How to Recover After Running a Marathon

Runners finish the NYC Marathon.

Hammering out 26.2 miles takes a toll on your body—not to mention all the training miles leading up to race day.

It’s time to get some rest.

Rest from running and recovery look different for everybody. Some runners need weeks of reduced mileage to work back into hard running while others, like elite ultrarunner Michael Wardian, can run seven marathons on all seven continents in seven days.

For those of us not like Wardian, deliberate rest from running is important before getting back into regular training.

This guide will teach you the basics of how to recover from a marathon, including how to massage, what to eat and how to rest before easing back into running.

What to Eat After a Marathon

A plate of nutritious food to eat after a marathon.

Eating is an important component of training. You need to eat the right foods (and enough of them) to sustain your longest days, and you have to find nutrition that doesn’t upset your stomach. But what you eat after your run is just as critical because it replenishes lost nutrients and repairs spent muscles. The best post-run foods do both, and taste delicious.

Your body burns lots of carbohydrates—its favorite fuel source—during a marathon, and your muscles break down from the extended effort. So, it’s important to refill your tank with both carbohydrates and protein to restore balance (a 2:1 carb to protein ratio is recommended).

As with everyday nutrition post-marathon, reach for real, whole foods like leafy greens, lean proteins and fats rich in anti-inflammatory omega 3s to aid recovery.

And don’t forget to hydrate. Your body needs water to function properly and flush waste products out of your system. A good goal: Drink about half your body weight in ounces each day. That’s 60 ounces for a 120-pound person or 100 ounces for a 200-pound person. But remember this is just a rule of thumb. As temperature and humidity changes, so do your hydration needs (for example, warmer weather calls for more water).

When in doubt, check your urine; your pee should be light in color, not dark like apple juice, or worse, soda.

How to Massage After a Marathon

A woman uses the Hyperice Hypervolt massage gun on her quad after a marathon.

The 26.2 miles you just ran is likely the longest distance you covered since you began training, and a lot can happen over that distance. Inflammation, aches and pains from pounding the pavement for hours is almost always guaranteed.

Massage helps alleviate some of the aches and pains by loosening knots and adhesions in muscles or soothing nagging problems like plantar fasciitis.

Here’s how you can massage after your run:

  • Save your shins. While you’re sitting down, stretch out your leg in front of you. Press your thumbs into the muscles on either side of your shin bone and rotate your ankle in every direction. Search for sore spots up and down your leg, and give them some extra attention. Repeat on the other leg.
  • Get the glutes. Put a foam rolleror a lacrosse ball beneath your glute and roll it around. When you hit a tight spot, keep the pressure there until it loosens up. Repeat on the other side.
  • Care for your calves. Your calf muscles absorb a lot of impact from running, and they’ll begin to feel it after a marathon. Sit on the floor and place a foam roller beneath your calf muscle. Roll forward and backward to release tight areas on both legs.
  • The power of percussive massage. Percussion massage guns are becoming more and more popular, and for good reason. Massage guns place the power of percussion massage right at your fingertips, helping you dig deep into tight areas, breaking up adhesions and improving mobility.

A word of caution: Know when to call it quits. Massage can be uncomfortable at times, but it should not produce sharp pains, numbness or tingling. If you feel any of those, lighten up or stop for the day.

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How to Rest After a Marathon

A woman sleeps peacefully in bed to recover from a marathon.

Running a marathon puts a lot of stress on your body. In addition to eating right and massaging away knots, your body will need time to repair itself. That’s why you need rest after running a long race.

But rest isn’t passive. Resting after a marathon takes conscious effort, and your body will thank you for it. Generally after a big race, it’s a good idea to take at least one full week of non-running recovery. During this sacred period, it’s OK to exercise, just keep it light and mostly resistance free. Think leisurely walks, hikes or bike rides.

Make sleep a priority because your body and muscles recover best when you’re asleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seven or more hours of sleep per night for adults. Getting the recommended amount of shut eye will make you more alert and ward off sickness, too.

But the CDC says only about 35 percent of adults get the sleep they need, which affects more than just running recovery. Inadequate sleep is linked to chronic health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression, according to the CDC.

Bottom line: You will train and recover better if you get better sleep. If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, try these tips:

  • Avoid drinking alcohol late in the evening.
  • Before bed, eliminate exposure to blue light from TVs, computers and smartphones (if you must be online, consider downloading a free app like Flux that filters blue light).
  • Get to bed at a consistent time, preferably before 10 p.m.
  • Set your thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Track your sleep with a smartwatch to understand your sleep quality.
  • Avoid working or reading in bed.

When you’re ready to return to running, start slow with easy efforts before working back up to hard workouts. Studies have shown that muscle damage from the race lingers for longer than just one week post-marathon, so proceed with caution. Just because your legs don’t feel sore anymore doesn’t mean they’re completely recovered.

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