Optimal Post-Marathon Recovery Nutrition

If you've hit the marathon "wall," or if you've heard the morale-crushing stories of those who have, then you already know the important role a solid nutrition strategy plays in marathon success. 

But, many marathon runners—particularly beginning marathoners—abandon their fueling plans once they cross the finish line. Sure, the running is done and other things vie for your attention, such as changing into dry clothes, finding your family or friends, and resisting the urge to plop down on the street (you need to walk for a bit to avoid blood from pooling in your legs, which can cause fainting). 

Stick with the post-run, 30-minute rule: Eat and drink foods and fluids that contain carbs, protein and electrolytes within the first 30 minutes after your hard effort to speed recovery. Refuel immediately after your marathon to start repairing your muscles, and you'll feel much better in the hours and days following the race; it could even help you avoid walking down the stairs backwards in the coming days. 

Lauren Antonucci, registered dietician, owner of Nutrition Energy in New York City, and marathon runner, offers her best advice for post-marathon recovery nutrition.  

What advice you can give to help marathon runners avoid common fueling pitfalls?

Lauren Antonucci: Pay at least as much attention to your daily and long-run nutrition plan as you do to selecting your sneakers, or tracking your heart rate. In other words, take a good look at what you are fueling your body with on a daily and weekly basis, and make sure it aligns with your sports-performance goals.

Keep a food log for three days, and scan it for "missing links" that might adversely affect your training. 

Typical missing links I see in my office all the time include:

  • Not eating enough total carbohydrates on a daily basis, and therefore not having the fuel or energy to run well
  • Skipping a post-run meal, a definite recovery no-no 
  • Inadequate total fluid intake. Chronic dehydration leads to fatigue, injury and headaches  
  • Inadequate total salt intake (especially if temperatures and humidity are high)
  • Using marathon training as a free pass to eat everything in sight, which only leads to unwanted weight gain and slower running times 

By looking for and finding your nutritional missing links now, you can correct them in time to save your long training runs, recovery and race-day performance. 

More: How to Create a Flexible Marathon Race Plan