If you’ve run a long-distance event before, you’ll know that once the elation of crossing the finish line is over, the aftermath can be a little painful. Delayed onset muscle soreness, coupled with low energy and hydration levels and a depleted immune system, can lead to a pretty painful week post-marathon.
However, with good nutrition, massage therapy, targeted stretching and some quality rest, you can jump-start your recovery and get back to action in no time.
As intense exercise can have a suppressant effect on appetite and, as such, many runners struggle to stomach food after a race. However, refuelling after a long-distance event is crucial to replacing lost fluids, boosting energy, repairing muscles and nourishing the body.
Exercise nutritionist Karen Reid advises a three-stage recovery strategy in the hours following a race. “A three-stage recovery will suppress your stress hormones, put your body back into storage mode and reconfigure you brain,” says Karen. Karen advises a sports drink or fruit juice in the first 30 minutes after a race to rehydrate, followed by flavoured milk between 30-90 minutes after you finish to boost protein, calcium and magnesium. Karen then suggests a protein and carbohydrate-fuelled snack two hours after the race, such as a sandwich filled with peanut butter or oily fish.
In the days after the race, be sure to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables to bolster your immune system. Blackberries are a good choice. Their high levels of natural phenolic acids help kill viruses and fight inflections.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of rest in recovering from a race. A lack of sleep will compromise your immune system, which is already significantly depleted after running a marathon. A solid eight hours sleep will not only boost your defences, but is also crucial to muscle repair. According to Brett Sanders, corrective exercise specialist at Lifesmart, most muscle repair occurs between 10pm and 2am, so it’s worth getting to bed early.
While rest is important, it is also worth continuing to do light exercise in the days following your marathon, to keep your muscles moving and reduce muscle tightness. In the three days after a race, walking, stretching and swimming are good, low-resistance exercises to carry out to keep you feeling supple.
Stretching nourishes your muscles with oxygen and also removes lactic acid. A good stretching session with one hour of a marathon will help to reduce the muscle soreness felt in the days after the race. Plan a routine that covers as many parts of the body as possible, focusing on the calves, hamstrings, glutes and quads.
Another great way of reducing muscle stiffness is through a sport massage. Although at the end of the race many of us want to get home as soon as possible and jump in a hot shower, it’s worth taking advantage of the masseurs on hand on the day. This will help to immediately remove waste from the leg muscles. Then, in the two to three days following the race, when suffering from the dreaded DOMS, treat yourself to a sports massage.