Refueling to support muscle recovery is important. The sooner you eat and drink after a race, the quicker you will recover.
Overall good nutrition is also an essential component of recovery. Eating well on a daily basis supports post-race recovery and helps to boost your performance on race day. Be sure to get adequate calories through a healthy, well-balanced diet. Carbohydrates should come mainly from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; fats from foods like oils, nuts, and avocado; and protein from lean meats, eggs, beans, fish, and soy protein.
Here are two important guidelines to help speed up your post-race recovery:
If you are well hydrated before the race, you’ll be ahead of the game for post-race recovery, but your top priority post-race should still be fluid replacement. This is especially true if it’s hot or you sweat a lot. And you don’t need to wait until you’ve finished the race to hydrate; take water at fluid stations or carry fluids with you to help avoid dehydration.
Weighing yourself before and after runs can give you a good idea of how much fluid you need to consume. For every pound lost, you should aim to drink 16 ounces of fluid. Sports drinks are an option, though they’re not essential for recovery after a 10K because you’ll make up for any lost electrolytes through the food you eat after the race. If you’re well hydrated, your urine should be pale yellow. The darker the color, the more fluid you need to drink to restore full hydration.
Try to stay away from alcohol consumption immediately post-race as this will dehydrate you further and displace necessary vitamins and minerals.
Studies have shown that muscles are the most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores within 30-45 minutes after a race. Consuming mainly carbohydrates with a small amount of protein helps build and repair muscles and reduces muscle soreness. Some suggestions: a half or whole bagel with peanut butter, yogurt with fruit and a handful of pretzels, or cereal with milk and a banana.
If you feel like you can’t handle solid food, or if you’re not hungry that soon after your run, liquids may be more appealing. Turn that fruit and yogurt into a smoothie or go for chocolate milk, which supplies plenty of carbohydrates, protein, and B vitamins. It’s a good idea to test out different foods throughout your training to determine what works best for you.
You should eat a well-balanced meal within two to three hours that contains lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, as well as antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Continuing to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet in the days following your race, as well as making sure you’re adequately hydrated and well-rested, will ensure you continue to recover.
Dana Pitman is a registered dietitian and a New York State-certified dietitian nutritionist based in New York City. She earned her BA in psychology from Muhlenberg College and her MS in clinical nutrition from New York University. Her professional experience includes positions in private practice, clinical, and community settings. Dana is a clinical nutritionist at Hospital for Special Surgery, where she is an active member of the employee wellness committee and the community education program, lectures on a range of nutrition related topics, contributes to social media, and counsels clients privately.