How do you recover from a marathon?
A marathon is a gruelling undertaking that is 26.2 miles long. Marathon recovery actually starts before the race. The week leading up to the race is extremely important to make sure our body is ready for the big day. Getting adequate nutrition, rest, and sleep is imperative to make sure that you go into your race feeling your best.
What we do during the race is also really important. A good fueling plan during your race can help keep you from hitting “the wall” too soon.
Some things to consider in your marathon fueling plan:
Proper hydration – hydrate before and during your run.
Have the right nutrients – fast acting carbohydrates, electrolytes, salt tablets. Runners need 30-60 grams of carbs per hour.
Using caffeine – some runners supplement caffeine to give them an energy boost, this may not be an option for everyone.
Post marathon nutrition and recovery
Having carbs and protein soon after the race is important to help our body’s in the post-race recovery process.
Your body will be dehydrated after running a marathon so it is important to consume lots of fluids as soon as you can, even if you don’t feel like it.
Replenishing your body with carbs and protein is important to refuel and rebuild your muscles from the intense tissue damage that occurs from a marathon.
While it’s exciting to celebrate, avoid too much alcohol after the race since that will increase dehydration.
Try to get as much sleep as you can over the next few days so your body can recover.
According to Board Certified Sports Dietician, 13-time marathon runner, 3-time Ironman triathlete, author, and owner of Nutrition Energy Lauren Antonnuci, here are the best 3 things you can do before and after your marathon:
3 best things to do before a marathon:
Hydrate: Ensure you drink at least 1/2 your body weight in fluid oz each of the 2 days prior to your race. Include 1 cup/12 oz bottle of sports drink each of those last 2 days to help you pre-hydrate.
Rest! None of us really enjoy tapering, but it will pay off on race day. Take the day off before the race from training and also try to be less active then usual. Stay home if you can. Don't run a million errands -they can wait until after the race.
Carbo-load: Yes, we mean you! The simplistic way to do this is to focus on eating MOSTLY CARBS the 48 hours prior to your race. I always say, skip the salads, no need for fish or other major protein sources; instead choose mostly carbs at all meals and snacks. Pancakes for breakfast, bagel for lunch, pretzels for a snack and pasta for dinner will pay off when you still have energy to keep you pace during the last third of your race.
3 best things to do after a marathon:
Again, hydrate! This time it is re-hydrate. But it is your number 1 priority. You need to drink fluids WITH SODIUM post race to fully rehydrate your cells and body. Drink the sports drink they give you in your finishers bag, or head to a store (or home, or hotel) and get some V8 juice, soup or anything salty + fluids.
Keep moving! It may be tempting to sit right down as soon as you cross the line, but trust us, if you do it will be SOOO much harder to get up and make your way home later. No need to rush, but keep moving/walking slowly to let your body wind down slowly after your long effort.
Refuel every two hours! Choose any foods that appeal to you that contain a mix of carbs + protein. A sandwich, chocolate milk + a banana, a recovery drink or plate of rice and beans or pasta + chicken. Eating every two hours is what will help your muscles recover the fastest.
How can acupuncture help with marathon recovery?
Acupuncture has many benefits for athletes and runners including releasing muscle tightness, improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and improving range of motion. Acupuncture and dry needling also help with common running injuries by addressing the muscle tightness that contributes to the pain.
Many top athletes like David Beckham use acupuncture because it helps them recover better and can help prevent injury. Generally, acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain. It also reduces inflammation and releases muscle tightness that can restrict range of motion. A 2020 study found that besides being helpful for pain control and musculoskeletal conditions, acupuncture can help treat delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), exercise induced fatigue, and performance anxiety issues in athletes.
If you’re looking to reduce pain, recovery faster, and perform better you should consider adding acupunctuncture it to your regimen.
Impacts from Running a Marathon
How does a marathon affect the body?
Running a marathon is extremely taxing on our bodies. Many people train anywhere from 3-9 months to prepare their body for a marathon because of the immense strain is places on our body. The average person finished a marathon in 4-6 hours, which elite level runners finish the race in around 2-3 hours.
There can be muscle soreness and strength reduction for as long as two weeks following the race, due to cell damage from the high exertion and our body having a strong inflammatory response.
Besides the obvious muscle soreness that comes from running 26.2 miles, there are other impacts on our bodies due to the amount of resources our body uses to get us that far.
One study found that marathon running affects immune function. There can be immune system dysfunction from 3-72 hours following marathon-type exertion. Physiological changes may include changes in stress hormones and cytokine levels, changes in body temperature, increased blood flow, and dehydration. During this time, the body may be more susceptible to viral or bacterial infections because immune function is weakened.
Another study found that there were significant post-race reductions in pulmonary function and that there were high levels of respiratory muscle fatigue following marathon and ultra-marathon running. This type of strain also impacts postural stability which makes one more susceptible to injury when running on more difficult terrain.
Our heart is also affected during and after running a marathon. One study found that completing a marathon is associated with evidence of cardiac dysfunction and injury. Marathon runners with less training have a higher risk since their hearts are not as conditioned to this type of strain as experienced runners.
Achieving high levels of fitness is associated with decreased mortality risk. The study showed that extremely high aerobic fitness had the greatest health benefit for older patients.
When should I start running or working out again after the marathon?
According to 13 time marathoner, personal trainer, and self-defense instructor Wil Tejada at Wilpower Fitness, the best thing is “to listen to the body and start running or working out when you feel like your body and mind have recovered from the marathon race. Remember the marathon is not just a physical event, it can be very emotionally draining. In general, if it’s your first marathon you should start your running back up by two weeks. You don’t want all your gains to diminished after your race.”
More experienced runners can and should start running by the end of the week. In general, Wil says that “the main thing is to start with an easy pace and only with a few miles to continue to allow the body to recover. This also goes for workouts. Start slow and focus on core exercises and don’t go too heavy with the weights.”
Running a marathon is a learning experience for both your mind and body. Wil says that, “post marathon recovery should focus on letting the body heal and repair from the months of training for the race. For this to happen, the athlete needs to reassess their body and pick a new post Marathon goal.”
Due to it’s intense nature, a marathon may reveal underlying imbalances or weaknesses in certain areas of the body. These offer an opportunity to grow as an athlete to adapt for future challenges. It is also important to balance the immense strain of a marathon with more restorative exercises. Wi says that, “it Is very important to let your mind rest - so make sure to do fun things and consider mindful activities like meditation to help your body and mind connect so your heart can fully recover.”
As for what kind of workouts one should do after the marathon, Wil says, “workouts after the marathon should be fun and dynamic. Try a new sport like boxing or swimming. Do more stability and core exercises. The main thing is cross train so the body can get stronger in all planes.”