Months of training, hundreds of miles and plates full of carbohydrates. Sounds like you’re just about ready for your Spring marathon. Whether you’re running the London marathon in a few weeks, or Paris, Prague or another race, you need to turn your attention to post-race fuel.
Chances are you’ve thought long and hard about how you’ll eat and drink during the race. You no doubt got a tried and tested pre-race breakfast, and maybe you’ve chosen your menu for the night before the race. But what you eat in the minutes and hours after you cross the finish line will be crucial to your mental and physical recovery. Here’s our guide to recovering from a marathon:
- as soon as you cross the line You’ll be handed a goodie bag or at the very least some fluids. Get it down you. Your priority is replacing fluids and electrolytes and getting a mixture of carbohydrates and protein inside you. So as you walk through the crowds looking for your support team and bags, get that bottle of fluid down you – and anything else in the goodie bag. If the bag includes a chocolate bar, meal replacement bar and banana, prioritise the meal replacement bar, then the banana, then the chocolate. If you feel you can’t stomach the bar, try the banana. But keep drinking!
- within 30 minutes There’s a 30-minute “glycogen window” which will make or break your recovery. Intense and/or long periods of exercise seriously deplete the body’s glycogen stores, often sapping them completely (we’re sure you’ve heard of “the wall”!) In these 30 minutes after you cross the finish line, your body will be crying out for high GI carbs and quickly absorbed proteins. This combination encourages the production of insulin which in turn helps convert rising blood sugar into muscle glycogen to replace energy stores and repair damaged muscle fibres. A great choice would be a pre-prepared shake or a sandwich and some fruit (like an orange or apple). But products formulated for sport really are your best choice here, as they’ve been specifically developed with the ideal balance of carbs and protein to be absorbed as quickly as possible. Liquid meals are also easy to eat, gentle on the digestive system and will probably be appealing when you’re thirsty. Try myprotein’s Recovery XS which will provide your body with a fantastic 50.2g carbohydrate and 24.3g protein per serving, and also delivers 4.5g of Glutamine and 3g of Creapure® per serving to help your muscles recover. There are a host of other active ingredients in Recover XS, too: electrolytes, 5.5g of the amino acid Leucine and Vitamin C to speed the flushing out of toxins. We recommend you drink a serving of Recovery XS as soon as you can, and then nibble on one of our Oats and Whey bars (with 21.6g protein and 43.8g carbohydrates) as you walk around or stretch.
– within 3 hours The first 3-4 hours after intense exercise are really important when it comes to assisting recovery, replacing depleted energy stores and replenishing nutrients as well as promoting anabolism (muscle growth rather than muscle breakdown). You’ll probably spend the first couple of hours after your race finding your family, collecting your bags, having a shower, getting changed and maybe getting a massage. But keep an eye on the time. Around 3 hours after you finished running, tuck into a healthy hearty meal which will continue to top up glycogen stores, deliver lots of lovely protein to your muscles and offer your body some of the nutrients it’s asking for.
- afternoon/evening meal So your next meal after the race needs to be based around high quality whole foods. Make sure you get a complete protein, complex carbohydrates, vegetables and good fats. Try lean meat (chicken, fish, or lean steak), potatoes or sweet potatoes, rice or pasta, a load of colourful veg and some olive oil or coconut oil. What a great excuse for a steak! Vegetarians and vegans should make sure their protein source is complete: beans, pulses, rice, vegetables and good fats will give your body what it’s crying out for. Don’t forget plenty of water, too!
- the next day You might wake up with no appetite, or you might be ravenous all day. Either way, be sure to eat good quality foods at regular intervals, and keep your fluid levels topped up. Think of all the trips to the kitchen as a good excuse to walk off any muscle stiffness!
Practical tips for post-race nutrition The finish line of a big city marathon can be a hectic and confusing place even if you’re not a newbie marathon runner. A little planning will go a long way when it comes to getting your post-race nutrition spot on. If you have a member of family or friends in the crowd and know they will be able to get to you quickly, ask them to carry your recovery shake and bar, along with any other food you may need for the walk to the car. They don’t have to make the shake up in the morning: just put the powder in a myprotein shaker and have a spare bottle of water to add in at the last minute. If you think you’ll get to your kit bag before you get to your support crew, stash your recovery drink powder, water, bar and food there. Put everything in a cool bag if it’s a warm day (no-one wants a recovery drink made with warm water!)
Why is post-marathon nutrition so important? It replaces muscle glycogen and restores blood glucose levels
It will prevent muscle breakdown (catabolism) as far as possible and encourage muscle growth (anabolism) It will provide macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) as well as vitamins, minerals to damaged muscles and stressed energy systems.
Post-race nutrient timing for marathon runners by Mr Protein