21 November, 2022
Not everyone knows what they should really be eating that will help them quickly refuel again and also promote their recovery, especially after a run in ‘rugby weather’ and the earlier darker evenings.
With the advent of what looks and feels like ‘rugby weather’ and the earlier darker evenings, the prospect of venturing outside to go for a run is anything but inviting. But even in the daylight, you are still likely to be whipped by the wind and rain at some point and spend far too much time estimating the depth of puddles and getting it badly wrong. If you manage to return home without mud-caked soggy trainers, it will have been a good result. One thing you’ll be needing after a hot shower and warm, dry clothes is some nourishment and the sooner, the better. But not everyone knows what they should really be eating that will help them quickly refuel again and also promote their recovery.
Is it just a matter of getting enough calories down your cakehole? Or should you instead be focusing on carbs…or is it protein? Your stomach may be steering you towards the easy option of scoffing down any unhealthy food in reach but your head knows that you should be better than this. Only it can be difficult when you are tired and the cold weather somehow stimulates your appetite for those stodgier choices. Because what tired hungry runner would readily turn down a heavy wedge of cake or a large serving of hot chips? And eating this on occasion is probably not going to do you a whole lot of harm…but it is not going to do you much good, either. Especially when what you eat after a good workout will not only affect your overall health but will also impact on your recovery and your very next workout.
Essentially what our bodies really need after a long, hard run are carbohydrates to replace the fuel that you have used up in all of that effort. By eating a meal rich in carbs you will ensure that your stores are fully replenished once again and you will be able to use this stored energy to fuel your next workout. Eating carbs within the first 2 hours after exercising is optimal for absorption and will help you to fully recover. It’s also important to include some protein in your recovery meal as our bodies need to use it for repairing and building tired muscles. Although you will continue to absorb and use any protein eaten throughout the first 24hrs after a workout, our bodies recover best if a combination of carbs and protein is initially eaten together in a meal. Luckily, this is very easy to do.
Start with wholegrain starchy complex carbohydrates such as wholewheat pasta or bread, brown rice, potatoes, couscous, or other grains. Then just add some healthy protein such as beans, pulses, tofu, fish, eggs or poultry. Some ideal recovery meal choices could be pasta with tuna and sweetcorn, stir fry with vegetables, tofu and rice, a jacket potato or sweet potato with chilli or any hearty soup or stew with chunky bread. Now you may be thinking that all of this is very good information to know but realistically, when you return from a run you don’t have the time, let alone, the willingness to cook up something with tofu. But this only goes to show that it is always better to plan ahead. At the very least, it pays to think about what exactly is left in your kitchen to prepare after you return from a long, tiring workout.
Knowing that you’ve still got some healthy leftovers to heat up can be an absolute saving grace when you’ve come in from the cold. But if you don’t then you could always try to carve out some time before your run to prepare your meal either partially or completely in advance. Some organised runners absolutely swear by leaving a slow cooker or pressure cooking to do all of the work while they’re out running. Others save time by whacking something in the oven before they leave home so they will arrive back to a fully cooked meal. But sometimes a busy life means all these good intentions just fall by the wayside and you arrive back home to a sad, empty fridge. Fear not because there are still some quick meals that are both healthy and great for recovery that can literally be whipped up in minutes using some of the contents of your kitchen cupboards and freezer. The key is to always keep some basic healthy ingredients on hand that are ready to go so you don’t find yourself tearing into a family size pack of crisps.
Many of the quickest meals only involve using one pan and it’s just a matter of knowing what you can throw together quickly. Just remember to base it on carbs + protein. For example, if you add some partially defrosted veg to a bowl of beaten eggs and pour it into a hot frying pan you can make a speedy omelette or frittata that’s a great source of protein. Eat it alongside lots of bread and you can tick the carbs box too. Or try stir-frying some straight-to-wok noodles with some frozen veg in a frying pan with some soy sauce and you’ve got the carbs. Toss in some protein such as a handful of frozen Quorn, prawns or nuts and now you’ve got a recovery meal. Then again you could go down what is one of the laziest routes of all by simply heating up a tin of beans to eat on toast. It takes absolutely zero effort but it actually adds up to another perfect recovery meal of carbs + protein. You can even transform your usual humble sandwich or filled wrap into the greatest recovery meal by simply supersizing the carbs and protein. With just the tiniest bit of effort and imagination you could finally create the ultimate grilled sandwich (or two).
Once you get into the habit of having a good recovery meal after a workout it will feel less like a chore and you will even become less tempted by unhealthy treats. As you also begin to feel the results of eating well by recovering better and feeling more energised for the next hard workout, the only thing you will then have to contend with is the weather…which, I am afraid is only getting wetter and windier by the day. But at least I can leave you with another autumn warming recipe that is also a great recovery meal. These are The speediest peanut butter noodles and the recipe only uses what you can keep stored in your kitchen cupboards and freezer. Which means that even if you return home to an empty fridge, you can still sit down to a tasty recovery meal in minutes.
I am originally from Canada but I settled in the UK after studying at university. Sports have always been a part of my life and I have participated and competed in several throughout my childhood. But today I would describe myself as mostly a runner, a mother of 3 grown-ups and a keen cook. As a teenager I was a sprinter and a slightly reluctant cross-country runner but while my children grew up I started to run further and further distances. I never thought that I could ever run anything longer than a half marathon but when my runner husband decided to do a marathon for his 50th in 2019 I found that I had a serious case of FOMO. My children encouraged me to sign up for my first marathon and I ran it just to see if I could finish. Somehow my time was good enough to qualify for the Boston 2020 Marathon. However, due to Covid it was postponed several times.
Like many other runners, I spent much of my time in the Covid lockdown keeping up my fitness by participating in virtual races while waiting for the real events to start up again. As time went on I found myself becoming fully immersed in the world of endurance running and ran the Threshold Trail Series ultra, Race to the Stones. Unfortunately, by the time the Boston Marathon was finally held in late 2021, I could not go because US travel restrictions were still in place. Although I missed my chance to run it and will now have to requalify again at least my time spent keeping in good shape wasn’t wasted. These days I participate in everything from half marathons up to ultras and have also run the Great Glen Way and West Highland Way in the Scottish Highlands.
I also work as a Registered Nutritionist with children and families and founded the consultancy Just add water® in 2019. I write a blog at https://justaddwaterblog.com/ to give free information and advice about nutrition and running whilst also sharing some of my favourite healthy recipes. The website is mainly aimed at busy families who want to make easy to prepare meals that are both healthy and really tasty, and for active families who want to know what they should be eating before, during and after playing sport.
I have always enjoyed cooking and previously cooked as a profession and I like to share my passion for good food. I have been involved in teaching cookery in schools, children's centres and for the NHS. I also enjoy entering the odd competition to push myself out of my comfort zone. I was awarded Highly Commended at the Teflon™ Diamond Standard Awards 2020 national culinary competition in the category of Keen Home Cook and was a National Finalist in 2022 & 2019. I have also had my recipes published in The Guardian's supplement, Cook; and featured in the 2012 Waitrose LOVE life calendar (July); and selected for inclusion in the 2020 #AnyWhichWayaBix Weetabix recipe book.
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