What To Do For Recovery After a Half Marathon

So you completed a half marathon – amazing! Now it’s time to think about the post half marathon recovery and giving your body and muscles enough time and fuel to recover. This post outlines all of the key points to recovering from a half marathon or longer event. 

Table of Contents

Nutrients Important for Post Half Marathon Recovery

If you’re wondering what to do include in your half marathon recovery plan, this post is for you. Nutrition is always pertinent, whether it’s part of your recovery from a slow, long run, or ultra marathon recovery. 

Let’s start with the nutrition piece. You don’t need to diet when training for a half marathon. The key is knowing what nutrients to eat and when, and then letting your body guide you. 

Similarly, we can use both practical nutrition and our intuitive nature when eating after the race, too. The main components of your post-half marathon recovery nutrition should be carbs, protein and fluids. Similar to pre-workout fuel, it is not about ONE component, but a timely combination.

Refueling after a workout is an important component for athletes and regular exercisers. The physical workout breaks the body down and the nutrition component builds the body back up. It’s really a combination of training AND nutrition that allows you to see the results you are aiming for.

While the nutrition piece is a bit more complex, understand that consistency is important. It’s not just one good choice that equals success but rather it’s being consistent and making good decisions most of the time.

Carbohydrates, protein, and fluids are the key pieces in your recovery plan. 

So, let’s review each macronutrient group. 

different breads and carbohydrate foods

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the primary fuel source for your muscles, especially during longer duration and/or higher intensity exercise.

The longer and/or harder your body works, the more carbs you’ll need before, during, and after exercise.

Carb sources include sports drinks, fruit juice, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, sweets, etc.

More about carb sources in this post about carb loading for runners to learn what to eat before a half marathon.

skillet with scrambled eggs next to toast and glass of orange juice

Protein

Protein post-workout is necessary to rebuild the muscle, which is essential in recovering from a half marathon.

Protein needs are based on body size and stay relatively the same regardless of the workout, although they will change slightly based on your goals.

Protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, protein powder, etc. 

Use this chart as a guide to determine your protein needs based on body weight. 

Body Weight (lbs.)

Protein (g)

120-150

15-20

151-180

20-25

181-215

25-30

216-250

30-35

251-300

35-40

Fluids

As discussed in our guide to hydration for runners, Fluid needs are individualized based on sweat rate, if you’re a salty sweater, and the training conditions such as temperature, humidity, indoor/outdoor, etc.

woman in sports bra drinking from water bottle with mountains in background

The fluids piece of half marathon recovery becomes even more important as the temperature outside continues to rise. Going into a workout adequately hydrated, drinking during the workout, and replenishing fluids after the workout are all important.

There is no benefit to performing a workout while dehydrated. 

Consuming salty foods after a workout can also help your body retain the fluids that are ingested. Goldfish crackers, pretzels, soups, and jerky are examples of good salty foods. Additionally, drinking fluids that contain carbs and sodium (a key electrolyte), such as a sports drink, can also help your body better retain the fluids.

Consuming foods with high water content can also be a useful strategy. Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content such as watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit, cantaloupe, tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumber. Increasing your intake of these foods during warmer months can help you to stay hydrated.

How Much Should You Eat To Recover From a Half Marathon?

A good starting place for post-workout recovery is a 2:1 carb to protein ratio, as discussed in the 2018 journal, Nutrients . For example, if you need 20g of protein, a 2:1 carb to protein ratio would be 40g carbs + 20g protein.

If the workout was high intensity or of long duration, like a half marathon, that ratio may change to a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio, meaning the amount of carbs could go up to 60g or even 80g while the protein would stay the same.

Some great recovery nutrition examples include chocolate milk(2), Greek yogurt with fruit and granola, smoothies made with frozen fruit and Greek yogurt (or protein powder), or scrambled eggs with toast and 100% fruit juice. You may be surprised at chocolate milk – check out this whole study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

You can still easily meet these needs if you are a plant based runner, too. 

glass of chocolate milk

When To Begin Your Half Marathon Recovery Plan

A general rule of thumb is to get your post-workout recovery nutrition in within 60 minutes after you finish exercise. It is good practice to begin the recovery process as soon as possible after a workout. The sooner you begin the recovery process, the sooner your body will recover so that you will be less sore, less fatigued, and ready to go for the next training session.

If you do not feel hungry right after a training session or race, it may be easier to drink something such as a greek yogurt smoothie or recovery protein shake to get the recovery process started and then have a full meal a couple hours later.

Additional Nutrients To Have for Recovery

For additional recovery after a half or full marathon, you may want to incorporate more antioxidants, anti-inflammatory foods and/or supplements to aid in the muscle recovery and soreness process.

Anti-inflammatory fruits:

  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries
  • Tart Cherries
  • Watermelon

Anti-inflammatory vegetables:

  • Beets
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes

Anti-inflammatory fats:

  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Salmon
  • Walnuts

Anti-inflammatory spices:

  • Cayenne
  • Cinnamon
  • Curcumin
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric

Know that real food is preferred when deciding what to eat after a half marathon, but supplements can have a role. Supplements that may help aid in the recovery process include Tart Cherry Juice such as CheriBundi, Fish oil supplements such as Klean Athlete, and/or Turmeric capsules.

Make sure when looking for and taking a supplement for recovery after half marathons, that you choose a reputable brand that is 3rd party tested. 3rd party testing ensures that you are getting what you think you are getting and that the product is free from banned or illegal substances. Labels to look for include NSF for Sport, Informed Choice for Sport, or USP.

Bottom line, if you are looking to improve your athletic performance and enhance your recovery, refueling post-workout is going to be a key aspect to your training. 

Post-workout is a crucial time when your body is primed for nutrition and consuming carbs and protein will allow your muscles to absorb those nutrients and use them for recovery.

 Resources:

  1. Bongiovanni T, Genovesi F, Nemmer M, Carling C, Alberti G, Howatson G. Nutritional interventions for reducing the signs and symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage and accelerate recovery in athletes: current knowledge, practical application and future perspectives. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2020 Sep;120(9):1965-1996. doi: 10.1007/s00421-020-04432-3. Epub 2020 Jul 13. PMID: 32661771.

  2. Born, K.A., Dooley, E.E., Cheshire, P.A. et al. Chocolate Milk versus carbohydrate supplements in adolescent athletes: a field based
    study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 166 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0272-0

  3. Saunders MJ, Luden ND, DeWitt CR, Gross MC, Dillon Rios A. Protein Supplementation During or Following a Marathon Run Influences Post-Exercise Recovery. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):333. Published 2018 Mar 10. doi:10.3390/nu10030333

  4. Sousa M, Teixeira VH, Soares J. Dietary strategies to recover from exercise-induced muscle damage. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014
    Mar;65(2):151-63. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2013.849662. Epub 2013 Nov 4. PMID: 24180469.

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