Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Marathon Season: Recovery 101

You just ran a marathon. Congratulations! Now it’s time to focus on recovery. Nutrition plays a key role in mending your marathon-weary body and getting you back into running and other activities sooner rather than later.

Post-race nutrition should focus on replenishing glycogen stores, rehydrating, and muscle repair. In conjunction with proper sleep and easing back into running, proper nutrition is a vital piece of the recovery puzzle.

Directly after the marathon
As soon as you finish, you will feel exhausted and may not have much of an appetite. Every runner tolerates different foods or drinks after the marathon. Within 30-60 minutes following your 26.2, focus on a combination of protein and carbohydrate, whether it be in the form of a drink or food.  Aim for approximately 200-400 calories of carbohydrate along with 10 grams of protein for this immediate post-marathon snack.[i] Remember to eat or drink slowly to give your gut time to adjust. Ideas include:

*Chocolate milk may be a welcome change after downing fruit-flavored sports drinks during the race.  It’s a cheaper post-workout option vs. recovery drinks sold in health or drug stores. 
* Greek yogurt with granola or cereal mixed in.
*A bagel topped with cheese, whipped cottage cheese, or peanut butter and jam.
*My personal favorite: 1 large egg cooked in a pan, 1 slice cheese, and mixed greens on a whole grain roll or English muffin plus one serving pita chips.

Days following 26.2
The recovery period following your marathon is just as crucial as your eating during training. Here is a list of great foods to jump start your eating routine in the days following your marathon.

*Tart cherry juice, loaded with anthocyanins, may be a great recovery booster.  Some studies have linked drinking tart cherry juice with reduced inflammation following a marathon and other forms of exercise. [ii][iii]   Try adding tart cherry juice to a blended juice drink or drink it straight.
*Apples have quercetin concentrated in their skins, which is shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.[iv]  Try apple slices with peanut butter, or chop apple into your oatmeal and cook with low-fat milk for a carbohydrate and protein boost.
* Healthy fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fats) such as grilled salmon for dinner, sliced avocado on a sandwich, or sprinkle mixed nuts in cold cereal or oatmeal.
*Pumpkin, acorn and butternut squash not only provide a great source of fiber and vitamin A, but also potassium,  an electrolyte that is depleted along with sodium during your marathon.4 Instead of mashed potatoes, try mashed squash. Bake cubes of butternut squash, add some milk, 1-2 teaspoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste, then puree in a food processor or mash with a handheld masher for a rough texture.

Remember that hydration is the number one priority in the hours and days following your marathon. So don’t just eat up, but drink up!

Alison Barkman, MS, RD, CDN is an adjunct professor for nutrition undergraduates at LIU/Post in Brookville, NY. She is starting a sports nutrition practice in Garden City, NY, and is available for nutrition counseling, sports nutrition clinics for athletes, and nutrition communications consulting.  She can be reached at or 516-220-9320. 

[i] Clark, N. (2007). Recovering from Exhausting Training. In Nancy Clark's Food Guide for Marathoners (p. 98). Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK).

[ii] Connolly DA, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, Carlson L, Sayers SP. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40(8):679-83.

[iii] Howatson G1, McHugh MP, Hill JA, Brouner J, Jewell AP, van Someren KA, Shave RE, Howatson SA. Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Dec; 20(6):843-52.

[iv] Coleman Collins, S. (2014, October 1). Healthful Fall Snacks. Today's Dietitian, 54-59.