Recovery on the Run

At a recent marathon, the recovery beverage of choice was a non-alcoholic beer.  This evoked a smile and a bit of an eye roll from myself and runners surrounding me.  Certainly, it provides carbohydrates and fluids- both crucial for replenishment- but what about the protein?  And is beer really the ultimate recovery vehicle?  Other events I’ve raced offer chocolate milk at the finish line.  You’ve likely seen it too; a beverage that was once avoided due to corn syrup, sugar, and calories, is playing a role in recovery nutrition (thanks to clever marketing and some scientific research).  The popularity of milk protein- which in actuality is one of the very best choices for repairing and rebuilding muscle- stemmed from research that found that a blend of carbohydrate and protein, in a ratio of 4 grams of carbohydrate to 1 gram of protein, was effective in promoting muscle recovery following endurance exercise.  Soon after the research was published, the powers that be in the dairy industry realized chocolate milk, the same beverage included with childhood school lunches, naturally conformed to this ratio and as an added bonus, chocolate milk is widely available and inexpensive.  But the ubiquitous nature of chocolate milk left serious runners wondering; is this all there is?  Are there other foods and beverages that might offer similar nutrients and recovery benefits?  In short, yes- absolutely.  There are plenty of food and drink options available for those runners looking to adapt to their training and effectively prevent muscle breakdown while stimulating muscle protein synthesis. 

When planning recovery meals and snacks, aim to meet at least one of these two criteria; 0.5grams of carb/pound of body weight plus 2-4 times as much protein OR simply a snack or meal providing at least 15-25 grams of protein, regardless of the amount of carb.  The benefit to the latter is fewer calories but still enough nutrients to repair muscles.  You may be wondering, what happened to the 4:1 ratio or carb:protein that was once so widely touted?  Well, as research continues, it looks like that if enough protein is consumed, the ratio is not as critical and can be relaxed slightly.  For optimal recovery, aim for a ratio somewhere between 2:1-4:1 if you’re into counting grams of carb and protein and like math.  If you’re not into calculating ratios and doing math, consider recovering from your next hard workout with one of the easy-to-digest, easy-to-make (or purchase when you’re on the go) items listed below.  All of these offer an optimal ratio of carbs: protein or adequate protein to keep you feeling light and running strong.

Food Item


Carbohydrate (g)

Protein (g)

EAS 100% Whey protein powder (grab a sample at your next MIT workout and bring along a water bottle for mixing)




12 oz low-fat chocolate milk




Smoothie made with 1c vanilla almond milk, 1c sliced strawberries, 1 packet EAS 100% whey protein powder




Sandwich: 3 slices deli meat on 2 slices whole grain bread + 1 cup grapes




Sandwich: PB&J (2Tbsp each PB, jam) on 2 slices whole wheat bread




*Nutrition facts provided by individual company websites &/ The USDA Nutrient Analysis Library


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