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What to Eat After a Marathon

Consider you just finished your first marathon! You put in so much training on the front end, but what should you eat after a marathon? Your body endured 26.2 miles, so now it is time to eat and recover. Here are some tips for what to eat after a marathon.

group of runners running a race

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Completing a marathon is no easy task.

In fact, according to the Livestrong, only .01% of the world’s population has completed a marathon.

While there is a ton of training and prep work that goes into fueling for a marathon, it can’t stop once the marathon is over. The recovery piece is also huge.

If you’re like me, you trained obsessively for your first race, and perfectly nailed what to eat before a marathon.

However, after the race is a whole different story – I hadn’t prepared! So, here are the top sports dietitian-approved recommendations for what to eat after a marathon.

The goal of sports nutrition and the timing of fueling the body before, during, and after a marathon is to maintain energy levels, aid in muscle recovery, and perform your best.

Recovery After a Marathon

During a marathon, muscle damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress typically occur in response to the body working hard to cover those 26.2 miles.

Your body expends a lot of energy and is likely depleted and dehydrated at the end.

Key Points For During the Marathon (Can Impact After a Marathon)

  • Fueling-wise, during exercise, your body uses carbohydrates for energy. This is ideally exogenous carbs consumed through beverages, sports products such as gels, chews (see our take on the best chews for running) and/or food sources.
  • Our bodies can store some carbohydrates in the muscle and liver, but not enough to run 26.2 miles. That is why you need to (and hopefully did) take in calories while running longer distances.
  • If you don’t take in calories and carbohydrates while running, you will likely end up bonking, hitting the wall, or running out of steam.

After a Marathon

Whether you are looking to recover from a half marathon or full marathon, your body is likely depleted of carbs/glycogen, energy, electrolytes, and even fluids.

Therefore, the recovery process after your marathon should focus on rehydrating, refueling, and rebuilding.

water bottle belt on back of runner

What to Eat After a Marathon

Assuming that you ate properly before the marathon (here are some ideas of what to eat before running in the morning) and fueled throughout, your recovery should feel a little easier in the coming days.

When searching what to eat after a marathon, remember to focus on these three things:

  • fluids and electrolytes for re-hydration
  • carbohydrates to help re-fuel your depleted muscles
  • and protein to help rebuild.

Rehydration

Rehydrating entails taking in water and other fluids to replenish the liquids your body loses during exercise.

You can drink early and often after the race and rehydrate based on feel.

The general rule of thumb is to consume at least half of your body weight in ounces of water (or other non-caloric beverages) each day.

green, purple and red electrolyte drinks

For example, a 150 lb. person should aim to drink at least 75 ounces of water or other fluids each day. You’ll likely need more before, during, and after exercise.

If you weigh yourself before and after the marathon, you’ll want to aim to consume 16-24 ounces of fluids for each pound of weight you lose during the race.

Consuming beverages with sodium, such as homemade sports drinks for runners, bone broth or homemade electrolyte drinks can help you replenish sodium lost in your seat.

pouring homemade bone broth into mug

Or, combine your beverage of choice with salty foods to help your body better absorb the fluids post marathon.

Soups, like instant pot tortellini soup, can also be a great way to rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes in cold weather.

If you are a salty sweater, you likely need to increase your fluids and electrolytes to keep up with what you’re losing, or have lost.

You may typically think of water to rehydrate, but fruit juice can be a great replacement to provide some carbohydrates and sugar as well.

Plus, tart cherry juice has been shown to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress after long efforts

We also recommend these recovery drinks, homemade smoothies and electrolyte drinks, too (just make sure they have adequate sodium).

glass of tart cherry juice in smoothie

Read the Ultimate Guide to Hydration for Runners

Refueling

Refueling is the main pillar you think of when deciding what to eat after a marathon. After the marathon, you should first focus on carbohydrates to replace your glycogen stores, which have likely been depleted.

How soon should you eat after a marathon? Ideally, within 30-60 minutes after completing the marathon you should begin to take in something with carbs.

This is why a lot of races provide chocolate milk, granola bars, bananas, oranges, bagels, pretzels, etc. at the end of the race.

Consuming carbohydrates after a marathon helps your body refuel its stores in the muscles.

oatmeal with fruit

Aiming for a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein is recommended post-workout.

For example, if your protein goal post-workout is to consume 20g of protein, then your carb needs would be 60g (3:1) or 80g (4:1). Another recommendation is to consume 0.4g of carbs per pound of body weight.

For example, a 150 lb. person would want to consume 60g of carbs post-workout, which may look like a bagel, a 1/2 cup of oatmeal with a banana.

Our guide on the best foods for carb loading can help give you some ideas and amounts to eat.

Note that it takes time to completely refuel your body with carbs, so continue to eat every couple of hours after the race as well. Consistent fuel and energy to your body is important.

Rebuilding

You also want to include protein in your post marathon eats to help rebuild muscle tissue after the marathon.

Protein after a marathon helps your body repair and rebuild the muscle that was used and broken down during the race.

Ideally, within 30-60 minutes after completing the marathon, you should begin to take in something with carbs ANd protein. Again, chocolate milk can be a great option to get your recovery process started, or eggs for runners are also great!

omelet with veggies

Protein needs for runners is variable, and usually based on an individual’s body size – body weight and/or muscle mass.

Generally, aiming for 20-40g of protein post-workout is advised. Another way to look at it is to consume 0.1 to 0.2g of protein per pound of body weight.

For example, a 150 lb. person would want to consume 15-30g of protein post-workout.

Air fryer bison burgers are a great example of what to eat after a marathon. They are a good source of protein and carbohydrates when eaten on a bun or paired with rice or pasta. This turkey taco quinoa skillet is another good option full of carbs, protein, and antioxidants.

Other protein sources include meat, fish, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, and protein shakes, powders, and bars.

It takes time to completely recover from a marathon, so make sure to continue to eat every couple of hours and give your body time to rest after the race.

Antioxidants

After a marathon, consuming more antioxidant-rich foods from many Vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables, like oranges, mangos, tomatoes, berries and sweet potatoes can be helpful to replace vitamins and minerals that are lost in sweat.

Bananas and spinach are easy add in’s to a smoothie or greek yogurt smoothie. Antioxidants can also help to counteract the oxidative stress put on the body from endurance exercise.

Antioxidants in food will help your body recover by managing and decreasing inflammation. Aim to include many different colors of fruits and vegetables as the different colors provide different vitamins and minerals.

Travel Food Ideas for a Post Marathon Meal

If you are traveling for the marathon, it’s always a good idea to bring your tried-and-true foods with you to avoid GI upset or runners gut.

This may include your pre-marathon breakfast foods, such as a bagel, peanut butter, oatmeal, banana, milk, yogurt, etc. Don’t forget about salty, portable snacks, such as pretzels, Goldfish crackers, granola bars, fruit, yogurt, sandwiches, etc.

For your post marathon meal, make sure to plan ahead if you’re going to be eating out – find a restaurant in advance that has the foods you need to fuel before the race and recover after.

snacks in bowls, like popcorn, pretzels and chips

Here are some ideas to order at a restaurant:

  • Burger with bun and starch (fries, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, pasta)
  • Chicken sandwich with side
  • Pasta dish with protein
  • Tacos – beans, poultry, beef, pork, seafood
  • Seafood entree with starch and veggies

Supplements for Recovery

When recovering from a marathon, some supplements may be helpful for recovery that we will discuss.

  • Tart cherry juice: Tart cherry juice is full of antioxidants, which help to decrease inflammation in the body. Drinking just 8 oz. of tart cherry juice per day either post-exercise or before bed has been shown to decrease inflammation by 49%! You can also opt for a tart cherry juice concentrate, which lasts a bit longer!
  • Turmeric (curcumin): Turmeric, often in the form of curcumin, turmeric’s most active component, is a potent antioxidant and may help to decrease inflammation in the body and mediate muscle soreness. Turmeric is one of the main spices in curry powder, giving it the yellow color. You can increase your turmeric intake by adding it to foods and beverages or you can take it in supplement form. There is no recommended dosage amount but a good starting point is 250-500mg per day.
  • Omega-3s: Omega 3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that has been found to balance post-workout inflammation, promote good circulation and blood flow, support immune function, aid in healthy brain function, and more. We get omega-3 fatty acids from food sources such as fatty fish, and to a lesser extent from plant-based sources, such as walnuts and flaxseed. The general recommendation is for anyone who does not consume fatty fish at least twice a week to take a fish oil (omega-3) supplement.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is involved in many of the body’s processes (see more about magnesium for runners). Magnesium plays a crucial role in muscle and nerve function, energy production, protein synthesis, and promotes restful sleep and muscle relaxation. Many individuals, including runners, are often lacking in this vital nutrient. Magnesium is found in foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. If taking a supplement, a good starting point is 200mg. Taking too much at one time can cause diarrhea.

When taking supplements, you always want to get a high-quality supplement and buy products that are NSF Certified for Sport to make sure you are getting what you think you’re getting.

Hopefully, this article helps you to think about what you need to do to be well-fueled and well-hydrated prior to exercise, especially a marathon. Additionally, consider ahead of time what to eat after a marathon for optimal recovery.

The ultimate goal of fueling your body properly around exercise is to stay healthy so you can keep running and doing all the things you love for as long as possible!

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Summary

  • Pre-marathon: Increase water, carbs, and possibly sodium
  • During the marathon: Hydrate with fluids and electrolytes, and fuel with carbs
  • Post-marathon: Recover with fluids, carbs, and protein

References:

  • Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Jan 29;10(1):5. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-5. PMID: 23360586; PMCID: PMC3577439.
  • Howatson G, 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. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01005.x. PMID: 19883392.
  • Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, Stout JR, Campbell B, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Kalman D, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Willoughby D, Arciero PJ, VanDusseldorp TA, Ormsbee MJ, Wildman R, Greenwood M, Ziegenfuss TN, Aragon AA, Antonio J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug 29;14:33. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4. PMID: 28919842; PMCID: PMC5596471.
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