Race directors are always looking for ways to get you excited about their race. A popular approach is to entice you with culinary delights at the post-race buffet.
While gobbling down pizza and sandwiches may sound tasty, you need to consider the effort you've just put in and treat yourself with the best possible care.
Blinding You with Science
Post-race or recovery nutrition is well studied and focuses on quickly refueling your muscles. From a sports nutrition perspective, recovery from a hard workout hinges on hydrating and replacing your body's energy stores.
The ideal time to kick start this is in the first 20 to 30 minutes after you sprint across the finish line. Here's what the science says: To rebuild your body's energy stores quickly, combine carbohydrates (sugar) with protein. A 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein is considered ideal for recovery.
There is also research that supports coingesting carbohydrate with caffeine to speed up the process of replenishing your energy stores. Carbohydrates by themselves can also work well to fuel up your reserves. Minimize fat and large amounts of protein immediately after the race.
For rehydration the target is to replace fluid at a rate of 100 to 150 percent of what you lost (100 percent = 16 ounces per pound or 1 liter per kilogram).
The key is to slowly and consistently rehydrate while refueling to ease your body out of a dehydrated state and aid in digestion. But before we get into how to do this, let's first consider whether it matters.
Is this a key race or just another training day? That's an important question because it will help you determine whether fast recovery matters to you.
If this is a key race and you don't need to get back to training quickly, then how fast you recover isn't terribly important. What's important is to enjoy your accomplishment and treat yourself well by adequately hydrating as you consume your post-race meal.
If this is a low-priority race that you're using to train for a bigger event, then refueling your muscles quickly is important. In this case, you want to focus your post-race nutrition on fast recovery by keeping it simple, staying close to the science, and perhaps focusing on liquid calories for expediency.