If you’ve ever run a marathon before, you’ll know how hard it is, how much energy you use up, and how much you need to train beforehand.
Running a marathon is a huge challenge that requires hours of preparation to complete the 26.2 miles (ca. 42 km), and you will no doubt wake up the next morning with aches, pains, and muscle soreness.
And whilst crossing that finish line might tempt you to call it a day and collapse into bed as soon as you get home, part of the preparation is getting ready for your aftercare and stocking up on the fuel you will need afterward.
While beer and a treat after running all those miles is strongly encouraged, it’s important to take note of nutrition advice, so you know how to refuel your body after the race.
You will feel less sore, be able to move more freely in the next few days, and feel refreshed to take on the rest of the week.
So what are these tips?
We’ve written this article to help you out and provide you with some options for what to eat and drink after running a marathon.
Let’s jump right in!
To fully understand how important it is to refuel your body after running such a long race, you might be wondering just how long it takes to run a marathon.
A marathon is a distance of 26.2 miles which is equal to 42.195 kilometers and how long this takes you, will depend on your speed.
On average, a marathon takes about 4 hours to complete but the fastest time ever recorded was just over 2 hours.
If we look at an average pace of 9 and 10-minute miles, we can see it will take either just under or just over the 4-hour mark.
If you run at a 9-minute mile pace, you should expect to run the race in 3:55:58, and if you run at a 10-minute mile pace, it should take you 4:22:11.
Before setting out on what makes a good marathon time, it’s important to know, there isn’t one! A good running pace varies from runner to runner and it will depend on age, fitness level, weather conditions, and terrain conditions.
Between 1986 and 2018, the average marathon time was 4:32:29 with the average male marathon time being slightly slower than the females. Males finished at 4:52:18 and females finished at 4:48:45.
However, whatever times it takes you, remember it’s an incredible achievement to have finished a marathon and you should be proud!
Now it’s time to dive in and find out how to recover and feel great again in recovery from such a mammoth challenge.
How to Refuel Your Body (What to Eat)
We all know how important carbohydrates are in giving us energy. Well, they are also significant to refuel and give us back our energy exerted from running.
Runners should aim to consume around 50-100g of carbohydrates within an hour of crossing the finish line, whether that is a sports drink, bread, or a banana.
You should aim to eat within the first 30-60 minutes as after exercise, this is referred to as the “window of opportunity”.
In this time, muscle is primed to take up the carbohydrate as you consume, and then it stores it.
Carbohydrates are so important as they restore muscle and liver glycogen.
The liver glycogen is the carbohydrate stored in the muscle and the liver that gets depleted during a long exercise routine. It begins when the exercises cease and so carbohydrates are vital to maximize the process.
You should stick to carbohydrates that can be easily digested, and you know you can tolerate them, even after running a marathon.
Good sources of carbohydrates include pasta, bread, or rice, and these are sources that should be consumed 3-4 hours after exercise to maximize glycogen resynthesis.
Another food to help alleviate soreness in recovery is beetroot.
Beetroot juice is high in both nitrates and phytonutrients and these are natural chemicals that are found in plant foods.
They help to reduce soreness after exercise and speed up the recovery of muscle function over the following 72 hours.
Other phytonutrient foods such as blueberries, pomegranate, and tart cherries are also great at delivering the same recovery effect.
These phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables might also offer other health benefits, such as helping to protect the body from coughs, colds, and other similar infections in the days after completing a marathon.
It is good to replenish yourself with such foods, as this is when your immune system is lower after being suppressed for so long.
Fluid restoration is very important after a marathon and most runners will have no idea how much fluid they lose throughout the whole race.
To find out how dehydrated you are, look at your urine color. You need to be aiming for a pale straw color.
If you sweat a lot of salt, you will know this as you will be able to taste it on your skin. In this case, you must replace the salts you lose in your sweat to balance sodium levels and help with any fluid retention.
Milk and other dairy products have also shown a lot of functional benefits when it comes to exercise and running recovery. This is why having a milkshake or protein shake after running is a great way to finish the race.
However, if you have associated intolerances when it comes to dairy, avoid doing so and stick to sports drinks, water, and drinks with added electrolytes.
Milk is also a source of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, as well as protein and sodium and this, can mean it aids with rehydration.
Research shows that milk is a much more effective rehydration solution than any other carbohydrate-only solution, as it has proteins to help retain fluid.
The proteins and carbohydrates can also help with the recovery of glycogen. Milk proteins are used by the muscle, to regenerate and repair after someone has undertaken strenuous exercise.
Consuming just 500ml of milk within 30 minutes of finishing a marathon can help alleviate feelings of soreness and can help you function a lot more efficiently in the next 24-72 hours of recovery.
We hope reading this article has shed some light on the nutrition advice you should take note of after a marathon.
Rehydrating and ensuring you have a good source of carbohydrate and protein in the ‘recovery window’ of the first 30-60 minutes after completing the race will help you recover efficiently.
It will make you feel great again after putting your body through the strain of running 26.2 miles (ca. 42 km).
Don’t forget to reward yourself too! Pat yourself on the back and run yourself a nice hot bath.
Not only will this be incredibly relaxing after such a long race, but also do wonders for your muscle recovery.