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Post Race Refueling – Where’s the protein?!

Where’s the Protein for Runners? from 904Fitness on Vimeo.

Do you love running? I do! And if you’re anything like me, I LOVE finishing a race and refueling with delicious carbohydrates. At the end of any race, you’ll notice carbs are EVERYWHERE. From bananas to bagels, these foods help begin the recovery process from the work your muscles just endured while you were sprinting towards that finish line.While these carbohydrates are important (and yummy), there is one key nutrient missing at the end of many races: ​PROTEIN!​ Known as “the building block of life,” protein is equally as important (if not more) for recovery from all types of exercise. In fact, if you refuel within 30 to 60 minutes after you exercise, you will enhance your recovery and decrease your risk for injury. If done right, recovery nutrition can prevent further muscle breakdown, promote favorable adaptations to training, and may even make you faster.

Still not on the protein bandwagon? Well let’s consider what happens if you don’t refuel after a long endurance event. If you find yourself neglecting your recovery meal, your body will remain in a state of breakdown, resulting in more muscular soreness and lethargy. Additionally, you put yourself at higher risk for injury, illness, and reduce your chances of becoming faster.

Now you’re probably wondering, what should you be eating!? To complicate things, the type of exercise, intensity, and your goals determine what type of recovery fuel a dietitian would recommend. Not to mention runners have been known to use many different types of foods and drinks to recover dependent on what they can comfortably tolerate. Here are a few types of exercise intensities and durations, and how you should recover:

Easy Runs (Short races such as a 5k, less than 30 minutes)

If running at a moderate/easy pace for less than 30 minutes, it is not crucial to implement post-workout fueling immediately when you cross the finish line. Instead, be sure to include a small post-run meal or snack 1-2 hours after you exercise. Your overall diet should support your exercise!

Quick, Hard-Intensity Runs (Short races such as a 5k)

The more intense and fast you run, the more crucial it is to recover after you run. Within 30 minutes of finishing a race, refuel with carbohydrates and protein in a 4:1 ratio.


  • 1 scoop whey protein powder with banana and almond milk.
  • 1 turkey/cheese sub with raisins and 16 ounces milk.
  • 1 cup yogurt with granola and 16 ounces orange juice.
  • 2 high protein/whole grain mini bagels with 2 tbsp peanut butter!

Long Endurance Events (Longer races 10k, 15k, or Marathon)

No matter how fast it takes you to run a long endurance event, it is crucial to recover within 30 minutes after you cross the finish line. Aim to refuel immediately after by emphasizing carbohydrates and protein in a 4:1 ratio. Then sit down 2-4 hours later for a well-balanced meal.

Bottom line? Try to pair proteins and carbohydrates together after you run to enhance your recovery. And most importantly, remember that nutrition is not one size fits all, so determine what works for YOU!

Lauren Smith MS, RD, LDN

Lauren Smith MS, RD, LDN

Lauren is a registered dietitian who was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Florida State University in 2016 and earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from Boston University. She has served in the Sports Nutrition Department for Florida State’s Athletics Department and served as the Student Director of Wellness for Florida State’s Wellness Department.

Lauren has served in two outpatient programs that specialize in the treatment of eating disorders in athletes. Lauren is specialized in working with clients regarding eating disorders, clinical nutrition, sports nutrition, and weight management.

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