How to recover after a marathon or a sport event – a physio’s inside tips

Marathon runners

Congratulation and well done, you’ve completed a marathon (or other amazing sporting event)! No matter how you did, it’s an amazing achievement. First of all, enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and let it all sink in. It’s absolutely fine to brag. As your mind recovers and enjoys the feeling, your body will need to recover as well. Below is some advice to speed up and assist your recovery.

On the day of the marathon

Some of you may be reading this before completing an event. If so, here are some of the things to consider on the day. When you cross the line smile, collect your medal, and keep moving! You have been running or exercising for hours and if you suddenly stop your muscles may lock and blood pooling (swelling). Walk for at least another 10 min. This will help your body go back to normal and steady the blood. Then keep moving little and often for the rest of the day.

It’s important to refuel within 30 minutes of finishing, fast carbs, protein and salt. This will aid your recovery and reduce fatigue. Sipping on water is also important. Try not to down a big bottle, slow sips. You’re most likely not going to want a large meal, as your body is in recovery mode. Try to think small meals, little and often for the rest of the day. You have burnt a lot of calories, and your body wants to fuel.

There is some evidence that ice baths have an effect on recovery. The window for this is rather short. You ideally want it within the first 1-2 hours, for full effect. The day after a warm bath is much more beneficial. If you decide to have an ice bath, fill the bath up with lukewarm/cool water and put some ice cubes in. Cover your upper body, so that you stay warm. Go in for 5-10 minutes max. Keep warm after.

The week after

The start of the week will bring a lot of soreness. You will discover muscles and joints in the body you didn’t realise existed. The morning after the race, don’t stay in bed to long. I know this is what you’ll feel like doing, but you will recover so much better and quicker if you get up and move. Have a warm bath or shower. Go out for a walk, stretch out the areas which feel restrictive. So classic examples are hip flexors, lower and mid back, calves and ankles. Based on how well you recovered after your long runs/exercise in training, it may be worth taking the Monday or work to be able to focus fully on your recovery.

Keep eating. Your body has just lost a lot of energy and wants it back. You have earned it. Your immune system is low, so it’s important to keep up the food intake. Don’t reduce the carb intake just because you’re done. Your body needs to refuel and rebuild cells in the days after the marathon. Eat plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Make sure to take in a good amounts of protein, from meat, fish, dairy products, beans, soy or legumes. This will help repair broken down muscle fibres.

Midway through the week you should be feeling better. If you’re not injured, make sure to go for a run. Just 15-30 min, light and easy pace. You can even walk a bit in intervals. All your joints and tendons are used to months of impact, and if you suddenly stop they are going to strain or even sometimes break down. This can lead to tendon and joint based injuries. Therefore you want to keep moving. You don’t just have to run. You can cross train, with cycling, swimming, fitness classes, etc. Do something that you will enjoy. The day after my marathon, I went for a swim and sat in the jacuzzi and sauna. If you’re injured, come in a see us, as this needs to be address.

But remember to relax and get enough sleep, as this is key to recovery and makes you less prone to injury or illness. Even take a couple of 20 minute naps.

The weeks after

Just to confirm, brag rights lasts for months afterwards, no matter what anyone says. Keep showing of a stay proud of your accomplishment. Try to keep some form of training. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t have to be running. Find something you enjoy and keep going.
Keep eating well. It’s easy when you stop to eat unhealthily. But I see a marathon training as a great starting point for a more balance life, with some healthier food choices mixed with physical activity. It’s even ok to gain a few healthy pounds.
Once again, well done and congrats on an amazing achievement.

We have more marathon related tips here.