Whether you are a competitive athlete or are just getting into running, cycling, swimming, or any sort of sport for this matter, fueling is an essential part of training. With a million voices coming from social media trying to tell you what to eat, I’m here to help guide you through it, with my own knowledge and experience as a D1, collegiate runner at Colorado State University.
Keep in mind that I am not a professional, and the tips that have helped me may not work for everyone. If you are struggling with a health issue or eating disorder, I would be happy to point you in the right direction of professionals who can help—contact Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741. When you are participating in endurance athletics, your fuel needs are higher than when you are less active, and there are specific foods that are particularly beneficial in helping you recover from difficult training to prepare for your next big session.
Some specific needs include:
- Complex carbohydrates: To rebuild glycogen stores to give our muscles
- Protein: Proteins like high quality meats, whole milk yogurt, and legumes, help build and repair muscles after strenuous efforts.
- Healthy fats: Such as nuts, seeds, and fish to help you easily absorb nutrients and combat inflammation.
- Fruits and veggies: Fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants and
Some ways you can meet these nutritional needs are through fueling your body with snacks and meals that promote quicker recovery. I try to get at least a few of these foods when I go grocery shopping for the week. When you finish a run, bike, swim, or however you choose to move your body, the 20 minutes after you finish your workout is crucial for eating a nourishing snack. Within the next hour you should try to eat a more substantial meal. When there’s a day I feel particularly fatigued or I have a really hard effort I try to get in a couple of these essential foods to kickstart recovery!
- Red Meat: Whether it’s steak or ground beef, or however else you choose to consume it, red meat can be super beneficial when added to the diet of an endurance athlete, especially for females because of the iron and vitamin B12 it contains. Female athletes are more prone to iron deficiency (anemia) and red meat is one of the sources that is easiest for your body to absorb iron. Iron—or ferritin to be more specific—is a protein in your blood that helps store oxygen. Moreover, adding sources of iron to your diet can increase energy levels and prevent anemia! One of my favorite dinner recipes is from Emma Coburn’s cookbook, Runner’s Kitchen, called “Best Friend Bolognese.”
- Nut butter: Some of our favorite nut butters such as peanut butter, almond butter, or sunbutter are great options for a post-workout snack due to the protein and fat content. This helps repair muscle. I really like this option post-workout because it is a convenient way to kickstart your recovery on- the-go with a classic sandwich like PB&J.
- Tart cherry juice: Tart cherry juice contains anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants to aid recovery. Tart cherry juice is known to decrease blood markers for inflammation and oxidative In addition to helping your muscles recover, it has been shown that tart cherry juice helps increase melatonin availability in the body and sleep is the most important recovery tool you can use.
- Quinoa: This superfood is a great source of plant based protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. The nine essential amino acids help build cells and support muscles. Containing both carbohydrates and grains, quinoa is a great way to spruce up any salad and is my personal favorite way to enjoy it.
- Bananas: Most people know that bananas are a popular snack for runners. Bananas have a high level of potassium and contain electrolytes which are essential after you sweat during exercise. Bananas help prevent cramping and can be added in as an on-the-go snack, a perfect topper to toast with peanut butter, or a great way to sweeten up a smoothie or some pancakes!
- Sweet potatoes: Like bananas, contain potassium and electrolytes that are especially helpful for hard working athletes who sweat out many important nutrients. Unlike bananas, it is less common to just grab a sweet potato from the store and eat it on your way to go on a run! Luckily, there are many tasty ways to add this food into any meal of the day. Some of my favorites are roasted, baked into muffins or in Sweet Potato Waffles, one of my favorite recipes from the Run Fast Eat Slow cookbook by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopeky.
- Beets: Contain nitrates that help your blood vessels dilate which allows a better flow of oxygen, promoting recovery. You can put beets in a smoothie, roast them, throw them on a salad, or even make them into baked goods! My favorite recipe- “Can’t Beet Me Smoothie 2.0”- is from Shalane and Elyse’s second cookbook, Run Fast Cook Fast Eat Slow.
- Yogurt: This is another snack that is a great staple for athletes. In the 20 minutes after your activity, this would be the perfect snack to consume. Greek yogurt and whole milk yogurt both have a lot of protein and will keep you satiated after One of my favorite ways to eat yogurt is either topped with granola and fruit or in a smoothie after a hard run or in the morning before a bike ride.
I hope these tips and ideas are helpful! I have learned a lot about nutritional needs of an athlete and have found my favorite recipes from cookbooks written by runners like Emma Coburn or Shalane Flanagan and definitely recommend them if you’re looking to improve your fueling for recovery!