The Best (and Worst) Post-Race Foods and Drinks

What you eat directly after a race is important for recovery.

running raceRace photo via Shutterstock

Post-race food options are usually of the donuts and bagels variety, unfortunately, because the food provided is most likely donated by a local business. But what you eat thirty minutes after exercise is very important to accelerate recovery. So put down the donuts and read our list of the dos and don’ts of post-race eating.

Don’t reach for a calorie-free recovery drink. Diet soda or Splenda-sweetened beverages don’t do your body any favors after a hard effort. If you feel you must go calorie-free, grab a bottle of water and pair it with solid food for energy replenishment. Your body craves sweets after running for a reason. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy burned, so giving in to your sweet tooth after a race may be just what the doctor ordered.

Do reach for a recovery drink with protein. Muscle Milk and Endurox are two popular brands of easy-to-transport powdered drinks, but plain old chocolate milk has long been touted for its recovery benefits. It has a beneficial carbs to protein ratio so that your body gets quick access to hydration and energy.

Don’t pig out. While your stomach may be telling your brain that you could easily eat a whole pizza, it doesn’t do you any favors to put your digestive system into overload just minutes after a major effort.

Do eat enough calories. One banana is fine after a 5K, but you’ll want something more substantial for a longer race.  You should replace about 100 calories per mile. But note that after a full marathon, it’s still not a good idea to down 2600 calories in one sitting. In that case, replace calories over the course of a few days.

Don’t overdo it on hot beverages. Adding a hot cup of coffee or broth to your intake may sound tasty, but may not be the best way to refuel. Your core temperature will be warm enough post-race, even in winter.

Do think icy.  My personal favorite treat after a summer race is a frozen popsicle. This not only satisfies the body’s craving for quick carbs, but it helps cool you down from the core. Frozen yogurt popsicles are another great option, because they add much-needed protein. There are several varieties of Greek frozen yogurt on the market that are packed with protein.

Don’t grab greasy, fatty foods. Even runners with iron stomachs can get intestinal distress after a race. Eating a few french fries is one thing, but eating a plate of deep-fried mozzarella sticks is asking for trouble. Generally, the easiest foods to digest are made with simple, light ingredients.

Do go fresh. Fresh fruit is always a great snack, and after a race it’s an efficient and portable way to hydrate. The added fiber will help with digestion, and you can’t beat the sweetness of a ripe piece of fruit after a race.

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