Post-Workout Recovery Tips

Do you spend the day sprawled on the couch after a long run? Many runners think it's normal to feel wiped out after intense physical efforts. But it doesn't have to be. The key to recovering after a long run quickly is simple: Eat and drink the critical nutrients your body needs, when it needs them. Here's how to fuel your muscles after a run--and be ready for your next big workout.

The Recovery Process

The best way to recharge your battery after a long run: Eat carbohydrates. Choose healthy sources such as fruit and fruit juices, vegetables, lowfat milk and yogurt, bread, pasta, rice and other whole grains and beans, as well as sports foods (drinks, gels and bars).

Carbs are converted into glucose or blood sugar and used as energy throughout the day. Glucose that isn't used quickly is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, which our bodies can convert back to glucose and use for energy at a later time.

Muscle glycogen is the body's preferred fuel during exercise, and it plays a crucial role when you step up the intensity or length of workouts.

Here's how it works: Both carbohydrate stored as glycogen and fat are used as fuel during exercise. Our bodies convert fat to energy during exercise very slowly, so carbs are the go-to energy source during high-intensity exercise, like running uphill or putting on a finishing kick. But your body can only store a limited amount of glycogen.

On a typical high-carb diet, you probably have enough glycogen to get through a 20-mile run or hard interval workout. Because it takes 24 to 48 hours to replenish your glycogen stores, if you do a hard workout the following day, you may find your body's glycogen stores depleted.

Daily workouts accompanied by a low-carb diet cause a day-to-day decrease in muscle glycogen. Chronically low muscle glycogen stores can trip up even the fittest runner, especially those training everyday. Heavy or sore legs, nagging injuries, feeling rundown or running out of gas during long runs can all indicate insufficient recovery after a run.

Timing Is Everything

Activities such as socializing, stretching or showering often delay when runners eat after a workout. And runners trying to lose weight while ramping up their mileage or intensity often skip post-run or race meals. But eating after a workout should be one of your top priorities.

During the so-called "carbohydrate window," the first 60 minutes following exercise, muscles convert carbohydrate-rich foods and beverages into glycogen up to three times faster than at other times. (The most effective period is 15 to 30 minutes after exercise.) Make immediate post-workout meals a part of your routine to avoid fatigue throughout the day and injuries during runs.
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