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...

Runner with phone

Question 1:

When should I be eating after a run to maximize 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.

Question 2:

Runners outside
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 remodeling 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).

Question 3:

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 a little lighter. 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 carbohydrates 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 you 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.

Question 4:

Woman running on track
How long after running a marathon would it be sensible to start training again? 

James says:

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 fatigue you may experience over the following week. It is usually advisable for runners to have a break of a week to get a well-earned physical, and a psychological break from training, before lacing up the trainers again.

Question 5:

What are the key components for a post-marathon recovery plan?

Woman drinking sports drink
James says:

When you think recovery, think of 'The Four R's':

  • Rest - Get a good night's sleep - this is when most of your muscle repair will occur.
  • Rehydrate - Replace fluid losses by drinking at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • Repair - Eat 20g of protein soon after exercise to kick start muscle repair.
  • Refuel - Eat carbohydrates to help restore energy - a minimum of 1g per kilogram bodyweight is a good general guide.