Recovery Nutrition for Long Distance Runners

If you are planning on running a fall marathon this year your long runs have probably already started. You may be focusing on nutrition before and during your runs but what about after? Recovery nutrition after your long runs is just as essential as fueling your body before and during your training. For runners participating in two training sessions per day, recovery nutrition is especially important.

In order for your muscles to recover from the demands of your long runs or high intensity training sessions it is important to refuel with foods or fluids containing carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates will help replenish depleted glycogen stores and protein will help repair muscle damage.

Ideally you want to consume a meal, snack or fluids with 3-4 times the amount of carbohydrate as protein (or a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio) within 30-60 minutes after your run. If you do not feel like eating a meal or snack right after your run, drink fluids such as low-fat chocolate milk or a smoothie made with low-fat milk or soy milk with 1cup of  frozen berries or 1 banana blended.

Examples of meals and snacks that will have a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein include:

  • 2 eggs scrambled + 2 slices of bread or 2 tortillas + 1 cup of grapes or other fruit
  • 1 cup of oatmeal + 1 cup of milk + 1/2 cup of blueberries
  • 1/5 cup granola cereal + 1 cup soy milk or milk + 1 banana sliced
  • 1 bagel + 2 tablespoons almond or peanut butter + 1 teaspoon honey
  • 3 oz lean turkey or chicken + 2 slices of whole wheat bread +  1 cup sliced fruit+ 1 oz  potato chips
  • 1.5 cups of pasta + 3 oz lean ground meat or turkey + ½ cup spaghetti sauce
  • 1 large baked potato + ¼ cup shredded cheese + 1 cup cooked broccoli
  • 1 banana + 2 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter
  • 1/3 cup of almonds + ¼ cup of raisins or other dried fruit
  • 1 cup of yogurt +1/2 cup granola+ ½ cup sliced stawberries
  • Energy bar or granola bar with 3-4 grams carbohydrates as protein

If you are commuting to your running location, it is a good idea to plan ahead and pack a snack or recovery drink to have available soon after your run. Several commercial recovery drinks are available with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Try freezing a recovery drink, smoothie or chocolate milk and keeping it in a cooler in your car for after long hot runs.

If you notice that you are a “salty sweater” or you have salt crystals on your skin and clothing, choose food or fluid choices that include sodium with your recovery meal. Foods that are good sources of sodium are pretzels, baked chips or pita chips, soups, lunch meats, pickles, mustard or ketchup.

Including fruits and vegetables with your meals and snacks will also help you replenish fluid and potassium lost in sweat during long training sessions. If you weigh yourself before and after your runs and notice that you are losing weight, drink at least 16-24 fl oz of water or sports drink for every pound of weight lost. Continue to eat balanced meals and hydrate throughout the day to prepare for your next training run and a successful training season.

Paula Mrowczynski-Hernandez RD, LD


Clark, N.  Sports Nutrition Guidebook.  2003.  Brookline, MA.  Sports Medicine Associates

Clark, N. Nancy Clark’s Food Guide for Marathoners.2007. Oxford, UK. Meyer & Meyer Sports

Rosenbloom, C.A and Coleman, E.J.  Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals, 5th Edition.  2012.  American Dietetic Association; Sports, Cardiovascular & Wellness Nutritionists Dietetic Practice Group

Ryan, M. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes 3rd Edition.  2012. Boulder, CO. Velopress


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