Marathon recovery: top nutrition tips post-run

Close up of a group of marathon runners

It’s marathon season again! If you’re looking forward to competing in a marathon over the next few months, you’re most likely well into your training by now. How you plan your recovery is just as important ensuring the body is not more exposed to injury or challenges to the immune system after the event.

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Recovery encompasses a range of nutritional issues including replacing muscle and liver glycogen (energy) stores, re-hydration and regeneration and muscle repair, therefore a range of strategies are required.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips to speed up your recovery and ensure your health is in good shape after such a great achievement.

Step one – straight after the race

The most important factor here is to replace those lost glycogen stores as quickly as possible after completing the race. These energy stores will always be much depleted after such a long endurance event, and the body can replenish them more quickly with the right nutrients.

Eating carbohydrates as quickly as possible after race completion is really key; ideally around 50-100 grams are needed. Carbohydrate bars and recovery gels are probably the easiest to access, unless you’ve got a personal chef on hand to help! However, if there is food available then choose a high glycaemic snack such as a white bagel and jam, bananas, raisins or cake.

Close up of woman drinking water

Even though most people drink plenty of fluids during a marathon, the body will still be dehydrated at the end, particularly on a hot day. The best way of rehydrating quickly is to have an electrolyte drink available or at the very least one that is slightly sweet; this is also much more palatable immediately post-race when it’s often difficult to eat or drink anything.

Step two – later that day

Intake of high glycaemic food needs to continue for the rest of the day (food that is easily digested and releases glucose quickly into the bloodstream). Marathon runners frequently suffer from digestive upsets post-race, therefore low glycaemic foods such as beans, lentils or brown bread are not ideal, and muscle glycogen is not replaced as quickly. This can make the body more susceptible to injury or infection during this period.

CLose up of baked beans on toast

Great recovery foods include rice cakes with jam or honey, muffins, pancakes with syrup and mars bars. Later on in the day, there may be better access to food, therefore baked beans on toast, sandwiches with a protein filling, or a bowl of cereal are good choices. The great news is that all these options will contain some protein which also helps with muscle repair.

Step three – go easy on the post-race celebrations

You’ve just completed a marathon and you want to celebrate, which is understandable! However, alcohol is of course not a rehydration drink and can encourage more fluid loss. Heavy alcohol intake post-race is going to impair soft tissue repair, making muscle stiffness and soreness worse and leaving the body wide open to injury and infection. If possible it’s best to wait for 24 hours before celebrating your success.

Having caffeinated drinks is also not advisable during the recovery stage as they further deplete fluid and nutrients. Wait until tomorrow for your cappuccino or latte!

Step four – replace lost nutrients

It can take a while after an endurance event such as a marathon to replenish all the electrolytes as well as vitamins and minerals. The day after, it’s important to have balanced meals containing a mixture of protein and carbohydrate. Great choices would be stir fries with noodles and soy sauce (great for replacing lost sodium), wholemeal pasta tuna bake, or spaghetti bolognaise (use soy mince if vegan or vegetarian).

Whole watermelon and slices of watermelon

Watermelon is packed with potassium (a much-needed electrolyte for the heart and muscles) so try to eat plenty of slices post-race.

Step five – load up on omegas

During and after any kind of intensive exercise, inflammation throughout the body is normal. This is the body’s way of pushing blood flow to the skin surface and to the muscles and joints to aid repair. However, it can also make for some very stiff legs after a marathon and it’s a process that needs to be managed if you want the body to remain healthy and injury-free.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Therefore, eating your omega-3 fats is essential to manage inflammation; oily fish, flaxseeds and chia seeds are the best sources. Make sure you’re eating some at each meal the day after the marathon. If you enjoy salmon, mackerel and sardines, they should feature in your diet at least three times a week in any case. If you’re not so keen and you’re an active recreational sports person, then consider a supplement or eat plenty of the vegetarian sources.

So remember to take the time to recover properly and your body will be quickly set for the next challenge; it’s just the mind that might need persuading!

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