How you eat and drink after an endurance event can be just as important as your pre-race nutrition. We asked Heather Fink, a registered dietitian and consultant for IU Health Sports Performance, to share tips for a good post-race recovery plan.
Rehydrate gradually. Whether you’re walking, running, swimming or biking, when an endurance event is over, your first impulse may be to chug water as fast as you can. It’s true that your body needs to replenish fluids, but consuming water too quickly can be a big mistake, causing discomfort or illness.
“Your body soaks up water quickly, which can cause your sodium levels to drop to the point that you feel nauseous, lightheaded or sick,” says Fink. To prevent illness, she suggests a more moderate approach to fluids, slowly sipping water, a sports beverage or some combination of the two until you resume a normal pattern of urination—usually every two hours if you’re properly hydrated.
Eat a balanced meal. Most athletes are ready to eat 15 minutes to an hour after the event. Post-race nutrition should balance protein with carbohydrates. A good meal could take many forms, from fruit, yogurt and a sandwich, to a hamburger, soup and a salad, possibly washed down with a favorite of many endurance athletes—chocolate milk.
What about chocolate milk? “Chocolate milk gets a lot of attention for being a good recovery beverage because it has a nice combination of carbohydrates and protein in one product,” Fink says. It’s a legitimate choice according to research that compares chocolate milk to supplements with similar nutritional profiles. Studies show that athletes who drink chocolate milk recover better than those who take supplements.
“It’s another example of why focusing on whole foods is so important,” she says. “When people ask what they should have after a workout, I always focus on foods over supplements. There is something about whole foods that we haven’t even discovered yet, but in study after study, food always wins.”
Restore sodium lost during the race. After prolonged exercise of two hours or more, your body loses a lot of sodium through sweat. Sodium is found in many foods, so it’s easy to replace. “On a daily basis, it’s a good idea to keep sodium levels moderate,” Fink says. “But after exercise, we do need to replace that, so we can be a little more liberal for the next four to 24 hours.”
Whether you’re an experienced endurance athlete or approaching your first half-marathon, contact Heather at (317) 848-5867 for a nutrition plan that’s customized for your needs.