In bodybuilding they say that muscle growth is 80% about nutrition and only 20% about training, meaning that knowing what to eat and when to eat it is critical for achieving your performance goals. Obviously, you can't directly compare bodybuilding to running as muscle gain alone is not the primary goal here. But the statement still holds a lot of truth in it, even for runners.
So, a very important aspect of increasing athletic performance for runners is recovery. On the one hand you have to allow your body to rest long enough between intense runs and on the other hand you have to supply your body with the right nutrients after each workout to replace fluids, electrolytes, and glycogen, and also to repair muscle tissue. A great way to do just that is by including post-run recovery drinks into your diet.
In this blog post you will learn when and why such drinks make sense, we will discuss the best time frame for ingestion, and you will also learn more about the perfect recovery drink composition together with a recipe to make your own drink at home.
When And Why Post-Run Recovery Drinks Make Sense
In any sports a recovery drink only makes sense after a workout of high intensity. After all, there is no need for a recovery drink, if your body doesn't have anything to recover from. For runners this means that if you ran in super warm or hot weather, or for 60 minutes and more, or your run was really intense (fast, high bpm) you probably lost lots of fluids and electrolytes, your glycogen stores are empty, and muscle fiber needs to be repaired.
Without knowing the exact ratios yet, we can say right away that you are in need of water, sugar, protein, potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
When Is The Best Time For Ingestion
The time frame up to 45 minutes after working out is called 'anabolic phase' and is most critical for proper recovery. It is during this phase that muscle cells are highly insulin-sensitive allowing for gains in strength and endurance, if fast carbohydrates are ingested. Increased insulin sensitivity results in better muscle cell permeability for glucose. The result is that glycogen stores can fill up faster and the recovery process itself can be initiated by anabolic hormones. Also, the intake of sugar within the anabolic phase increases protein synthesis.
If we compare the results that can be achieved by having proper nutrient intake in the first 45 minutes after workout to the same intake 2 to 4 hours after exercising, it has proven that postponed sugar intake results in suboptimal recovery.
Let's Make Our Own Drink
Experienced runners know that planning an intense run involves proper hydration before and during the activity and that having your very first sip after 2 hours of physical exertion is by far too late. Don't get me wrong, drinking plenty of water post-workout is still important, but a super fast fluid absorption is not our main focus. This allows us to shift from hypotonic drinks (fastest absorption rate) to hypertonic drinks (slowest absorption rate) that contain more sugar, protein, electrolytes...
- According to science, the best ratio for optimum glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis is 3-4 g of carbohydrates per 1 g of protein.
- Restoring electrolytes is highly important. It is recommended to use sea salt that contains a blend of minerals instead of plain sodium chloride.
- Though vitamins are a popular ingredient in post-workout drinks, it could not be proven that vitamin C supplementation benefits body recovery, although it will help you to protect yourself from a cold for sure. The same goes for vitamin E.
Making your own post-run recovery drink is not an exact science. The optimum amount of nutrients needed depends on the workout you just completed, your body weight, gender, age, your ability to sweat, and so much more. So please consider the following information a rough guideline:
- Depending on how thirsty you are, you need about 300 - 500 ml of water. I always prefer using filtered over plain tap and bottled water, as there are just too many contaminants in our drinking water - contaminants that act as carcinogens and can have severe health effects. You can also choose green tea if you want, as it speeds up recovery even more and helps to burn belly fat. In this case, either make the green tea yourself or, if you'd rather buy it in a supermarket, go sugar-free.
- The next step is to add about 60 g of carbs and 15 g of protein (remember the 3:1/4:1 ratio). As for the carbs, it's fine to use plain old sugar or glucose/dextrose which is a tad more expensive. In terms of protein, there is whey, casein, egg, beef and also plant-based protein. As a rule of thumb, animal protein is more complete and usually contains all essential amino acids. If you are a vegan, though, or want to use a plant-based protein for whatever reason, that's fine, too.
- Finally, add about 2 pinches of salt to the mix. As mentioned before, sea salt is best suited as it contains a blend of minerals instead of sodium only.
Voila! There you have it. Your own, self-made post-run recovery drink. If you want to add some additional flavor, feel free to use coconut water or fruit juice instead of plain water, but don't forget to do the math and reduce the amount of sugar and salt you add to your mix.