Running has a way of making us feel alive. It’s natural and invigorating to feel our feet on the earth and the breeze roll off our skin. From a path in the woods, a busy city sidewalk, or a gym treadmill, we have a sense of freedom when we run. Freedom from our thoughts, to-do lists, and work. We let go of the chaos as we focus on our breathing, pace, and surrounding. Whether we’ve run a marathon or around the neighborhood, we must remember to care for our bodies when we get home. After a run, our food choices, actions, and sleep schedules affect us more than we know! That’s why it is important to nourish and listen to the body after a run.
Because it’s marathon season, we put together some nutrition tips that anyone – whether you’re running in a marathon or just starting a couch to 5k program – can benefit from!
Tip #1: Stay Hydrated
According to Kelly Springer, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, it’s important to stay hydrated. If you’re not hydrated, your body can’t perform at its highest level. Drinking water throughout the day will not only increase your energy, but will also help reduce muscle soreness. Instead of reaching for a sugar-laden sports drink, you can instead enjoy your favorite bottle of kefir post- or pre-run. Kefir is packed with electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium. These electrolytes may balance your body’s acid/base (pH) level and may help your cells absorb nutrients.
Tip #2: Mindful Refueling
After a run, your first meal should be carbohydrate-rich with a little bit of protein. Protein helps with glucose absorption. A few hours after your run, choose something that is more protein-rich, such as salmon, chicken, eggs, tofu, or tempeh. You can also add in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The nutrients and vitamins in these whole foods help repair muscle. Springer explains that “kefir contains carbohydrates which help cells refuel. It also contains two types of protein – whey and casein. Whey is absorbed very quickly by the body and is delivered right to the muscles. Casein is used to rebuild muscle over time.”
Tip #3: Sleep for Recovery
Rest is crucial for recovery. The National Sleep Foundation says that sleep is as essential as diet and exercise. Inadequate sleep can result in fatigue, depression, concentration problems, illness, and injury. Research suggests that getting a minimum of 7.5 hours is necessary. Having a massage a few days before a huge run will help you relax and unwind your muscles.
Tip #4: Bone & Immune Health
Kefir contains calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium, the three key nutrients for bone health. Athletes need and may benefit from extra amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium due to their risk for illness and injuries such as stress fractures. The probiotics in kefir also help support the immune system by enhancing the gut barrier.
Tip #5: Probiotics
That brings us to our final tip – make sure to get your probiotics! Some studies have shown that probiotics may actually enhance athletic performance. This is because athletes typically require higher nutrient absorption. Things like inflammation and immune-function may affect an athlete’s day-to-day more than those who don’t require their physical-prowess to be at tip-top shape. Probiotics may increase antioxidant, protein, and fat absorption. They may also promote higher levels of interferon which is a “natural virus fighter [that is sometimes] decreased in fatigued athletes.”
“What you put on your plate can do a lot to improve your gut microbiome. Research suggests that regularly consuming probiotics—the good bacteria that occur naturally in fermented foods—may strengthen the gut’s lining and lower inflammation throughout the body, resulting in less damage to your GI tract and fewer stomach problems during exercise.”
You can find more information on probiotics and their benefits here.