How to recover after your run
If you're training hard for an endurance race, getting your recovery right is vital for staving off muscle soreness and improving your performance. We asked sports nutritionist, James Collins some of your most commonly asked questions...
Q: When should I be eating after a run to maximise recovery?
James says: The sooner the better - ideally within 30 minutes after running as your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process after a hard training session.
Q: Is protein or carbohydrate more important for recovery?
James says: Both are critical for full recovery after training. Carbohydrates are the body's main fuel source for high intensity work, and are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. As the body can only store a certain amount of carbohydrate, once reduced through a harder training session these stores need to be replaced before your next workout.
Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue and after hard training this remodelling can continue for over 24 hours. Starting with the post-training snack, regular protein intake helps to provide the building blocks (amino acids), for ongoing muscle growth and repair.
20g of protein is the magic number that you need to hit to kick-start the recovery process after training (slightly more for bigger athletes and less for smaller). These recipes will help you reach this target:
Q: If you're watching your weight, how do you balance eating for recovery with continued weight loss? How much should you eat?
James says: Many marathon runners are hoping to get a bit fitter and also reduce body fat as part of the training process. It is possible to properly recover after exercise while encouraging healthy weight loss – it's just about getting the balance right.
The key here is matching fuel intake to your training volume. This will mean eating more carbohydrate on days with harder training sessions. Recovery days require fewer carbohydrates, with more of a focus on lean protein and healthy fats.
When managing your weight, try to get most of your carbohydrates from low-GI foods at mealtimes, rather than lots of higher GI snacks. These will also keep your feeling fuller for longer.
Where possible, eat meals as part of your recovery plan following your run, instead of adding in extra recovery snacks, which increase your total energy (calorie) intake for the day. This may take more planning to coincide runs with mealtimes but will help you reach your goals.
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Q: How long after running a marathon would it be sensible to start training again?
It is important to listen to your body on this one. Physiologically, your body can be ready to start training after a few days, especially as fitness levels are often greatly improved with endurance training. However, don't underestimate the cumulative physical and mental fatigue running a marathon may cause over the following week. It is usually advisable for runners to have a break of a week to get a well earned physical, and psychological break from training, before lacing up the trainers again.
Q: What are the key components for a post-marathon recovery plan?
James says: When you think recovery, think of ‘The Four R's’:
- Refuel - Have a carbohydrate-rich snack followed by a meal soon after the race.
- Rehydrate - Replace fluid losses by drinking at regular intervals post-race.
- Repair - Include a serving of protein with your recovery meal.
- Rest - Get a good night's sleep – this is when most of your muscle repair will occur.
This article was last updated on 20 February 2020 by James Collins.
James Collins is recognised as a leading performance nutritionist through his work with Olympic and professional sport. Over the last decade he has worked with Arsenal FC, the England and France national football teams and Team GB. He has a private practice in Harley Street where he sees business executives, performing artists and clients from all walks of life. He is the author of the new book The Energy Plan, which focuses on the key principles of fuelling for fitness.
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