rich in carbohydrates, helping you replenish energy and replace glycogen. They can be conveniently packed and prepared with a high-protein spread or loaded with lean cuts of meat (turkey, chicken breast, or ham). Athletes should consider whole-grain bagels over bagels made from refined flours, as those take longer to digest.

  4. Greek yogurt with granola and fruit

    Shape Magainze recommends eating Greek yogurt loaded with granola and dried fruit 60 to 90 minutes after a marathon. Dried fruit, especially blueberries and raspberries, will replenish your body’s antioxidant reserves to fight muscle damage from the long run. Granola is rich in carbs, which will boost energy stores. Finally, Greek yogurt contains twice as much protein as regular yogurt, helping your muscles rebuild and recover.

  5. Chocolate milk

    According to the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, runners who drank fat-free chocolate milk after long runs ran 23% longer when exercising later versus those who only drank carbohydrate sports drinks. However, chugging dairy products after running isn’t for everyone, since some people may be lactose intolerant or can’t immediately stomach heavy liquids, like chocolate milk. Still, it is a good recovery option, as the protein in milk can help your muscles recover faster.

  6. Coconut water

    Just 11 ounces of coconut water contains 14 grams of sugar and 670 milligrams of potassium, an amount much higher than amounts found in sports drinks. According to Suzanne Eberle, R.D., author of Endurance Sports Nutrition, coconut water has carbohydrates, is fat-free, and is ideal for rehydrating after long runs. Be sure to supplement coconut water with a heartier, protein-infused food shortly after your race.

  7. Protein / recovery bar

    High-protein supplement bars are beneficial after intense marathons because they enhance your recovery. Packed with protein, carbs, calories, and just the right amount of fat, these bars contain balanced amounts of nutrients to help your muscles recover and boost energy levels. If consumed within 20 minutes after a long run, research from the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests better recovery and optimal performance for your next run.

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