Post-Workout Fuel You Need

When ultrarunner Ronda Sundermeier started feeling sluggish during her usual tempo runs, she wasn't sure what was wrong — she hadn't changed her training. Then she met a nutritionist, who spotted the problem: Sundermeier wasn't eating enough postworkout for her body to recover.

So she started drinking a carb-and-protein recovery shake immediately after her run, and then made sure to sit down to a full meal within 45 minutes. "The results were phenomenal," Sundermeier says. "Suddenly, I felt like I was on fire during the hardest parts of my workouts."

Most runners know that they need to eat a combination of healthy carbs and protein soon after a workout. But Sundermeier's experience proves that there are different kinds of postrun scenarios, each with its own nutritional challenges and requirements. After all, an easy evening three-miler doesn't require the same refueling strategy as a tough 14-mile tempo run. "Your body needs nutrients to build muscle and gain fitness, but it's not always clear when, what, and how much you should eat," says Deborah Shulman, Ph.D., a sports nutritionist in Colorado.

The right meal at the right time makes a big difference. After revamping her nutrition, Sundermeier broke the course record at the Grand Teton 100-Mile Ultramarathon. Here's how to tailor your meals for five common postrun situations.

Postrun: You're starving after a three-miler.

Eat This: After an easy, short run, you haven't burned a ton of calories or worked your muscles extremely hard, so usually there's no need to eat much. "But if you're really hungry," says Shulman, "it's a signal your carbohydrate levels are low and you started the run depleted." To satisfy your belly without going overboard on calories, Amy Jamieson-Petonic, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, suggests high-fiber foods. Many studies, including a large review done by researchers at Tufts University, have shown fiber helps people feel fuller and more satisfied. "Try a whole-wheat bagel or a handful of dried figs," she says. Stomach still growling? Eat a little bit of fat, like a few nuts or an egg, to satisfy your appetite, says Molly Kimball, R.D., a sports dietitian at the Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.

Postrun: After a 45-minute run, you're short on time.

Eat This: For many runners, this type of workout is the backbone of their training, especially on time-crunched weekdays. For runs less than 60 minutes, don't worry about getting exactly the right ratio of carbs-to-protein postrun; rather, focus on eating foods that contain both. "It's when you run over an hour that the carbs-to-protein ratio becomes more important," says Jamieson-Petonic. Just aim for healthy choices. If you run in the morning, freeze a fruit and yogurt smoothie the night before and take it out to defrost before your run. If you're a noontime runner, pack a hummus and veggie pita sandwich to eat after you get back to your desk. Need a quick dinner after an evening run? Keep your freezer stocked with single, frozen chicken breasts or salmon fillets and pair with fast-cooking brown rice and steamed asparagus. 
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