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During periods of training or racing, nutrition plays a huge role in how your body performs and adapts to the stimulus of running. A major focus for runners is pre-race nutrition and if competing in a longer distance event nutrition during the race. Both these areas are incredibly important and can make or break your day.However, an area that receives less attention from runners is what to consume after training and on race day to help recover and ultimately to get you back to baseline and ready for the next session.
Nutrition after the finish line
Recovery starts as soon as you cross the finish line, so aim to kick start the recovery process within the first 60 minutes of finishing a training session or race. Not only will providing your body with all the key ingredients play a huge role in optimizing the physiological adaptations associated with a training stimulus, but also reduce the risk of injury, illness and fatigue which will have a negative effect on performance but also general health and wellbeing as well.
The take home message and mental tick list once you finish a training session or race is the 3 R’s of recovery.
- Consume fluids little and often after exercise to rehydrate.
- Incorporating a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink will provide the body with key elements that have been depleted. A drink that is flavoured and contains electrolytes will improve palatability and increase the drive to drink, which will help you take on a suitable amount of fluid to return to a hydrated state.
- Consuming carbohydrate (1.0 g/kg or 0.5 g/pound of bodyweight) will begin the recovery of carbohydrate stores in the body.
- The body’s fuel stores will have become depleted during exercise, so it is important to replenish these stores by ingesting carbohydrates.
- Protein will help to support muscle growth and strength.
- Consuming 20–30 g of high quality protein, either from meat, fish or dairy is advised to stimulate the maintenance or growth of muscle mass and strength.
Smoothies, flavored milk and protein shakes
To kick start the recovery process after crossing the finish line aim to consume foods that contain carbohydrates and protein. It’s unlikely that you’ll want a full meal at this point, so things like smoothies, flavored milk and protein shakes provide a brilliant source of the three key areas above, as well as being easily digested which is an important consideration when taking on something so close to finishing a run.
If you prefer something solid, something like a chicken sandwich is a great choice.
Having consumed something smaller just after your run it is incredibly important to follow this up with a larger meal with plenty of protein and carbohydrate to continue giving your body everything it needs as it continues to rebuild, repair and adapt. Aim to consume a good meal containing meat or fish and a generous helping of carbohydrate, such as potatoes, pasta, rice or bread.
Nutrition during the following 24 hours and beyond
Once your first main meal is out of the way, it’s important to remain focused on the types of food you’re consuming over the following 24 hours and beyond to ensure the recovery process is optimized and your body returns stronger.
Continue to incorporate carbohydrates and protein in every meal during this time, while also thinking about a wide range of fruit and vegetables that contain much needed vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory properties to deal with the stresses of training and competition.
There are many other strategies excluding nutrition to enhance recovery and following a race it is obviously very important to celebrate your achievements and indulge in a few treats. But if you can incorporate the 3 R’s of consuming carbohydrate, protein and fluids you will go a long way in making sure your body is back to its best and ready for the next challenge!
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