Nutrition for Ultra-Runners Part #3: Optimal Post-Workout Recovery

post-workout recovery

*The guidelines below for post-workout nutrition were created utilizing my current knowledge of nutrition (M.S. Clinical Nutrition) and various credible scientific articles on sports nutrition.  No hype, real nutrition education, and science.  The focus of this blog is nutrition for optimal ultra-running training.  That being said, most of the information contained within this blog could be applied to any extended duration endurance sport. 

Part 1 – Trending Diets in Ultra-Running – Should I Make A Switch? 

Part 2- Pre-Workout and Pre-Race Nutrition for Ultra-Runners

Part 4- During Workout and Race Nutrition for Ultra-Runners

Part 5 – Everyday Nutrition for Ultra-Runners

Part 6 – Training the Gut for Ultra-Runners

Post-Workout Nutrition for Optimal Recovery

We all know that proper recovery is crucial in ultra-running, and for that matter, all sports.  Although I have no complex data to support this theory – I feel like ultra-runners, and endurance athletes struggle with this concept more than any other type of athlete.  This is not because endurance athletes don’t realize that recovery is important either; they do. Instead, it is likely a combination of various factors to blame for this tendency towards inadequate recovery in endurance sports.

Long training and race duration, increased caloric needs (that most often are not met), increased levels of cortisol, and massive musculoskeletal impact are just a few of the reasons why ultra-runners tend to be particularly susceptible to inadequate recovery. In this blog, we are going to talk about the nutritional and supplemental side of post-workout recovery.  What can you do immediately after a workout or a race, nutritionally, to optimally recover and prepare yourself for the next session?  Should your post-run nutrition be in the form of a shake or a meal? Are there any supplements that help with recovery? These are the questions we will be answering. 

Obviously, there are many other factors that ultra-runners need to consider when trying to recover optimally besides post-run nutrition – sleep, relaxation, adequate recovery between sessions, massage, and the list goes on. That being said, nutrition is undoubtedly one of the most crucial pieces to the recovery puzzle. So with all that being said, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty.Before we get into macros and micros, let’s answer a couple of questions that will help to build a foundation for the rest of the blog.

COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT POST-WORKOUT NUTRITION FOR ULTRA-RUNNERS

What are the primary goals of post-run recovery nutrition? 

 

  1. Replenish Glycogen
  2. Stop Muscle Catabolism (Breakdown)
  3. Promote Muscle Synthesis (Recovery/Building)
  4. Rehydrate
  5. Replenish Electrolytes
  6. Replenish Important/Depleted Nutrients

What is glycogen? 

Glycogen put simply, is the storage form of carbohydrates or glucose. The body will use this stored energy source when needed, such as between meals and during exercise. Therefore, glucose is the body’s preferred and most efficient source of fuel.  

Why is glycogen replenishment so important? 

If you’re an ultra-runner or some other type of endurance athlete, you likely already know that restoring glycogen between workouts is essential.  If you didn’t already know that, well…it is.  Glycogen stores are directly related to aerobic performance; therefore, when glycogen is depleted, performance suffers.  Restoring glycogen after a hard workout will provide adequate “fuel” for the next activity and therefore enable you to perform better than if glycogen stores were depleted. 

If you’re an ultra-runner or an endurance athlete, you likely already knew that.  But did you know that restoring glycogen after a hard session doesn’t JUST provide fuel for the next workout? There are other benefits to restoring glycogen immediately after exercise in addition to “refueling.”  Some of the benefits include;

  1. Reduction of Cortisol 
  2. Stimulation of the Immune System
  3. Prevention of Muscle Catabolism (breakdown)
  4. Prevention of Insulin Resistance

Therefore, it is necessary to replenish these stores ASAP after exercise to reap all of these benefits.  EVEN IF you think you will be able to adequately replenish glycogen before the next workout, you still need to take in carbs right away to take advantage of all the benefits listed above.  The best way to do this is to start the recovery process immediately after exercise.OK!  Now that you’ve got a basic handle on some common questions let’s jump into specifics.

MACRONUTRIENTS: POST-WORKOUT REQUIREMENTS FOR ULTRA-RUNNERS

Let’s start with macros.  If you ask the average athlete from any discipline what should be consumed post-workout, the vast majority would likely yell “PROTEIN!” If they are males, they will typically yell this in a deep growl, with a vein popping out of their forehead while puffing out their chest like a bird.  This ensures that you realize the amount of testosterone they possess and are indeed exceptionally manly (No source, personal observation).   CarbohydratesNow, suppose you narrowed the field to purely endurance athletes and asked the same question. In that case, I think you’d find more answers veering towards a combination of carbs and protein but likely still focusing more on protein.  Sorry Jersey boys, but protein actually takes a back seat to carbohydrates immediately following endurance exercise.  It’s not that we don’t need protein immediately following endurance exercise; it’s just that we need MORE carbohydrates.  

So what is the optimal macronutrient ratio for ultra-runners and endurance athletes post-exercise?  Studies suggest that an ideal ratio falls between 3:1 to 4:1 (carbohydrates: protein) following endurance exercise. Below are a few reasons why this range is likely ideal and why ultra-runners should make it a point to keep post-run recovery in this range.

 

 

  • Replenishing glycogen should be approached with urgency.

    • Glycogen replenishment increases by up to 50% when carbohydrates are consumed within the first 30 minutes post-exercise compared to two hours post-exercise (Ivy, 1998).  As mentioned previously, replenishing glycogen immediately will not only increase the likelihood you’ll be sufficiently topped off before the next session. It will also prevent muscle catabolism, assist with cortisol and hormone regulation, and prevent muscle insulin resistance.
  • Protein enhances glycogen re-synthesis

    • Protein will actually improve glycogen re-synthesis when taken alongside carbohydrates, but maybe not as much as replacing the protein with more carbohydrate.  In other words, if you took 10g of carbs plus 5g of protein, more glycogen would be replenished than if you took 10g of carbs alone.  BUT possibly not as much as it would have if had you just taken 15g of carbs.  So why not just take carbs?  Keep reading.
  • Protein promotes muscle synthesis

    • While carbohydrates should be the top priority following a run, we don’t want to negate protein. We still NEED protein post-run. Why? Taking carbohydrates after endurance exercise reduces muscle breakdown BUT does not promote protein synthesis and, in turn, muscle synthesis. Taking protein WITH carbs will slow the breakdown of muscle AND encourage muscle synthesis. If you negate the protein altogether, muscle loss is still possible. We need to stop muscle breakdown AND start rebuilding those muscles as soon as possible after a training run or an ultramarathon.

Now that we know the optimal RATIO of macros to consume post-exercise, we now have another question: how much?

How many grams of carbohydrates and protein should ultra-runners take in following a workout or ultra-marathon? 

Remember, by combining protein with our carbohydrates, we increase glycogen re-synthesis.  The JISSN (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition) recommends combining at least .8g/kg of carbohydrate with .2-.4g/kg of protein when rapid glycogen replenishment is desired (Kerksick et al., 2017).  To give you an idea of what that might look like, check out the chart below.

Weight*

Carbohydrate (.8g/kg) Protein (.3g/kg)
120 lbs (54.5 kg)

44g

16.5g

145 lbs (65.9 kg)

53g

20g

170 lbs (77.3 kg)

62g

23g

195 lbs (88.6 kg)

71g

26.5

recovery*to figure exact weight in kg, divide weight in pounds by 2.2

What kind of carbohydrates should be consumed after a run? 

Muscle tissue can be thought of as a sponge following exhaustive exercise.  It is ready to take in and absorb glucose and other nutrients.  High-glycemic carbohydrates will ensure that you replenish glycogen as quickly as possible following a run.  Your body will immediately use these high glycemic carbohydrates for replenishment.  Therefore, you do not have to worry about the negative health consequences of consuming high glycemic carbs at rest.  Remember, there are two situations when high glycemic carbs are BENEFICIAL– during exercise and immediately following exercise!  

What about protein? 

The protein source you choose should have a complete amino acid profile.  Whey is the traditional choice because of its high-quality amino acid profile and high PDCAA’s (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score).  A PDCAA’s score is a number (0 to 1.0) given to represent the quality of a protein according to its amino acid profile and digestibility. Whey has a perfect score of 1.0. Single sourced plant proteins score lower due to their imbalanced amino acid profile.  However, it is possible to create a plant protein with a perfect PDCAA score by combining proteins.  For example, a 70% pea, 30% brown rice protein blend creates a perfect 1.0 score and an amino acid profile almost identical to whey.  You’ll hear a plethora of people say that whey is the only way to go. However, studies suggest that this unwavering loyalty to whey is unwarranted as plant proteins, such as pea, have been determined to be as effective as whey when it comes to post-exercise recovery (Banaszek et al., 2019). So the takeaway?  Make sure you are getting a high-quality complete protein, whether from whey, casein, or a plant-based blend.

What about fat? 

Fat takes a back seat when it comes to immediate endurance recovery.  Some fat will not hurt anything but focus on the carbs and protein for optimal results.

Summary of Post-Workout Macronutrient Requirements for Ultra-runners

Those are the main points when it comes to macros.  Remember, the sweet spot for post-endurance workout recovery lies around a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio. So aim for at least .8g/kg of carbohydrates and about .3g/kg of protein.  Remember, we want to do this as soon as possible after an endurance workout!  Now on to the micros!

MICRONUTRIENTS

Micros are a little more straightforward and not as time-sensitive as the macros. Generally, as long as you are consuming adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals over an entire day, you are going to be good to go! That being said, endurance exercise does deplete specific vitamins and minerals, and it’s a good practice to immediately replenish any lost nutrients.  Due to this depletion, it makes sense to increase the intake of certain vitamins and minerals. Although increased intake when already consuming sufficient amounts will likely have no ergogenic benefit to performance, becoming deficient will undoubtedly negatively impact endurance. Therefore, additional intake for the sake of deficiency prevention is warranted, in my opinion.

Below is a list of some of the main micronutrients that are either depleted due to endurance exercise or that endurance athletes may benefit from additional intake.

  

  • Zinc – Endurance exercise depletes zinc (Hernández-Camacho et al., 2020).
  • Choline – Prolonged, strenuous exercise depletes choline (Hernández-Camacho et al., 2020).  Additionally, most Americans do not ingest enough Choline.  
  • B Vitamins – Exercise may increase the requirements of riboflavin (vitamin B-2) and vitamin B-6 (Woolf & Manore, 2006).  Additionally, sufficient nutrient status of all B-vitamins is critical for optimal endurance performance.  Vegan/plant-based athletes are also more vulnerable to vitamin B-12 deficiency.  
  • Iron – Iron is a critical mineral for optimal endurance performance, and there is evidence suggesting that endurance athletes may benefit from more than the average individual.    Depleted iron stores significantly hinder endurance performance, and iron deficiency anemia will absolutely destroy an endurance athlete.  All that being said, too much iron can be hazardous as well.  Typically, overdose is a result of excess supplementation and is rarely caused by excess iron from food.  I would recommend a ferritin test and consultation with a Doctor should you suspect your iron levels are out of whack.  Iron status as it applies to endurance athletes is something that I studied extensively in my schooling, so a blog on the subject will likely come in the future.  Remember, don’t take high doses of iron supplements without a test and guidance from a medical professional!

Remember, ultra-runners need to make sure they get enough of….everything.  These nutrients should mainly come from a high-quality diet, but ultra-running is a demanding sport, and supplementation may be required for adequate intake.balanced diet

*Note – supplemental doses of vitamins C and E are not recommended and should be acquired from a high-quality diet, NOT from supplementation. Read more on that here.

POST-RUN REHYDRATION AND ELECTROLYTE REPLENISHMENT

As a general rule, you should aim to replenish all of the weight in water lost during an exercise session.  This is easily determined by weighing yourself before and after a workout.  Obviously, you should be hydrating (with electrolytes) DURING training runs and ultra-marathons as well.  We will get more into the specifics on that in the “during/intra-run blog.”  After your workout, aim to replenish electrolytes and rehydrate back to close to pre-workout weight as soon as possible. To find out more about electrolytes and strategies on how to best utilize them, check out Casey’s blog on Electrolytes for Endurance Athletes.

BENEFICIAL POST-WORKOUT SUPPLEMENTS FOR ULTRA-RUNNERS

supplements

Leucine – Leucine is the most critical amino acid when it comes to recovery and stimulating muscle synthesis post-exercise. Churchward-Venne et al. (2012) found that adding an equal amount of leucine to 6.25 grams of whey stimulated protein synthesis as much as 25 grams of whey alone!

Leucine has been shown to optimally promote protein synthesis in amounts of about .05g/kg (Norton & Wilson, 2009).  In other words, a 155 lb athlete would require a total of 3.5g of leucine. 20 grams of a typical whey protein concentrate is going to give you about 1.7g of leucine, while a plant-based pea/rice protein blend might give you around 1.6g of leucine. Either way, you’re not even halfway there.

So, unless leucine is ADDED on TOP of a typical protein formula, it is inadequate for optimal adaptation and recovery! If you’re shopping for an optimal post-workout recovery formula, you have to keep this in mind!  

Glutamine – Additional glutamine decreases soreness and improves recovery times (Legault et al., 2015).  Additionally, evidence suggests that glutamine may directly improve endurance and power (Piattoly et al., 2013).  Studies show that taking glutamine after exercise also boosts the immune system and lowers the chances of upper respiratory infection in the following days.

L-Carnitine – L-carnitine decreases muscle soreness and improves recovery following exhaustive exercise (Fielding et al., 2018).  It is also thought to increase fat oxidation and spare glycogen without catabolizing muscle.  L-Carnitine supplementation has even been shown to improve time to exhaustion (Orer & Guzel, 2014).  Supplementation is especially useful for those who don’t eat very much animal protein or follow a plant-based diet. 1-2 grams of L-carnitine is beneficial post-exercise (Spiering et al., 2007).

What about the hours following immediate post-workout recovery?  That’s not this blog, dude.  That will be covered in Daily Nutrition For Ultra-Runners – Coming SOON!

Review of Main Points

  • 3:1 to 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.
  • High glycemic carbs ensure the quickest mode of replenishment (at least .8g/kg).
  • Protein should have a complete amino acid profile (.2-.4g/kg).
  • Additional leucine is critical for optimal recovery and adaptation (.05g/kg).
  • Additional glutamine will further assist with recovery and improve immunity.
  • L-Carnitine can improve recovery and performance, especially when carnitine is inadequate.
  • Rehydrate back to pre-exercise weight as soon as feasible after your workout.
  • Replenish lost electrolytes as soon as possible after your workout.
  • Take special care to acquire enough depleted nutrients such as zinc, b-vitamins, and iron.
  • Do all of this ASAP after your workout!  Don’t wait….just do it.  

tired runnerSummary: Better Recovery in Training = Better Ultra-Marathon Performance

Proper recovery is absolutely essential for optimal adaptation and preparation for the next workout. Ultra-runners should take a particularly aggressive approach to recovery due to the consistent and intense demand they place on both body and mind.  Remember, you can only train hard consistently if you recover well consistently. So in this sense, you will only be as good as you can recover. Don’t let an ounce of your hard work go to waste!

Terminus: The Ultimate Recovery Formula For Ultra-Runners Terminus

For a recovery formula that is unlike any other, check out Terminus.  It literally checks every box.  It was formulated by me to do just that.  Don’t believe me?  Fine.  Let’s review the main points and see how Terminus stacks up…

  • 3:1 to 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. 

Terminus has a ratio of 3.13 to 1. Check.

  • High glycemic carbs (at least .8g/kg)

Terminus uses 47g of Non-GMO dextrose/serving.  Dextrose is a super-fast absorbing sugar.  By using our weight-based chart to determine YOUR serving size, you ensure that you’re taking in optimal amounts of carbs and protein.  Check.

  • Protein with a complete amino acid profile. (.2-.4g/kg)

We use a 70:30 organic pea: organic brown rice blend, which creates an amino acid profile almost identical to whey while using only plants!  Better for you AND better for the planet.  Win. Win. Check.

  • Additional leucine (.05g/kg).

Yep, we do that too.  We have plenty of additional leucine (2g/serving) to optimally stimulate protein synthesis.  Remember, that’s additional leucine on top of an already amino acid-rich protein blend. So, again, following our individualized serving size weight chart will ensure that you’re getting the right amounts (more than .05g/kg) of leucine.  By the way, we have added amounts of the other BCAAs as well….CHECK!

  • Additional glutamine

Terminus includes an additional 4g of glutamine/serving!  Check.

  • L-Carnitine

Terminus includes 1.5g of L-carnitine per serving.  Check.

  • Rehydrate to pre-exercise weight.  

This one we can’t do for you! 

  • Electrolyte Replenishment.

Terminus has a full electrolyte profile designed to replenish lost electrolytes FAST!  Check.

  • Replenish depleted nutrients

Terminus includes additional zinc, b-vitamins, and other nutrients in their most optimal and bioavailable forms!  Check!

  • Recover immediately following your run/workout.  

Pre-mix it, take it with you, and chug it immediately after your run.  It doesn’t get any easier than that!  CHECK.  MATE.

 

 

 

Disclaimer – Use common sense, and always listen to your doctor over a blog post. They know more about your personal health situation than anybody behind a keyboard. As someone who has a Graduate degree in Clinical Nutrition, I realize the variance that certain medical conditions create when it comes to optimal nutrition and supplementation. If you have underlying medical conditions, always check with your doctor before starting a new supplementation routine.

RESOURCES

Banaszek, A., Townsend, J. R., Bender, D., Vantrease, W. C., Marshall, A. C., & Johnson, K. D. (2019). The Effects of Whey vs. Pea Protein on Physical Adaptations Following 8-Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): A Pilot Study. Sports, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7010012

Churchward-Venne, T. A., Burd, N. A., Mitchell, C. J., West, D. W. D., Philp, A., Marcotte, G. R., Baker, S. K., Baar, K., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: Effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. The Journal of Physiology, 590(11), 2751–2765. https://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2012.228833

Fielding, R., Riede, L., Lugo, J. P., & Bellamine, A. (2018). L-Carnitine Supplementation in Recovery after Exercise. Nutrients, 10(3). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10030349

Hernández-Camacho, J. D., Vicente-García, C., Parsons, D. S., & Navas-Enamorado, I. (2020). Zinc at the crossroads of exercise and proteostasis. Redox Biology, 35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2020.101529

Ivy, J. L. (1998). Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: Effect of carbohydrate intake. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19 Suppl 2, S142-145. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-971981

Ivy, J. L., Goforth, H. W., Damon, B. M., McCauley, T. R., Parsons, E. C., & Price, T. B. (2002). Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 93(4), 1337–1344. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00394.2002

Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Ferrando, A. A., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Arciero, P. J., Ormsbee, M. J., Taylor, L. W., Wilborn, C. D., Kalman, D. S., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D. S., … Antonio, J. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

Kerksick, C. M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B. J., Stout, J. R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Kalman, D., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D., Arciero, P. J., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Ormsbee, M. J., Wildman, R., Greenwood, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Aragon, A. A., & Antonio, J. (2017). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4

Legault, Z., Bagnall, N., & Kimmerly, D. S. (2015). The Influence of Oral L-Glutamine Supplementation on Muscle Strength Recovery and Soreness Following Unilateral Knee Extension Eccentric Exercise. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 25(5), 417–426. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0209

Norton, L., & Wilson, G. (2009). Optimal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis Examinations of optimal meal protein intake and frequency for athletes. Agro Food Industry Hi-Tech, 20, 54–57.Orer, G. E., & Guzel, N. A. (2014). The effects of acute L-carnitine supplementation on endurance performance of athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(2), 514–519. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a76790

Penry, J., & Manore, M. (2008). Choline: An Important Micronutrient for Maximal Endurance-Exercise Performance? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 18, 191–203. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.18.2.191

Piattoly, T., Parish, T., & Welsch, M. (2013). L-glutamine supplementation: Effects on endurance, power and recovery. Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research, 11, 55–62.Spiering, B. A., Kraemer, W. J., Vingren, J. L., Hatfield, D. L., Fragala, M. S., Ho, J.-Y., Maresh, C. M., Anderson, J. M., & Volek, J. S. (2007). Responses of criterion variables to different supplemental doses of L-carnitine L-tartrate. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(1), 259–264. https://doi.org/10.1519/00124278-200702000-00046

Woolf, K., & Manore, M. (2006). B-Vitamins and Exercise: Does Exercise Alter Requirements? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 16, 453–484. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.16.5.453Zawadzki, K. M., Yaspelkis, B. B., & Ivy, J. L. (1992). Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 72(5), 1854–1859. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1992.72.5.1854

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