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What Should You Eat After a Run?

Nutrition is an essential component of your training program. Running requires proper fuel for performance and recovery. So, what should you eat after a run? When is the best time to eat after running? This post will answer those questions and more.

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There’s nothing quite like the accomplishment of hitting your training goals. That generally means that you’re committed to running.

The miles you’re logging feel amazing and you want to make sure you are properly fueling yourself.

But, what should you eat after a run to maximize that training?

woman athlete holding water bottle

When it comes to pre-run and post-run nutrition, both are equally importance.

Not only is knowing what to eat before a long run important, but you should also pay attention to replenishing your body after a run.

Whether you are trail running or training for a marathon, a proper diet is essential for performing your best.

Inadequate fuel can lead to poor recovery, which means slower runs, fatigue, and injuries.

Furthermore, failure to eat enough may also impact your immune system, lower your bone density, and slow your digestion.

To learn more about what are the best foods to eat after a run, when you should eat, how to deal with lack of appetite, and how to best recover from your run, keep reading.

What to Eat After a Run (Easy vs. Long)

What should I eat after a run? This is one of the most common questions we get!

Training plans usually consist of easy, recovery runs and more challenging long runs. Both are important for all-around performance.

But, how you eat before and after may vary for a short run vs. a long one.

What to Eat After a Short Run

An easy run should be just that—easy.

So, do you need to eat a meal immediately after an easy run? Not necessarily.

If your run is less than an hour, your body will rely on available glucose and fat for fuel. You will be adequately refueling as long as you eat a balanced diet.

man running with flowers in background

What to Eat After a Long Run

A long run varies in distance, but it is typically the longest run in your training week.

Usually lasting between 1-3 hours, a long run will require more carbohydrate foods to replenish your body.

Even if you follow a gluten-free diet, you will still need to replenish with carbohydrates. Use this list of gluten free high carb foods to assist you.

Training for longer races usually requires carb loading in the days leading up to the race as well.

fruits, pulses, vegetables on wooden table

It makes sense, right? The more energy you exert, the more fuel you use.

Just like a car needs gas to run properly, your body needs power.

During the long run, you’ll likely need to take in quick sources of energy, like energy gels or chews, as well as adequate fluids, which you can hold in a hydration pack.

Even if you take carbohydrates in during your run, long runs deplete your stored fuel.

red chews for runners

After using up your glycogen stores, your body is primed and ready for fuel. You’ll want to consume a meal, snack, or recovery drink after you’ve finished your long run.

Here is an example of a long distance runners diet plan that shows just that.

Recovery nutrition

Your nutrition is imperative to your recovery. Hydration is also a priority.

Recovery meals and snacks should contain a mixture of carbohydrates and protein, along with plenty of fluids, to restore your glycogen levels, rebuild muscle, and rehydrate.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are what your body uses for energy.

Carbohydrates get broken down into glucose and then that glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Then your body taps into that storage during prolonged activity.

While low-carb diets are popular, they’ll likely leave you lacking the energy you need to complete your run and perform your best.

It is well-researched that diets high in carbohydrates, paired with training and proper rest, optimize your glycogen levels.

In fact, carb loading is a tried-and-true method to improve your athletic performance for a race.

On a regular basis, ingesting ≥1.2 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight can help maximize your body’s muscle glycogen repletion.

oatmeal with fruit

Carbs are a good thing.

Here are some of the best carbs for runners that you should include with your meals and snacks.

  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Tortillas
  • Rice
  • Cereal
  • English muffin
  • Bagel
  • Fruit
  • Crackers
  • Potatoes
  • Sweetpotatoes
  • Legumes
  • Recovery drinks

Things like oatmeal, cereal whole grains, beans and legumes can also provide iron for runners, which is an important micronutrient!

Protein

Including protein in your post-run meal may help reduce muscle damage.

Of course, we want our muscles strengthened by our training rather than damaged and injured. Our diet can play a role in muscle recovery, and protein for runners should not be underemphasized.

In addition, protein in combination with carbohydrates may improve energy levels and soreness after training.

You still may have days when your quads and calves feel absolutely shredded after pushing through a tough workout, but protein can help minimize the pain.

How much protein you need mostly depends on your body size. While the length of your workout affects how much carbohydrates you need, it doesn’t really change your protein needs.

Here is a chart to help you determine your post-run protein needs:

Body Weight (lbs.)Protein (g)
120-15015-20
151-18020-25
181-21525-30
216-25030-35
251-30035-40
chicken breast on a cutting board

Sources of protein include:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein powder
  • Legumes
  • Dairy

Fluids

Hydration is essential for performance before, during, and after a run. Check out our thorough hydration guide to properly hydrating yourself as a runner.

For a quick and easy way to know how hydrated you are, you can look at your urine.

This study provided a visual to determine hydration status:

8 color scale urine chart

Our body is made up of about 60% water. Drinking water is the best way to hydrate. But you can get fluids from other beverages and foods.

Electrolyte drinks or smoothies are a great way to get in those electrolytes you lost in sweat.

These drinks typically contain sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein. It’s really easy to make your own electrolyte drink, too!

Not only are recovery drinks hydrating, but they can also help replenish your glycogen stores.

The protein they contain can help rebuild muscle tissue.

shake bottle with pre workout supplement

Of course, you can grab your favorite recovery drink from the store, but you can also make it at home.

Some of our favorite recovery drinks include:

When is the best time to eat after a run?

The optimal time to eat after your run or race is within 30-60 minutes.

For example, recovery after a half marathon would include a snack or meal with carbs and protein, and adequate fluids.

But if you are delayed in your eating, don’t worry.

Research has shown that a diet high in carbohydrates (8–10 g/kg/day) in the 24 hours following your run can help restore pre-exercise glycogen values.

Now if you are competing in multiple events in the course of a day, you’d have to be more aggressive in your approach.

It is recommended that you have 1.2 g of carbohydrates per kg every hour for the first few hours after your run.

clock on plate with utensils signaling when to eat

You may be wondering how long to wait after eating to run. We’ve covered eating before races in our half marathon nutrition writeup, and how that differs from what to eat before a marathon.

What to eat before a cross-country meet can also be helpful for shorter runs or races.

Generally, if you’ve eaten a large meal, you’ll want to wait 3-4 hours before running or racing.

Less time is required to digest smaller meals, so you may be able to run as soon as 30 minutes after a snack.

What To Eat After a Run at Night

While many races occur during the early hours, not all runs occur in the morning.

As a runner, you squeeze in those miles when you can. If you’ve done your workout at night, you’ll still need post-run nutrition.

While you may not want to have a big meal right before bed, you have to prioritize carbohydrates to replenish those glycogen stores.

girls running at night

No matter the time of day, your post-run meal or snack doesn’t have to be huge. Especially if you plan to lie down soon. You don’t want to end up with heartburn.

Foods that are more likely to cause heartburn are spicy foods, citrus fruits, mint, and chocolate.

You’ll want to choose a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein foods that will help your body recover.

Here are some options for what to eat after a night run:

What to Eat After a Run in the Morning

After a morning run, you can have your normal breakfast, second breakfast, or lunch.

If you run early in the morning, you may want a small snack before your run (see what to eat before running in the morning), and then normal breakfast after.

If you run later in the morning, you may want to do the opposite, or even split your breakfast into two.

So, you’d eat half of your breakfast before your run, and half after.

Here are some options for what to eat after a morning run:

lemon blueberry overnight oats in mason jars

What If You Have No Appetite After a Run?

It is common to not feel hungry after a run.

While some people feel ravenous after a workout, others have a blunted appetite.

snacks in bowls, like popcorn, pretzels and chips

Hungry or not, you have to refuel.

Here’s where convenience is key.

If you have running snacks ready to go, it will be easy to replenish your body after your run, or even in the car if you have driven somewhere.

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Whether you are dealing with runner’s stomach, or you are rushed and don’t have time to feel your hunger, you can opt for one of these simple ways to get in essential nutrients:

Key Takeaways for What to Eat After Your Run

  • You should eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein for optimal recovery and glycogen repletion. The longer the run and greater the effort, the more you’ll need to refuel.
  • Carbohydrates are essential for energy. Your body uses carbohydrates as its primary source of fuel to power your runs. Post-run nutrition should always include a source of carbohydrates.
  • Protein can aid in your recovery and improve muscle soreness. Combine protein and carbohydrates for a post-workout meal or snack.
  • Hydration is important for a runner and you’ll want to make sure you are taking in water and other beverages to replenish lost fluid and electrolytes.
  • While you want to try to eat 30-60 minutes after your run, a high-carbohydrate diet throughout the day can optimize glycogen stores.
  • If you don’t feel hungry after a run, try to consume a recovery drink or a convenient snack.

Want your running nutrition questions answered?
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References:

  • Wood KL, Barrack MT, Gray VB, et al. Cognitive dietary restraint score is associated with lower energy, carbohydrate, fat, and grain intake among female adolescent endurance runners. Eat Behav. 2021;40:101460. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2020.101460
  • Murray B, Rosenbloom C. Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutr Rev. 2018;76(4):243-259. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuy001
  • Alghannam AF, Gonzalez JT, Betts JA. Restoration of Muscle Glycogen and Functional Capacity: Role of Post-Exercise Carbohydrate and Protein Co-Ingestion. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):253. Published 2018 Feb 23. doi:10.3390/nu10020253
  • Liang Y, Chen Y, Yang F, et al. Effects of carbohydrate and protein supplement strategies on endurance capacity and muscle damage of endurance runners: A double blind, controlled crossover trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2022;19(1):623-637. Published 2022 Oct 12. doi:10.1080/15502783.2022.2131460
  • Saunders MJ, Luden ND, DeWitt CR, Gross MC, Dillon Rios A. Protein Supplementation During or Following a Marathon Run Influences Post-Exercise Recovery. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):333. Published 2018 Mar 10. doi:10.3390/nu10030333
  • Gunawan, Alexander & Brandon, David & Puspa, Velinda & Wiweko, Budi. (2018). Development of Urine Hydration System Based on Urine Color and Support Vector Machine. Procedia Computer Science. 135. 481-489. 10.1016/j.procs.2018.08.200.
  • Vitale K, Getzin A. Nutrition and Supplement Update for the Endurance Athlete: Review and Recommendations. Nutrients. 2019;11(6):1289. Published 2019 Jun 7. doi:10.3390/nu11061289
  • Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
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