recovery foods for runners, whole foods running

Most runners know that you should probably eat something after a run.  I usually want food even before a shower (much to my family’s disgust) and head to the kitchen as soon as I come through the door.

If a run is more than 60 minutes long, your body is primed for recovery as soon as you stop.  What you eat in the next 30 minutes to two hours is far more likely to replenish your muscles’ glycogen stores and repair micro muscle damage instead of being stored as fat.

So what’s the best choice?  There are plenty of sports nutrition companies out there ready to fill that need and take your money.  Some are great whole food choices (Picky Bars, Lara Bars) and some are full of unpronounceable ingredients. But is it really necessary or important to eat a $2 bar or blend a multi-ingredient kale smoothie with a scoop of expensive protein power to get the best recovery?

Nope.  This might sound shocking, but you can just eat real food.   It’s true.

What kind of food?  The science says the best way to replenish your glycogen and begin the muscle repair process is to fuel yourself with carbs and a small amount of protein.  Some claim the ratio should be 4 grams of carbs to 1 gram of protein, others say it’s 3:1, and others are somewhere in between.  In fact, the exact ratio might not matter so much as long as you are getting some of each.

Here are some great combos of whole foods (plants only, of course!) that are great for recovery after shorter runs:

  • A medium apple with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter:  270 calories, 24g carbs, 8g protein, ratio of 3
  • 25 almonds and 4 unsulfured dried apricots:  216 calories, 24.6g carbs, 5.7g protein, ratio of 4.34
  • 4 tablespoons hummus, 12 baby carrots: 203 calories, 22.8g carbs, 5.2g protein, ratio of 4.3
  • 1/2 cup chickpeas: 134 calories, 22.5g carbs, 7.5g protein, ratio of 3
  • 1/2 cup jasmine rice, 2/3 cup green peas (add some soy sauce for salt and flavor): 210 calories, 24.5g carbs, 8g protein, ratio of 3.06
  • 1 medjool date and 1 ounce (1/4 cup) of cashews:  226 calories, 26.5g carbs, 5.7g protein, ratio of 4.6
  • banana with 2 tablespoons almond butter:  290 calories, 29g carbs, 8.3g protein, ratio of 3.49
  • 2.5 cups kale and 1/2 a white onion, sauteed in veggie broth, with 1/2 cup white beans:  201 calories, 39g carbs, 11.8 protein, ratio of 3.3 (love this for lots of volume without too many calories!)

If you can time your run to end right before a meal, your meal will be your recovery fuel.  This is a great tool in avoiding too much snacking if you are trying to get or stay lean for racing.  Here are some easy and simple light meals (or large snacks for longer runs) that work well:

  • Medium sweet potato with 2 tablespoons almond butter:  320 calories, 39g carbs, 9g protein, ratio of 4.33
  • 1/2 cup (measured dry) oatmeal, 1/4 cup walnuts, 2 tablespoons (about 12) dried tart cherries: 420 calories, 47g carbs, 11g protein, ratio 4.2
  • 2 slices whole wheat bread (I like Dave’s Killer Bread), 2 tablespoons all-natural peanut butter, and 1 tablespoon all-fruit jelly:  475 calories, 61g carbs, 18g protein, ratio 3.38
  • 2 oz (measured dry) whole wheat pasta, 1/4 cup tomato sauce, 1 cup broccoli, 2/3 cup green peas:  381 calories, 68g carbs, 15.6g protein, ratio of 4.3
  • 1/4 (measured dry) cup quinoa, 1/2 cup pinto beans, 1 cup broccoli, 2/3 cup green peas: 378 calories, 69.4g carbs, 21.3g protein, ratio 3.25

I could go on forever!  If you don’t want to be bothered by grams and ratios, the easy shortcut to remember is “nuts with fruit” and “beans and greens.”  (Broccoli, peas, and kale and other green veggies have a huge percentage of protein per gram.) It doesn’t need to be complicated or exact.  In fact, the simpler it is, the better, both for your body and for convenience.

Does that mean that I never use packaged bars?  Sometimes I do.  But I don’t like relying on them, especially when it’s just as easy to eat real whole food.

What whole food combos do you like for recovery?



About Claire

Coach Claire has helped hundreds of runners chase their dreams and conquer big goals. Her coaching philosophy combines science-based training, plant-based nutrition, and mindset techniques to unlock every runner's true potential. She's an ASFA certified running coach, sports nutrition specialist, a 2:58 marathoner, mom, and borderline obsessive plant lover.

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