Whatever time of day you run, you have 60 minutes after your workout to properly refuel. Here's how to take it all in.By Scott Douglas
From the August 2004 issue of Runner's World
If you're like a lot of runners, your postworkout routine goes something like this: Stretch, drink water, shower, and get on with your day. Food? That can wait until you're hungry, right?
Not if you want to feel your best on your next run. When you run, you burn mostly glycogen, a fuel stored in your muscles. Your mission right after a run, therefore, is to eat, even if you don't feel hungry. And fast. No matter what time of day you run, the enzymes that are responsible for making glycogen are most active immediately postworkout-leaving you a 60-minute window in which those highly stimulated enzymes are at maximum capacity to produce glycogen.
"After exercise, especially following intensive or prolonged bouts, the body is primed to reload muscle glycogen," says Suzanne Girard Eberle, M.S., R.D., author of Endurance Sports Nutrition. Wait more than an hour to refuel, and your body's ability to make glycogen out of what you consume drops by an astounding 66 percent. And the longer you wait, the more likely you are to feel sluggish.
"Everything runners do is about how well we recover," says Lisa Dorfman, M.S., R.D., a sports nutritionist and marathoner. "That's when the gains from training come."
In that crucial first hour, shoot to consume 300 to 400 calories-ideally containing three grams of carbs to every one gram of protein. Your body's already primed to make glycogen out of simple carbs, and a little protein helps repair muscle-tissue microdamage. Of course, what you'll feel like eating (or drinking, or not) after a 7 a.m. run will probably differ from what you'll want after a run in the noon heat or between work and dinner. Here's how to maximize the refueling window, whatever time of day you run.
Byrne Decker, a 2:22 marathoner and law partner in Maine, runs early in the morning near his office and then eats back at his desk. "Breakfast is usually yogurt, cereal, and fruit," he says. Many breakfast foods have the perfect postrun carb-protein mix. "Cereal with skim milk is a great recovery meal," Dorfman says. Choose a cereal with a few grams of protein. If you have time to cook, Dorfman recommends egg whites on toast. If you eat on the road to work, choose easily transported foods, like energy bars or a bagel with cheese.
The Lunch Shift
You've spent your lunch break running. Now you have to eat, but you're on the clock. Use the office refrigerator and microwave for tasty leftovers with the right nutritional balance (a small serving of pasta with red sauce, a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread). Of course, if high noon means high temps, the heat might have zapped your appetite. "Drink your carbohydrates and protein," says Girard Eberle. "Flavored milk, fruit smoothie, meal-replacement beverage, or postworkout sports drink."
After Office Hours
If you can't sit down to your evening meal within an hour of your run, graze on raw veggies, crackers, bread, and a little cheese to tide you over healthily until your fully restorative dinner. You'll want more of a glycogen-reloading plan if you run from the office and still have a long commute in front of you. Joe LeMay, who lives in Danbury, Connecticut, trained for his 2:13 marathon PR with evening runs from his office. He always had portable snacks on hand (apples, bananas, bagels) for the 45-minute drive home and was especially careful to rehydrate en route. "This would be the perfect scenario for a sports drink," says Dorfman. "Then you have dinner."
Finding good recovery-window foods after late-night running will involve some experimentation. "Try a carbohydrate-rich drink," Girard Eberle suggests. "Or eat half of your dinner before and the other half after." Anne Woodman, a 20-mile-a-week nighttime runner in Morrisville, North Carolina, has learned that a half to one cup of cereal does the job of restocking her muscles without interfering with her sleep. "The key is to end up not starving at dinnertime or after the run," says Eberle. "This will easily lead to overeating."