Post-Workout Meals: Replenish & Recover

Pittsburgh Dietitian Blog Posts
March 11, 2015

After months of training you did it. You crossed the finish line. Your mind takes a huge sigh of relief as your heart rate and breathing begin to slow. Usually at the conclusion of a physical stress, you do not feel hungry. If anything food sounds nauseating. Contrary to how you feel, your muscles are very hungry in these moments. It takes time, sometimes a couple hours, but as your hormones settle down this appetite is revealed. It is time to eat! What does your body need now? Most of you who just completed your first half or first full are going to eat a celebratory meal. As a runner and food lover, I support that decision! As a Dietitian, I want to make sure what you put in your body will succeed in maximizing your recovery. Here are the key things to remember after you cross the finish line.

  1. You are dehydrated. Your body has been sweating to keep you cool for hours and has lost quite a bit of fluid and sodium in the process. Make sure you are at least sipping on fluids from the time you cross the finish line well into the evening. This goes double for those running the full marathon. Women need to get at least 50oz of fluid in addition to their normal day, and men need at least 60oz in addition to their normal day. For a more specific recommendation, assess how much you sweat, contact a fitness professional who can calculate your sweat rate, and monitor your urine in the hours following the race.
  1. You are still dehydrated. Notice above I mentioned a loss in sodium. Sodium and the other electrolytes are likely low, which is a continuation of dehydration. Make sure to get some salt in your post workout meal. If you are going to eat a celebratory meal out, that is guaranteed. If you are eating at home, feel free to add salt to recipes or, dare I say it, salt your food! Sodium gets a bad reputation, mainly because it adds up so fast in the American Diet, but for athletes, we need to make sure you are getting enough, especially during and after the run.
  1. Your cells are hungry. Your pre-workout meal had you maximizing the carb stores in your muscles, and gave you some carb in the blood stream for sustained use. Your intra-workout feeding(s) provided you with simple sugar to keep stores available for your sprint to the finish. Now you have crossed the finish line and your tank is empty (or low). We want to make sure to get some carbohydrate in for two reasons. First, carbohydrates will go in the muscle and liver as glycogen, replenishing your short term energy stores. Second, carbohydrate is the fuel your body uses to repair damaged muscle. Since you have been beating your muscles against the pavement, the body needs to fix some wear and tear. A variety of carbohydrates is encouraged. Get some complex carbs from grains, and some simple carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and dairy!
  1. Patch those muscles up. As noted above, your muscles take a beating during endurance activity. The carbohydrate above is used as energy to build muscle. Protein is the building blocks for the damaged tissue. A post workout meal should have a protein source that is highly available for the body. Animal sources are far more available and contain the 9 amino acids our body needs in higher quantity, but any protein source will help! Tofu, lentils, beans, protein powders, and whole grains all contribute to your protein need post-workout.
  1. After such a demanding physical event, your body needs to recover. It often takes 48 hours for the initial inflammation and damage associated with endurance events to subside. For those competing, this time can be multiplied many times over into weeks. For the purpose of this blog, we are focused on the first 24 hours, which is when your body is most receptive to intervention. Proper rehydration, muscle repair and replenishment of energy stores are the keys to a faster recovery.

Ideally after you eat your post-meal, you will eat a meal every couple hours for the rest of the day. If you cannot stomach a large meal within the first hour of finishing, try and get something small in. A glass of chocolate milk, a Greek yogurt, a small sandwich, something that has carbohydrate and protein to get recovery started. Often the nausea after a race is related to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Get fluids in with some attention to salt and potassium. As you feel better focus on getting a larger meal in!A great post work-out meal was posted by Gretchen McKay. Stews are popular because they are easy to eat, contain carbohydrates, protein, fluid, sodium and flavor!Over the last three weeks we have discussed the protocol for using carbohydrate to fuel for your event. While this is the commonly accepted practice, there is research emerging that offers another option in fueling for sport. For those with interest in low-carb dieting and ketogenic training, stay tuned for next week’s blog post! I will be discussing the alternative to fueling with carbohydrates, including an introduction to the science behind ketosis, the potential pros, cons, and an example meal plan.

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