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How to Boost Your Recovery with Nutrition After a Race

For a lot of us we are in full swing of racing this spring! Winter training is done and now you can reap the benefits of your hard work and sweat on the road or trail soon. So many of us focus our nutrition during training, and practice our race day fueling plan on our long runs so there are no surprises on race day, but what about right after the race? Well, this is where we fall short. Before toeing the line, take your nutrition to the next level right after the race so you can recover more quickly and get back to training healthy again.

Tips to Refueling and Rehydrating After Races:

1. Rehydrate first. You may be exhausted or feel even a bit nauseous after racing hard, but liquid nutrition is key to replace the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat. Racing longer than an hour, especially in the heat, places you at risk for dehydration, so take water or sports drink at the finish line the race volunteers are handing you and start drinking immediately after. Remember you need to replace at least 16 ounces of fluid for every pound you lose in sweat, so drink up!

2. Add in quick acting carbs. Muscle glycogen stores will be low after racing a half marathon or longer, so you need to replenish them with a quick acting carb within 30 minutes after racing to speed up your recovery. Drinking a sports drink containing carbs and electrolytes can not only help restore muscle glycogen, but in combination with sodium can rehydrate you better. If you don’t prefer sports drinks, take that banana and small bag of pretzels typically offered at the end of the race and start re-fueling your tank as you cool down.

3. Don’t forget about protein. If you’re like me, eating a meal or large amount of food right after racing doesn’t sit well in my gut, so eating a burger within 30 minutes after racing isn’t going to happen. Racing longer than a half marathon your body needs to repair and rebuild muscle fibers. Protein is essential to help with this process. Choose a protein source primarily from whey (a quick acting protein) to help recover muscles right after races. If your race offers chocolate milk, go for it first. Chocolate milk is a perfect recovery drink. It offers carbs, whey protein, sodium and rehydrates you all in one. If you dislike or cannot tolerate dairy products, you can pack in your gear check or car a boxed plant-based milk such as Ripple or Orgain Plant-Protein beverage to drink in the car on the way home.

4. Eat a main meal within 2 hours. Right after the race you rehydrated, refueled, and started the muscle repair process, but within two hours of racing you need to continue with your recovery by eating a meal containing healthy carbs, protein, and fat. The amount of carbs and protein varies depending on your body weight, but it’s recommended that the bulk of your calories should still come from carbs. So instead of celebrating with a plate of chicken wings and fries, choose foods that decrease inflammation and help with recovery. Try a plate of pasta with grilled chicken and vegetables, or a lean burger with baked sweet potato fries, or if it’s early, an egg omelet with roasted potatoes and fruit.

5. Go easy on alcohol. Having a celebratory drink or two with friends right after racing is a fun way to reward yourself but is not always the best choice right after racing. Alcohol will not rehydrate you since it is a diuretic and could halt your recovery if you drink too soon after. Alcohol also impairs muscle recovery. My best advice is to focus first on rehydrating the right way as discussed above, refuel with a proper recovery meal, then once you are well-hydrated, a celebratory drink is OK, just don’t overdo it; you’ll pay for it the next day.

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