Post Marathon Recovery: Tips to Recover Faster
Hundreds of research papers point to several nutritional strategies that can speed up post marathon recovery. They typically concern rehydration, glycogen resynthesis, and protein and antioxidant supplementation. These techniques replenish our muscle fuel supplies, hasten the repair of muscle damage, and combat free-radical formation in our cells.
But the devil is in the details. You can pop vitamin pills, drink protein powder shakes, guzzle sports drinks, and eat all the carbohydrates you can stomach, but if you don’t eat and drink the right kinds of food, drink, and supplements at the right times, you will be wasting your time and money.
Here is how to use recovery nutrition to get the most out of yourself after your racing and hard training efforts. Pos-trace and post-training rehydration—replacing water and electrolytes is your first priority to fully replace muscle and plasma fluid and electrolyte losses immediately after the marathon. Aim to drink 125 percent of the weight you lost from sweating because you still continue to sweat while you are rehydrating. Recent research shows that we absorb more fluid when electrolytes are added to water, thus achieving better restoration of body water. Sodium in particular helps our body retain water, stimulates thirst, and prevents low plasma sodium. Choose carbohydrate-rich fluids to replace your lost water, electrolytes, and muscle glycogen. Reading the labels of sports drinks is important because many of them are simply soft drinks in disguise, with excess amounts of sugar, caffeine, and other unnecessary stimulants. You will know you are rehydrating adequately when you start urinating again, which can be several hours after the marathon. Urine should be clear and pale. Despite the refreshing taste, beer (or any alcohol) is counterproductive to good recovery because its diuretic effect prevents you from rehydrating properly at a critical time. Your muscle cells have experienced severe glycogen depletion. Repletion of glycogen stores requires a high-carbohydrate diet for at least 46 hours and is most rapid during the first 10 hours of recovery.
Nutritional Recovery Goals after a Marathon:
- Replace Fluids and Electrolytes
- Replenish Energy Stores (Glycogen and ATP, for Example)
- Hasten Muscle, Tendon, and Ligament Tissue Repair
- Reduce Residual Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and Pain
- Return the Immune System to Healthy Status
What carbohydrates should we be ingesting after the marathon? As we know, some carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in blood-sugar levels (high glycaemic index), while others promote a slower release of sugars into the bloodstream (low glycaemic index). We should aim to eat and drink high-glycaemic-index foods to boost our blood-glucose levels quickly, thus causing a fast release of insulin, which in turn drives more glycogen into the muscle cells.
A second dose of high-glycaemic-index carbohydrates is recommended from one to four hours post-exercise. A carbohydrate/protein mix replenishes glycogen stores faster. This mix of protein and carbohydrate taken immediately after running tops up our glycogen and amino acid stores much faster than a carbohydrate solution only. The consensus is that carbohydrate/protein mixes double the insulin response and increase the rate of glycogen synthesis by 30 percent. Insulin is the hormone that deposits sugar into our muscle cells, so it follows that a solution that creates a high insulin response will build high intramuscular glycogen levels—and do so quickly.
Four hours after the race, you should be recovered enough to eat a full mixed meal, including some protein along with the usual carbohydrates. It’s commonly reported that marathoners have a craving for high-protein foods after the event. For several days after the race, your overall carbohydrate intake should be 65 percent or more of your total caloric intake.
Vitamins assist in growth, repair of tissue damage, and disarming free radical damage from stressful activity. A strong case can be presented in favour of antioxidant vitamins being taken to hasten recovery of damaged muscle and connective tissue, free-radical damage, immune-system suppression, and oxidative stress caused by running. Antioxidant supplements reduce free-radical damage in runners.
Take your multivitamin supplement with a meal to enhance absorption. Choose a supplement in which the majority of vitamin A is actually beta-carotene. Vitamin A, or retinol, should not exceed 3,000 IU daily. A blend of synthetic and natural supplements is fine. Look for a mix of vitamin E from tocopherols and tocotrienols. If you take antioxidant supplements, keep doses to 100 to 200 IU of vitamin E and 250 milligrams of vitamin C. Choose a multivitamin in which the vitamin D source is D3, or cholecalciferol, the type that is best absorbed.
Proteins also play an important role in helping our body fight off infection, especially in the two hours or so after exercise when we’re particularly susceptible to catching upper respiratory tract infections. As proteins make up the infection fighting agents like macrophages, natural killer cells, immunoglobins, and white blood cells, ingesting proteins after strenuous running will, in all probability, help fight any intruding infections and bacteria.
If a marathoner uses this multidiscipline approach of therapeutic and nutritional strategies for recovery after the marathon event, his or her body will bounce back in its shortest time possible. Follow these guidelines to regaining your health and your game after your marathon, and always be aware of the severe damage that you have done to your body in the race. Remember, when in doubt, it’s wiser to take it easier rather than push yourself.