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Points of Interest
- Post run nutrition goals
- Repair and recovery
- Post run nutrition - how to consume
- Post run nutrition - final thoughts
Nearly every runner you meet has an opinion on post-run nutrition – some treat a tough run as a great excuse to eat extra food. Others take a more scientific approach and look to replenish only what they've burned. The approach you take is usually determined by your competitive level, because the needs a weekend warrior and a professional athlete are somewhat different.
What can the lab teach us about post run nutrition?
Much of the research is done around a sporting context, so a lot of a post-run data comes from marathon running. Whilst not everyone who reads this article will necessarily be a marathon runner, the data is still relevant to distance running of various types.
Post Run Nutrition Goals
It's important to consider what we're looking to do with our post run nutrition. If the purpose is simply to replace calories, then any post run nutrition approach will work, you just need to eat! If however, your outcomes are a little more nuanced and there's a recovery/performance element to your post run nutrition strategy, you have to think a little more scientifically.
Historically a lot of thinking around post run nutrition centred around carbohydrate replenishment. There was a logical reason for this – during a run you use huge amounts of your stored carbohydrate. If the run is long enough, you'll use it all and switch to burning fat as a primary fuel source (which is often accompanied by a dreadful feeling known as hitting the wall).
The early thinking was that you needed to replenish your carbohydrate stores post run. Whilst this is correct, it neglected to acknowledge the importance that protein has in terms of other aspects of recovery.
At 8 minute mile pace the average adult runner will take 1400 strides per mile . Add to this the impact forces of running (up to three times the body weight of the runner) and it shows the effect that running has on our bodies and not just our energy stores. The impact forces from a long run take a significant toll on our muscles and connective tissues, forcing the body into a period of repair and adaption once the event is over.
We need to see running for what it is – an all-body workout that stresses not just the cardiovascular system, but the musculoskeletal system, the digestive system and afterwards, the endocrine system.
Repair and Recovery
Broadly speaking there are two elements to speeding recovery – the improvement of blood flow to an area and the speedy delivery of high quality nutrients to a recovering body part.
Given the blood stream is the nutrient delivery mechanism, improving circulation and blood flow to an area enables the delivery of important nutrients for recovery. There are a number of ways we can improve blood flow, one of which is by wearing the KYMIRA IR50 range .
Then we have to consider how we refuel and both the short and long term effects on post-run recovery.
In their 2018 study ‘Protein Supplementation During or Following a Marathon Run Influences Post-Exercise Recovery ', Saunders et al discovered that post marathon supplementation of a protein and carbohydrate mix led to a significant improvement of recovery across a number of markers (soreness, energy, fatigue) 72 hours post activity, compared to athletes who supplemented with carbohydrate alone. Interestingly, at the 24 hour marker there was no significant differences in recovery between the protein and carbs, or carbs only group.
This isn't a one-off result either. These findings adhere to those discovered by Maillard-Stafford et al in their 2005 study ‘Recovery from run training: efficacy of a carbohydrate-protein beverage ?' In this study participants performed a 21km run to fatigue at 90% VO2 Max. Following a 2 hour recovery period, they then ran a 5km time trial. The study indicated that a protein-carbohydrate mix didn't improve performance in the second run, but it certainly improved recovery markers.
It's reasonable to conclude then that protein is an essential element of post run nutrition and that we can't just rely on carbohydrate to refuel and repair us.
But what about delivery mechanisms?
Post Run Nutrition – How to Consume
The preferred way of consuming recovery nutrients amongst athletes is in the form of a sports drink or protein shake, but is there something we're missing? Is there perhaps a better way? What does the lab data show?
In a 2019 study into ‘Comparison of Pro-Regenerative Effects of Carbohydrates and Protein Administrated by Shake and Non-Macro-Nutrient Matched Food Items on the Skeletal Muscle after Acute Endurance Exercise ', Isenmann et al assessed the recovery properties of three different post-exercise recovery methods – no nutritional support, a shake and some food. The drink elevated blood glucose quickest and the food reduced inflammatory markers the most effectively. Food also led to a reduced drop in performance compared to the other methods. Where they all led to differing responses, the clear conclusion was that food was key to reducing performance declines.
The message to draw from this study in particular is that on a day with multiple events, a carbohydrate and protein mix is essential. The carbohydrate and protein mix is probably best consumed in liquid form for a quick restoration of glucose, but there is a solid case for eating additional protein to slow the decline in performance post-exercise.
Post Run Nutrition – Final Thoughts
The lab data is particularly clear – we absolutely HAVE to include protein in our post-run nutrition. Carbohydrate is important to restore glucose, but in terms of recovery nothing beats protein across a broad spectrum of recovery indicators.
Where food may not always be convenient post run, make sure you eat some protein as soon as possible after a run to improve recovery further and reduce the drop in physical performance.
In a lot of cases when it comes to post-exercise nutrition the data isn't clear, but in this case it's rock solid – get your carbs and protein in post run and enjoy the boosted recovery as a reward!
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