Last week, I discussed the key nutrition considerations in the days leading up to, and the day of, a marathon to ensure those running would perform to their best.
This week, the focus turns to nutrition for recovery after a marathon – let's face it, your body is going to be severely challenged by the race!
Post-race recovery nutrition is hugely important to allow your body recuperate from the stress and impact of the race.
Appropriate nutrition after the race is something that is often neglected by athletes due to the excitement or relief of finishing, but its importance should really not be underestimated.
PHYSIOLOGICAL IMPACT OF THE RACE
A marathon pushes your body to its limits. No matter how fit you are, running more than 26 miles will have a big impact.
The energy expended during the marathon is greater than 2,500 calories (which means you almost double your energy needs for that 24 hours), and results in significant fuel and fluid losses. As a result, your muscles will be fatigued, damaged and sore.
Additionally, your body will also release stress hormones that not only impair your rate of recovery, but also can suppress your immune system.
With all of this in mind, you must plan your recovery to ensure you have all the necessary foods and fluids after the race to get back to your normal self as soon as possible.
GETTING STARTED AT THE FINISH LINE
The immediate nutrition goal is to replace the lost fluids and depleted fuel stores with a suitable recovery meal.
As I explained in last week's article, the fuel that the body uses during the race is a combination of both fats and carbohydrate (glycogen).
Glycogen stores in particular will be heavily depleted after the race, and if your aim is to be back running at a good pace in the days after the race, then you must aim to replenish these stores.
Although many runners may not feel hungry immediately after a race, it is important to eat some food as soon as possible to initiate the recovery process, even if that is only a fruit juice.
The food available on-site after the marathon is often highly processed and unsuitable for recovery, where you could be handed anything from a burger to a plain sandwich with cheap filling when you cross the line. Processed foods will offer little or no nutrients (eg plant-based antioxidants).
So, if you are going get recovery off to a good start, then you can't rely on what you are provided with, and it is essential that you have your own food prepared.
Homemade granola bars with fruit juice or chopped fruit with some granola and natural yoghurt would be a good start and are easily packed and transported.
WHAT TO EAT?
The immediate requirement is to consume a meal combining sources of fast (easily) digesting carbohydrate with a small amount of protein to initiate the recovery process.
This initial recovery period is when the body has the greatest ability to absorb nutrients (specifically carbohydrate), but also drive muscle repair if you provide it with protein and adequate nutrients.
The intake of protein is another essential component of recovery from a marathon. The fundamental role of protein after exercise is to promote recovery by helping to repair damaged muscle fibres.
The guideline for protein intake after intense performance is between 0.3g-0.5g per kg body mass (about 20g-40g for the average-sized individual), which is easily catered for in a meal that includes unprocessed meats, fresh vegetables and some rice.
A chicken curry is a simple example of an appropriate recovery meal that is high in carbohydrate and protein and rich in nutrients.
Rehydration after the race is another priority. Depending on environmental conditions, your body weight and race pace, fluid losses can range anywhere from two litres up to five litres during a marathon.
These fluids must be replaced at a ratio of 1.5 litres of fluid for every kg lost, meaning an intake of more than six litres of fluid in some cases.
A key point here is to be practical with rehydration strategies, as clearly five litres of fluid is an impractical amount to consume in one sitting. Best practice at the moment dictates that such recommendations on 1.5 litres of fluid for every kg lost are addressed over the six hours after performance.
In simple terms, drinking more than one litre per hour is probably excessive in this time period.
The intake of a wide range of micronutrients which include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is another vital consideration for marathon recovery. Micronutrients assist with tissue repair, support the immune system and help to remove toxins from the blood and muscle tissue.
Foods that are rich in micronutrients and antioxidants such as ginger, cherries, blueberries, turmeric, green tea and a variety of other fresh fruits and vegetables should be a priority in all meals.
Due to inadequate preparation, excitement, fatigue and lack of availability of nutritious foods, runners and athletes may neglect their recovery after a marathon.
It is vital that you go to the race prepared with your own provision of nutritious foods to consume after the race.
Fruits and homemade snack bars are a good first option, then in the following hours, vegetables, unprocessed meats, fish, nuts and seeds are good choices.
Eating these foods after the race will help you to recover faster and have you back in your regular routine as quickly as possible.
And remember, recovery from a marathon is more than a 12 to 24-hour process, such that for two to three days after the race, you should continue to focus on all aspects of recovery to get your body back on the roads.
Daniel Davey BSc MSc, CSCS, NEHA is a performance nutritionist.
RECOVERY MEAL PLAN
• A large bowl of homemade muesli with milk
• Half-cup of blueberries and raspberries
• Cup of ginger tea
• Large bowl of chopped fruit with natural yoghurt
• 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds and almond butterLunch
• A large spinach salad with boiled eggs, pine nuts, almonds, chopped peach, 1 chicken breast and olive oil and balsamic vinegar
• Cup of ginger tea
• 1 chopped apple with a tbsp almond butter
• 5 cherries
• Cup of green tea
• 2 squares of 90pc dark chocolateDinner
• 2 fresh mackerel fillets
• Roast butternut squash, broccoli, red onion and mixed bell peppers
• 1 roasted cinnamon banana with 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
• Cup of ginger tea