How to Eat The Week AFTER Your Big Race
Dietitian and runner Amy Goblirsch shares how you should approach nutrition in the weeks after your big race.
It’s not until you cross the finish line of your A race that you can fully appreciate what your body and mind has helped you to achieve. All of those hours training and fueling have paid off—now it’s time to recover.
But recovery is more than just rest, sleep and light movement. Nutrition plays a key role in recovery. Think of it as a tool your body needs to repair. A delay or lapse in recovery can put your body at a higher risk for injury or illness.
Post-race recovery nutrition
When it comes to recovery nutrition there are four main factors: carbohydrates, protein, timing and hydration/electrolytes.
Carbohydrates are essential to rebuilding glycogen stores. Your body uses glycogen (or stored carbohydrates) for energy, and these stores are most likely depleted if your race lasts more than 90 minutes. Protein is crucial to rebuild and repair muscles. Research has found that a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the ideal range for recovery, so be sure to shift your focus from race fueling to post race recovery in the minutes following that finish line.
Timing makes all the difference. Fuel within 30-45 minutes of race completion. Hit up the supplement table. Chocolate milk is a fan favorite and typically given out after most races. Not only does it have the perfect carb to protein ratio but it also helps your body rehydrate and replenishes electrolytes. This is a time when something is better than nothing. Even if you can’t give your body the perfect carbohydrate to protein ratio, at least give your body something to help jumpstart the recovery process.
Just like in training, one post-run snack or meal will not fully recover your body from the race. It can take days if not weeks to fully recover. During this time nutrition, hydration and sleep are crucial.
During the recovery process it is normal to crave carbs. This is caused by the depletion of glycogen that happened during the race and now your body is working to rebuild its stores. A craving is your body’s way of signaling to you that it needs something essential. The more you listen and respond to what your body needs, the more efficient the recovery will be.
Along with carb cravings (and maybe even protein cravings), an increased appetite lasting for a week or two post-race is normal and to be expected. Even though activity is decreased or may not be happening at all, your body is working hard on its recovery and that doesn’t happen overnight. Honor your hunger and remind yourself that it is normal.
One of the biggest mistakes athletes make post-race is to drastically decrease their caloric intake because they are no longer logging long miles. But keep in mind that most of your calorie (energy) needs are for your metabolic functions. Exercising can increase this need but doesn’t make up the bulk of it.
Key recovery foods, snacks and meals
During the week or two post-race your body will benefit from focusing on anti-inflammatory foods like avocado, berries, broccoli, grapes, peppers, salmon and turmeric. Exercising at harder and longer efforts, like during a race, may be stressful on your body and increase inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods can assist in decreasing the inflammation and aid in healing.
In addition to the snacks distributed post race, smoothies, fruit with nut butter and yogurt with granola are excellent snack options. Remember, get your hands on these within the first 30-45 minutes of crossing the finish line.
Once you get home, great post race meal options are an egg burrito with fruit, sandwich with carrots and hummus or chicken with roasted vegetables and rice.
It’s common to not feel hungry after hard, long, efforts but don’t delay fueling until hunger returns. Perhaps focus on liquid calories like a smoothie or a glass of chocolate milk.
Hydration and electrolyte replacement are also key to aiding in recovery so don’t forget to drink lots of water and replenish your lost electrolytes.
Amy Goblirsch is a Minnesota-based dietitian and runner. She first found running as a way to lose weight but struggled to perform during training runs and races. Once she realized that a fueled body will run stronger and faster, she was able to rebuild her relationship with exercise and food. Now, she helps runners do the same: learn how to break free from restrictive diets and fuel based on performance goals, not weight loss goals.
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