Marathon Recovery Nutrition

The training is over, your trainers are ready and the excitement is building for tomorrow’s Belfast City Marathon. Of course, what you eat and drink in the run up to the marathon is critical to help you get the most out of your training no matter whether you are aiming for a PB, or just to finish the course, but making the right choices after running your marathon will help aid your recovery, and help prevent fatigue and injury.

Optimising your nutrition in the 24 hours following your run will help:

  1. Refuel your energy stores
  2. Rehydrate your body
  3. Replace electrolytes lost through sweat
  4. Aid muscle recovery and repair

1. Refuel your energy stores

After running or walking your 26.2 miles, your body’s energy stores are depleted, so it is important to refuel soon after your run. Carbohydrate is stored in our muscles as glycogen and the most effective time to replenish these stores is within 20-60 minutes after your race, so make sure you refuel with some fast release carbohydrate as soon as you can after the finish line.

Use this window of opportunity to nourish your body to refuel your muscles, maintain your blood sugar and promote recovery. Jelly babies, dried fruit, energy bars, juice or a sports drink would be ideal. There will be plenty of options on offer at the finish line, but it would be good to pack something into your bag to pick up from bag check or a friend too. If you can’t face food after the event, then a milkshake or sports drink would be ideal.

The first meal you eat after your race should be packed with nutrition to aid recovery too. You will need a combination of carbohydrate, with some protein for muscle recovery and repair, some anti-inflammatory essential fats and plenty of antioxidants to promote recovery.

  • Spaghetti Bolognese, bulked out with vegetables
  • Salmon with new potatoes and steamed greens
  • Vegetable and lamb/chicken/prawn curry with rice

2. Rehydrate your body

You will lose a lot of fluid through sweat during the event. Even if you have taken advantage of every water station throughout the course, you will still need to reload your fluids over the next 24 hours, as you are likely to be dehydrated. Sip small amounts slowly and aim for about 500ml within 30minutes if passing the finishing line. The keep sipping small amounts until you feel rehydrated. Keep an eye on the colour of your pee. Once it is back to a pale colour, that’s a sign that you are rehydrated.

If you are celebrating with a beer or two, then alternate every glass of booze with a glass of water.

3. Replace electrolytes lost through sweat

Sports drinks are designed to combine carbohydrate, water and salts to replenish fluids, sugar and electrolytes after your run, so it is a good idea to have one to hand after the marathon. Add a pinch of sea salt to your post-marathon meal and pack plenty of vegetables and fruit into your diet over the next 24 hours. Banana, tomatoes, celery, beetroot, sweet potatoes are great.

Sports Nutritionist Anita Bean has a great recipe for a homemade alternative to electrolyte drinks. She suggests mixing 500ml fruit juice with 500ml water and 0.5-1g sea salt.

4. Aid muscle recovery and repair

Packing as many antioxidant rich foods as you can to help support muscle recovery and reduce fatigue.  Colourful fruit and vegetables, green tea, herbs and spices (especially turmeric, ginger, rosemary and thyme) would be ideal.

Magnesium is a key nutrient to help support muscle function too. Found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and dark green leafy vegetables, magnesium helps muscles to relax and reduce cramping. Epsom salt baths can also help get your magnesium levels back in balance and can be useful to reduce cramping.