Thursday 27 June 2019

On the road to recovery

Post marathon, the right nutrition is just as important as what you eat before the big race, writes our resident dietitian

Best foot forward: Maintain fluid levels, eat balanced meals and get plenty of sleep
Best foot forward: Maintain fluid levels, eat balanced meals and get plenty of sleep

Orla Walsh

First things first... well done! Running a marathon is an incredible achievement that has taken a lot of training, preparation, motivation and discipline. Recovery nutrition is very important. The body needs to appropriately refuel and rehydrate as well as repair muscles and support the immune system. Inadequate nutrition in recovery can result in increased fatigue, increased muscle soreness and make it easier to catch a cold or flu.

To begin, focus on your fluids.

You'll need at least 35ml for every kg that you weigh each day. However, as you'll have lost fluids during the running and recovery process, consider this your minimum! Keep a bottle of water to hand. It'll keep reminding you to drink water and help you measure your intake. (Aim for pale urine.)

Next, balanced meals. Over the next couple of days try to ensure you're eating carbohydrate, protein, fruit and vegetables with some healthy fat at each meal.

For example:

Porridge oats (carbohydrate), milk (protein), fruit, and nuts (healthy fat).

Rice (carbohydrate), prawns (protein), stir fry vegetables and sesame oil (healthy fat).

Potatoes (carbohydrate), steak (protein), salad and olive oil (healthy fat).

Some of your favourite everyday foods can help you recover after such a long run too.

For example:

A pint of milk contains 20 grams of high -quality protein as well as bioavailable calcium which is ideal for both muscle and bone recovery. Milk is also excellent at rehydrating the body. Milk naturally provides electrolytes such as potassium which help the body to absorb water it offers.

As milk contains protein, carbohydrate and fat, digestion is slowed. Slowing down the movement of this fluid though the gut allows time for more water to be absorbed.

Beetroot and other nitrate rich fruit and vegetables such as rhubarb, carrots, lettuce, spinach, cabbage and rocket have proven effective at increasing blood nitric oxide concentrations. This encourages the blood vessels to dilate thereby increasing blood flow. This has been shown to help with sports performance. However, more recently it has been shown to be beneficial in recovery also. So tuck in!

Try some delicious tart cherry juice. A study in 2010 looked at the influence of tart cherry juice on recovery after a marathon. The results suggested that it appears to help with the recovery of muscle function through it's delivery of antioxidants and it's impact on inflammation.

For those that don't like cherries, why not consider adding more herbs, spices, berries, nuts and seeds to your diet for the next few days.

Finally, one of the most underrated recovery enhancers is sleep.

Although you may wish to be out celebrating, you may find yourself so tired that you're snoozing on the sofa shortly after dinner. Listen to your body and allow your body the sleep it's asking for.


'Regardless of whether you're a seasoned runner or a first timer, your immune system can be compromised'

With a little luck last night you slipped into a peaceful slumber dreaming of how gracefully you crossed the line. It'll come as no surprise then to learn that sleep ought to be near the top of the list in any recovery protocol. It's important to get as much as you can over the coming days though try to make it to the end of this piece before dozing off.

The next few days

Running coach and physical therapist Vinny Mulvey says "a marathon takes a lot more out of you than you might think. It's taken a lot of time and energy over the previous six or even 12 months". He suggests taking a full two weeks off running to recover and let your hair down, not just physically but emotionally too.

The next few days might be a good time to start introducing some light massage, stretching, mobility work or even some walking. Try to avoid deep tissue massages too soon after, as it may do more harm than good so don't be afraid to ask for a lighter treatment or even use some self-myofascial tools such as a foam roller. As mentioned by Orla, it's worth bearing in mind that due to the physiological demands of the marathon, regardless of whether you're a seasoned runner or a first timer, your immune system can be compromised - yet another reason to take it easy for a while.

Stretching, usually compartmentalised to the same part of our brain as self-assessed tax returns, is a key driver with regards not just recovery but performance and longevity too.

Aidan Kilgannon, a stretch therapist in Sandyford, describes running with tight hip flexors as being akin to "driving with the handbrake on". If some of the world's best athletes spend significant time stretching that should leave the rest of us mortals some clues.

The following weeks/months

Most likely you've forgotten the negatives and are planning your next race. Hopefully you've been lucky enough avoid injuries during your training or race but you'll undoubtedly know it's a common trait of endurance events in particular.

That doesn't mean it has to be inevitable, and there are several avenues to take to avoid this, some of which we've already mentioned.

I may be biased in this, due to the fact that teaching resistance training is my day job but don't underestimate the effects of proper strength training.

Athletes, professional and recreational, over the last decade are realising its influence on their performance.

Current guidelines recommend at least twice per week, so start working that into your routine and build from there. Strength train properly and it'll reward you in ways you mightn't have thought… for now though you can reach for the Champagne and revel in the fact that you're among a very small minority of the population to have achieved a marathon finish.

■ Personal trainer, Colin McEndoo,

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