When should I eat post-run to optimise my recovery?

Recovery after exercise is an important element of your training and vital for performance improvement. Immediate considerations include restoration of carb (glycogen) stores and replacing the fluid and electrolytes you may have lost during training. In addition to this, eating adequate protein will help to rebuild muscle .


So, the answer has to be – the sooner you eat the better and ideally within 30 minutes of your run. This is because your body is at its most receptive during this time – it needs nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process following your hard training session.

Read James' tips below then check out what to eat before a run, as well as our marathon training and nutrition tips, including how to stay hydrated. Plus, what to eat on rest and easy training days and heavy training days.

Man eating fruit after a run

Should I focus on protein or carbs for my post-run recovery?

Both of these macronutrients are critical for full recovery after training. Carbs are the body's main fuel source for high-intensity work – these are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. As the body can only store a certain amount, once reduced these stores need to be replenished before your next workout.

Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue, after hard training this can take place for as long as 72 hours. Regular protein intake helps to provide the building blocks (amino acids) for ongoing muscle growth and repair.

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20g of protein is the magic number that you need to kick-start the recovery process (with slightly more for bigger athletes and less for those of a smaller body frame).

These recipes will help you reach this target:
Open mackerel sandwich with fennel slaw
Curried tofu wraps
Open chicken caesar sandwich
Open cottage cheese & pepper sandwich
Salmon & chive bagel topper

I’m watching my weight, how do I balance eating for recovery with continued weight loss? And how much should I eat?

Many marathon runners are hoping to get a bit fitter and reduce body fat as part of their training process. It is possible to properly recover after exercise while encouraging healthy weight loss – it's just about getting the balance right. The key is matching fuel intake to your training volume. This will mean eating more carbs on days with harder training sessions, while recovery days require fewer carbs and a greater focus on lean protein and healthy fats.

When managing your weight, try to get most of your carbs from low-GI foods at mealtimes, rather than lots of higher-GI snacks. These will help curb your appetite because they keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Where possible, eat meals as part of your recovery instead of adding extra recovery snacks. This may take a little more planning so that you coincide your runs with your mealtimes but it’ll be worth it as you reach your weight loss goals.

How many calories you should eat to lose weight is unique to you and depends on your age, gender, physical build and activity levels.

How long after running a marathon would it be sensible to start training again?

Before you rush to lace up your trainers, listen to your body. Physiologically, your body can be ready to start training after a few days, especially as fitness levels are often greatly improved with endurance training. However, don't underestimate the cumulative physical and mental fatigue involved in running a marathon.

It is usually advisable for runners to take a break of a week to get a much earned physical, and psychological break, from their training.

What are the key components of a post-marathon recovery plan?

When you think recovery, think of ‘The Four Rs’:

Refuel - Have a carb-rich snack followed by a meal as soon after the race as possible.
Rehydrate - Replace fluid losses by drinking at regular intervals post-race.
Repair - Include a serving of protein (see above) with your recovery meal.
Rest - Get a good night's sleep – this is when most of your muscle repair will occur.

Man on a run in the snow eating a protein bar

Can protein bars and shakes form part of my recovery strategy?

Protein bars and shakes are often used for convenience but be aware that their nutritional profile will vary greatly depending on the ingredients used. For this reason, it's important to check labels carefully to ensure the product meets your requirements. Although these products may have a part to play in recovery, it's best not to rely on them but rather use them when time and location limit access to more nourishing options. Read our review of the best protein bars and powders.

It's also worth noting that early studies in post-exercise nutrition suggest a carb to protein ratio of about 3 to 1 is likely to optimise glycogen stores and recovery.

Now you know what to eat after your run, get the rest of your training nutrition right:

What to eat when running a marathon
How to get the energy for a workout
What to eat before your run
What to eat during your run

This article was reviewed on 4 December 2023 by Kerry Torrens.

James Collins is recognised as a leading performance nutritionist through his work with Olympic and professional sport. Over the last decade he has worked with Arsenal FC, the England and France national football teams and Team GB. He has a private practice in Harley Street where he sees business executives, performing artists and clients from all walks of life. He is the author of the new book The Energy Plan, which focuses on the key principles of fuelling for fitness.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.


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