You can have a training plan complete with speedwork, easy days, tempo runs, long runs, and strength training, but if you miss one other key aspect of training, you won’t see the improvement you work so hard for. What’s the one key aspect that many runners overlook? Recovery. Thankfully, there are simple additions you can make to your meals to recover better after your runs.

Why does recovery matter?

Whether you are running 400-meter repeats on the track or a 12-mile long run, your muscles experience microtrauma. In order to improve, your muscles need to recover. It’s in that recovery process that the adaptations necessary for building speed or endurance occur. Sleep, rest days, and cutback weeks are all part of the recovery process—and most immediately, nutrition after your run plays a vital role in recovery.

The worst thing you can do for your recovery after a run is to skip a meal. While many runners hope to lose weight, skipping your post-run snack or meal will not help with weight loss and could deter you from reaching your running goals by delaying the recovery process.

What should I eat?

Recovery bars and drinks can be useful if you are on the go and unable to eat a real meal within the vital 30-60 minute recovery window. Look for bars and shakes with the carbohydrates and protein you need for recovery, along with antioxidants and nutrients as well—which will improve post-exercise recovery by reducing inflammation. Look out for those which include high amounts of sugars or preservatives. Having a complete meal or wholesome smoothie when you’re at home is even better. Not sure what to have? Here are some easily found recovery enhancers.

Read more: Simple nutrition tips for runners

Tart Cherry Juice

A study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that marathon runners who consumed tart cherry juice before and after a race experienced less inflammation and better recovery in muscle function than the placebo group. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits. Drink a serving of tart cherry juice (natural, no sugar added) after a hard speed workout or long run in order to recover better. If you don’t like the tart taste of the juice itself, add it to a smoothie or take tart cherry capsules. One small serving after a hard workout is enough—no need to sip on cherry juice all day long.

Blueberries

That’s right—this common fruit may just be one of the best foods for boosting recovery after a hard run. According to a study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, daily consumption of blueberries reduces oxidative stress and increases the amount of anti-inflammatory cytokines (regulators in the body that promote healing) in runners.

Spices

Spices such as ginger and turmeric also have anti-inflammatory effects on the body and have been linked to the reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Some studies, including one in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, found that the compound in turmeric known as curcumin reduced pain associated with muscle soreness 24-48 hours after exercise. Like tart cherry, turmeric is easily available in chewable or pill form as well.

Ultimately, no one food will make or break your recovery and training. However, the regular inclusion of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet will aid naturally in your body’s response, therefore, help you recover more effectively from your workouts. 

When should I eat?

When you eat after a run matters just as much, if not more, than what you eat. Running uses glycogen (stored carbohydrates) for energy and causes microtears in your muscles. If you take the right steps to replenish your glycogen stores and start the recovery process for those microtears, you will improve as a runner. 

The best thing you can do to replenish your glycogen stores and jumpstart muscle recovery is to eat within 60 minutes of completing a run. That is when your muscles are primed to absorb and process carbohydrates into glycogen and protein for muscle repair.

Ideally, you want to eat a combination of carbohydrates and protein. There’s no perfect post-run meal or snack—you could choose anything from oatmeal with fruit and nuts to a turkey sandwich. Our article on 10 great post-workout snacks to help you refuel might inspire some ideas. If you are not very hungry after your run, opt for a small snack such as fruit and yogurt until you feel hungrier later.

Recovery nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated—by making a few smart choices, such as eating within 60 minutes and picking a few foods that fight inflammation, you can recover better and keep running.

For more nutrition advice, like how to properly fuel for your runs, visit the nutrition section of the Runkeeper blog.

Please note: This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.