Running can be an amazing tool for weight loss, but the results you see are heavily dependent on another factor: your diet. With running in particular, "it's very easy to overcompensate and consume more calories than burned," said Michelle Young, MS, LDN, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. In other words, when you finish a run, you are hungry. If you're like me, you spend the last few steps fantasizing about all the things you're going to eat as soon as you walk in the door. Because you deserve it!
But if you're running for weight loss, vacuuming up every food item in your kitchen isn't likely to help you reach your goals. Instead, you'll want to handpick the most filling, nutritious foods to refuel and recover your body after a run while satisfying your appetite. Don't worry: it's not as hard as it sounds.
What Should I Eat After a Run to Lose Weight?
To fully recover from a run without derailing your weight-loss plans, your snack needs two main things: carbohydrates and protein. We know you've heard a lot about how low-carb diets can help you lose weight, and they definitely can, but cardio exercise like running saps your stores of glycogen (a form of glucose) like nothing else. Consuming carbs is your body's way of replenishing them, and skipping them can lead to consequences including fatigue and disorientation from low blood sugar, Michelle explained. Still worried? The processed carbs are the ones you really have to watch out for in terms of weight loss, so Michelle recommended unrefined carbs instead, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal.
On the other side of things, Michelle said, protein helps your body repair and build muscle tissue. It's what keeps your body from breaking down muscle tissue, which can be a side effect if you don't refuel after long and strenuous runs. Hydration is also crucial for post-run recovery, so keep a bottle of water or an electrolyte drink nearby.
"Specifically for weight loss, a high-fat snack should be avoided in order to control for the amount of calories consumed" after a run, Michelle told POPSUGAR. You still need fats in your diet, though, so she recommended healthier options such as nuts, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
When Should I Eat After a Run For Weight Loss?
"Whether or not the goal is weight loss, a snack should be consumed within an hour of the workout or run," Michelle said. "The sooner the better, so that your body can begin the recovery process." Timely eating after a run will boost your depleted energy (by replenishing those glycogen stores) and work to minimize your muscle breakdown.
Post-Run Snacks For Weight Loss
For weight loss, Michelle recommended healthy, balanced post-run snacks such as:
- A cup of Greek yogurt and a serving of fruit.
- A banana and whole-grain toast with almond butter.
- A whole-grain wrap with chicken breast.
- A smoothie with fruit and protein powder.
- A protein or power bar.
Michelle clarified that protein bars and shakes can be an effective, convenient way to boost a runner's nutritional intake, but you shouldn't rely on them completely for your recovery. That's especially true when it comes to weight loss. "Obtaining nutrients such as antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber from a well-balanced and varied diet is key to successful weight loss and maintaining health and wellness," she told POPSUGAR.
All in all, when it comes to eating and running for weight loss, "the focus should simply be on healthy eating," Michelle said. "Instead of choosing fast food or highly processed meals or snacks, go for a more nutritious and balanced meal — ideally one that is home-cooked and contains a combination of protein, starch, and vegetables."