Wondering what the best running recovery food is? This post will detail what foods are best for muscle recovery and what you should eat after a long run to optimize your recovery!
I have less than ONE WEEK until my marathon (Savannah Rock ‘n Roll Marathon recap), so I thought it was a great time to talk about the best recovery foods for runners and marathon nutrition.
Being my first marathon, I am totally devoting all of my attention to this race. I’m taking Friday off from work, so I can head to Savannah Thursday night after seeing clients.
I want to have Friday to just relax, stretch well, and rest up and lay low.
I tend to do my best thinking on long runs. A few weeks ago during a long run, I was brainstorming about my post-run meal and snack. I was thinking about what ingredients to add to my smoothie bowl, and what would be best for my body and muscle recovery.
Is There A Best Running Recovery Food?
I strongly think there are plenty of certain foods (listed below) that are among the best running recovery foods. However, I’m not sure there’s just one that checks all of the boxes.
This is why variety is important, and having a basic understanding of sports nutrition, to aid in making healthful, recovery choices.
I also think off season nutrition gets overlooked and plays a role in how your body will adapt to in-season nutrition.
What Foods Are Best for Muscle Recovery? What Are The Best Recovery Foods for Runners?
Nutrition plays a crucial role in recovery from exercise. So, here are some of my favorite recovery foods for runners and some insight into why they are great for recovery.
These foods would be pertinent to include in your marathon nutrition plan, or your marathon recovery plan.
Let’s list them and then detail each of them!
- Sweet Potatoes
- Whole Grains
- Yogurt/ Cottage Cheese
- Chocolate Milk/ Smoothies
- Tart Cherry Juice
What Foods Should I Include In My Post Run Meal?
I add frozen wild blueberries to every single smoothie and oatmeal bowl I make. Better yet, add them to baked oatmeal, like this sweet potato oatmeal bake with blueberries.
Blueberries are a great post run food because they are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients, which can improve our defense systems in the body. Some research shows cardiovascular benefits and they can reduce muscle damage, too.
Is there a best recovery food after running? No, but bananas offer up some good things! The main electrolytes we lose through endurance exercise are sodium and potassium. Bananas are a great natural source of potassium and can be great for reducing cramping.
Also, bananas are high in carbohydrates that our muscles can take up rapidly, after being depleted due to a long workout or run.
The number one question I get about post run meals is, “what to eat after a long run.” I almost always want to say oatmeal!
Most people think of oatmeal as a pre-race food, but did you know it can be a post race food, too? Especially if you fill it with the right things! I love these one step oat bowls with fun, nourishing ingredients that I may not always keep on hand in bulk (use code BLTDAILY for $25 off your first order!).
Otherwise, I tend to add many of the same ingredients I’ve talked about here – blueberries, yogurt or milk, peanut butter, chia seeds, pumpkin and seeds.
Guess why mangos are among some of the best recovery foods for runners? They have double the amount of Vitamin C as an orange! You could also go for apricots, oranges, red bell peppers, or broccoli.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps counteract the oxidative stress we put on our body during extreme exercise. It can help aid with decreasing soreness and inflammation. Dried mango is sometimes a little easier and stays fresher longer!
This mango lime quinoa salad is a great source of complex carbohydrates and a fun way to add in Vitamin C.
Sweet Potatoes are my definition of running recovery food. They are full of complex carbs to help replenish those glycogen stores. They also have ample beta carotene, an antioxidant and a precursor for Vitamin A. They also have Vitamin C, iron and potassium.
Omelets are a great way to refuel with everything. The eggs are providing necessary protein (and the amino acid, leucine, which is important for muscle growth). Amino acids are needed for your muscles after the long exercise where they are being broken down to help replenish and rebuild them.
Also, depending on what you add to the omelet, you can also be doing yourself an even bigger favor. For instance, red bell peppers and broccoli are both high in Vitamin C.
Whole grains are also a healthy food after running. Think oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly, quinoa, brown rice, etc. Whole grains are full of B vitamins, which help our bodies convert glucose into energy, and also magnesium.
Magnesium is a nutrient that’s typically low in the American diet and helps regulate blood pressure and is great for bone health.
For quick snacks (that you don’t have to make or prep), I highly recommend the KIND bar Snack Club – just get bars delivered so you’re always prepared.
I know I write about this protein powder all the time, but I really love it. It’s also great because it has tart cherry juice and turmeric in it, which are great for recovery and decreasing inflammation!
Curcumin, the main component in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and may help decrease pain and swelling. A great way to use turmeric naturally is on these roasted garlic turmeric parsnip fries!
Yogurt or Cottage Cheese
Both yogurt and cottage cheese provide a great combo of protein and carbohydrates, which you want after exercise. Yogurt also has beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that improve our gut health.
Plus, it’s a great, thick vehicle for fruit (think about all those antioxidants) or in a greek yogurt smoothie!
Cottage cheese is also really high in casein, which is a slow releasing protein, making it a great option for a pre-bedtime snack. Since it’s slow releasing, it can help reduce muscle breakdown while you sleep (aka fast).
Both yogurt and cottage cheese are also great sources of leucine, mentioned above.
Chocolate Milk + Smoothies
My favorite smoothie is this chocolate blueberry smoothie, FULL of antioxidant potential.
Or, if you want extra Vitamin C, also consider a tropical creamsicle orange smoothie, with 30 grams of protein and a fun citrus flavor.
We’ve all heard about chocolate milk as one of the best recovery foods for runners. These are staples in our house.
The reason it’s so great is that it has nearly the perfect 3:1-4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, ideal for rebuilding and replenishing muscles after a long or intense workout.
But, rather than buying one which would likely have more sugar, you could make your own at home. Plus, the calcium (and Vitamin D) are great for your bones.
Tart Cherry Juice
There is a whole slew of research right now about tart cherry juice and it’s endurance benefits. I’ve already bought some tart cherry juice to have after the marathon next weekend.
One study in marathoners showed that those who took tart cherry juice after the race had improved muscle markers than those with the placebo.
Tart cherry juice helps with muscle recovery and reducing inflammation, and increases our body’s total antioxidant capacity. Studies have also shown that CRP (C-reactive protein) levels, a marker of inflammation, were lower in those taking tart cherry juice.
The recommendation is 10 fluid ounces of tart cherry juice within 30 minutes of a workout. If you can’t find tart cherry juice, cherries themselves are still great for inflammation!
I love adding cherries to cherry chia pudding, plus they go great with chocolate!
Don’t underestimate the recovery power and nutritional benefits of water! Water, aside from helping us stay hydrated, is vital for ensuring our cells receive the nutrients we take in.
Without adequate water, our cells and muscles won’t function efficiently. Water also aids in digestion and bowel function, Also, consider foods with a high water content, like watermelons and cucumbers.
Remember, by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
More Sports Nutrition Resources
- Low Carb Diet for Runners – Pros vs. Cons
- How I Recovered from a Marathon
- Challenges for Fueling Teenage Athletes
- How Inadequate Nutrition Affects Training
- 5 Nutrition Tips to Help with Runner’s Gut
- The Ultimate Sports Nutrition FAQ and Answers
What are some of your favorite recovery foods or liquids?
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