So you have just finished up a hard workout or race. You ate your pasta dinner last night and have fueled up on carbohydrates all day. The food you ate has given you the energy to compete to your best and get all you can out of your body. Now the work is done and you no longer need to worry about the food that goes into your body right? Wrong. If you want experience the maximum benefits of the exertion you just went through, you need to get the right foods in to allow your body to replenish and recover. While you have some flexibility in the foods you eat after your run, there are a few rules about foods to seek out and foods to avoid.
Carbs are not just for before. They are an essential aspect to recovery as well. Being a long distance runner, you live on carbs as your primary source of fuel and thus they are essential for fueling up as well as recovery. After a hard exertion such as a workout or race, your glycogen levels are low–glycogen is stored carbohydrates– and in order to recover, you should replenish these levels as quickly as possible. Although it sounds unusual, the best choices here are often viewed as the most unhealthy choices normally. You want something that will digest quickly and get to your muscles fast so you should seek out something high in sugar. Drinks are optimal as they digest the quickest but there is nothing wrong with an ice cream cone or a stack of pancakes with syrup. Don’t overdo it though, just a little bit of carbs goes a long way. The best thing about these quick digesting carbs is that they cause an insulin spike in your blood. This is usually a bad thing but after a run, it helps your tired cells absorb not only carbs but protein and other nutrients as well.
Also important for recovery is protein. Protein is the building block of muscles and thus is essential so that your muscles can rebuild and become stronger. Quick digesting protein is optimal here so that your cells can get the nutrients as quickly as possible. The best protein for this is whey which can be found as a supplement in powder form or you can simply drink milk which naturally contains whey. Animal based proteins such as eggs or meat are not bad either although they take a little longer to digest and reach your cells. This is why chocolate milk is viewed as such a great recovery drink– it contains both quick digesting sugars and whey protein in the right concentrations to refuel your body.
Water is a must after any run. You lose a lot of water due to sweat and evaporation thus it needs to be replenished if you are to recover fully. Even in the winter months you still lost water along the way! However, water is not the only thing you lose when you sweat. You lose essential electrolytes as well such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. While there are sports drinks with these electrolytes that you can go to, fruit can provide these through a more natural source. Actually, chocolate milk contains all these electrolytes as well. Even more proof that it is the best recovery drink.
After a hard workout or race your body is filled with waste products that are a byproduct of hard exercise. Therefore in order to recover you need to rid your body of these toxins. Drinking water helps to flush them out but some of these free radicals may linger in your body. However, antioxidants can help us neutralize these toxins and help our body function efficiently again. Great sources or antioxidants are any fruit or vegetable. You can’t go wrong with natural choices, just be sure to avoid supplements here. Antioxidant supplements have been found to negate some of the benefits of exercise when taken immediately post workout.
Recovery does not only happen in the muscles but it occurs in the blood as well. We destroy red blood cells when we run and thus we need to create more in order to recover. Thus we need to provide our bodies with the correct vitamins to facilitate the rebuilding of red blood cells. Here we need to look to iron and all of the b vitamins. While these are important vitamins to eat for any meal, they are especially important post run. A great way to get these vitamins in is red meat and vegetables. These food choices additionally pack some protein and antioxidants.
Omega 3 fatty acids also play a role in facilitating recovery. When you finish a hard session your levels of inflammation are high. This is the bodies natural reaction to hard work and is normal, however inflammation in too high of amounts can cause injury. Therefore, in order to recover we want to bring inflammation down to normal levels. Omega 3 fatty acids to just that. The best source of omega 3’s is fatty fish such as salmon, but you can also get omega 3’s from eggs, nuts, and flaxseeds.
Avoid the Alcohol
It seems to be popular in our society to look to drink beer and other sources of alcohol post race but this is the last thing you want to do if you want to recover. Even just one beer after a run inhibits recovery up to 60%. Futher, how many people stop at just one beer. You should avoid any consumption of alcohol on the same day as a hard workout or race if recovery means anything to you.
This seems like a long and tedious list of rules to follow after a workout but if you add just a couple of these into your routine you will notice the difference. You will wake up the next morning with fresh legs rather than those sore bricks you normally drag around. And you race performance will improve as you will get more benefit from each hard workout. Remember, you are what you eat, and if you are eating the wrong foods, your performance will suffer.