Breathing, stretching and drinking water after your run are probably routines that you’re already doing. But if you want to optimise and get that little extra out of your exercise, it’s also wise to review what you’re eating before and after your run. Here are some tips!
Focus on the big picture
What and how you should eat to become a strong and enduring runner varies depending on the intensity and time spent running. The golden rule for both exercisers and athletes is to primarily focus on the big picture, i.e. an overall healthy and well-balanced diet where you eat according to your energy needs and with regular meals during the day; breakfast, lunch and dinner plus 1-3 snacks. When you’ve achieved this, you can then take the next step. This is where the meals before and after your running session play a significant role.
The meal before the run
When you put on your running shoes and have a wonderful run ahead of you – how do you want to feel? Most people want to have a ”light” feeling when the body is fully charged with energy without feeling bloated or stuffed. How to achieve that feeling is, however, very individual and it’s important that you experiment a little to establish how your body reacts and performs on different types of meals.
What suits most people is to eat a snack 1.5-2 hours before exercising. To avoid a drop in blood sugar at the beginning of the run, the snack should preferably consist of slow carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, porridge or muesli combined with a protein source such as cottage cheese, milk, yoghurt or legumes.
If it’s a main meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner), you may need to wait a little longer, about 2-3 hours before heading out on the trail. If you need an ”energy boost” just before the run, it’s fine to take a fruit. But even this can be individual, so try and see what works best for you.
Examples of snacks before the workout:
Wholemeal bread with hummus & peppers
- Sliced banana & cottage cheese
- Smoothie (e.g. quark, frozen berries and banana + a little extra water or milk)
- 1 glass of milk & fruit
- Crispbread with sliced egg
- Quark with mashed raspberries and almonds
The meal after the run – the “recovery meal”
What should a recovery meal look like? It should consist of both carbohydrates and protein. It’s enough to eat a regular snack and the same type of snack that is suggested above. However, there are more specific recommendations for those who exercise at a higher level.
Do you exercise at a higher level?
If you do high-intensity running several days a week, some of which are long distance (workouts that last more than 60 minutes), recovery meals are very important. And for those who train twice a day with less than 8 hours of resting in between, the recovery meal is extremely important in order to recover properly and reduce risk of injury.
The recovery meal should then consist of 10-20 grams of protein plus about 1 gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight (if your weight is 70 kg, or 11 stones = 70 grams of carbohydrates). The carbohydrate type can be simple carbohydrates in order to reach the blood quickly and promote a faster recovery. Examples of simple carbohydrates are dried fruit, fruit juices, cornflakes, rice cakes.
Examples of a snack that contributes with these amounts are:
150 grams of cottage cheese + 6 dried apricots + 2 bananas or 4 dl orange juice + 3 boiled eggs. In other words, quite a lot of food! And it also provides a lot of energy (about 400-465 kcal) so you’ll have to assess what is reasonable amounts for you. Feel free to consult your nutritionist at Trainimal Woman regarding this.
The recovery meal should be eaten within 30 minutes after completed session. A rule of thumb is to eat the meal before the running shoes comes off! Why is the timing so important? The hour after the workout, the muscles are physiologically tuned for glycogen charging through increased insulin sensitivity and increased number of glucose-transporting molecules.
Do you exercise at a lower level?
If you run a few times a week for less than one hour at a time, the recovery meal is not as crucial. It’s basically enough that you eat a main meal within 1-2 hours after the run. However, if you feel that you need a fruit or snack after the workout, it is of course fine! And if it takes more than two hours until the next meal after the run, you should of course eat a snack.
A general recommendation is that the snack should consist of about 5-10 grams of protein and 20-40 grams of carbohydrates. An example of such a snack is:
70 grams of cottage cheese + 1 banana or 80 grams of edamame beans + 1 apple or 1 crispbread + 2 slices of turkey. The snacks that are included in your meal plan are excellent choices after the run!
Who needs to eat something during the run?
If you run at high-intensity that last longer than 60 minutes, you may need to replenish carbohydrates during the run, in forms of sports drinks. This is to maintain a steady blood sugar level and to save on the carbohydrates stored in the muscle. If you exercise or run for up to 60 minutes, you do not need a sports drink during your run.
You may have heard that beetroot improve performance? It’s true! Beetroot contains nitrate which has a performance-enhancing effect by helping to increase blood flow to the working muscles. This is extra interesting for those of you who want to maximise your speed/time at a specific competition. Aim to drink about 1/2 cup beetroot juice twice a day three days leading up to the race. But do not overdose as the stomach may react a little.
Examples of meal planning
See different examples below on what a day when you run may look like. Note! Evening meals can be added in addition to the meals below.
14:30 1 fruit
15:00 Running 45 minutes
16:00 Snack (= recovery meal)
17:00 Running 45 minutes
18:00 Dinner (= recovery meal)
06:00 Fruit or smoothie
07:00 Running 45 minutes
08:00 Breakfast (= recovery meal)
09:30 1 fruit
10:00 Running 90 minutes
11:30 Snack (= recovery meal)