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Prep for Race Day (Part IV): Post-race Recovery

Congratulations on finishing your race! Be it a marathon, triathlon or more there are simple yet crucial tips that will help your health and recovery. Read on for all our post-race tips.

In this blog post we'll cover:

- cooling down

- hydration

- replacing electrolytes

- eating for recovery

- sleep

- massage / stretching

- return to running and exercise

Book your Marathon Recovery Session here - from sports massage to injury diagnosis and rehab, let our physios do the hard work after you've done yours!

1. Cooling down

Straight after the race and regularly over the next few days, take five to 10 minutes to do the yoga pose “Legs up on the wall” or Viparita Karani. It refreshes circulation, gently stretches the legs, and is a great way to internally celebrate your race (especially when wearing your medal). Add a few ankle pumps at the top to get your calf muscles going, which will help in draining blood away from your sore feet and calves!.

2. Hydration

Soaked vest, crusty face, dry mouth. All symptoms of a hard race and all signs that you are likely dehydrated. Relying on your bodies thirst alone may not be the best indicator. Even after swigging your thirst away your body will often still be someway off optimal hydration. Your mental and physical battle to get through the next few days is going to be a lot harder. Scientist have continuously shown evidence that a small reduction in your bodies hydration levels will equal MORE fatigue, makes you cranky and may be bad for muscle recovery.

Hydration tips:

Weigh yourself before and after the race. If you have lost 2kg then it is pretty much all water. You need to replenish that 2kg in water. 1kg = 1 litre of water.

Without weighing yourself - drink at a moderate pace, somewhat past your desire for water and continue sipping for 1-2 hours. Finally, and most importantly check your wee until it runs clear at least one occasion.

So... does beer actually help recover?

It contains powerful antioxidant phenols: a recent study showed runners who were given (non-alcoholic) beer for three weeks before the Munich Marathon suffered less inflammation afterwards than a placebo group. Make sure you reach for the non-alcoholic ones as alcohol actually hinders recover (see our Sleep section)!

3. Replace electrolytes

Every runner has heard of electrolytes, with sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium being the main 4. They are minerals found in our bodies that are essential for cellular function. These levels can be disrupted due to long bouts of endurance exercise, heavy sweating, excess consumption of water, certain medical conditions, and poor nutrition. Muscle cramping is a common problem in endurance athletes and many may suffer from this in their day-to-day lives. Although there are many reasons for this, electrolyte balance may be a problem.

Luckily the solution is very simple and does not involve purchasing an endless supply of high sugar sports drinks. Post-race, ensuring we eat nutrient-dense foods is key. It is important to note that you shouldn’t target one specific mineral as it is the balance between ALL the minerals in your body that we have to maintain. Eating a diet that varied, colourful and fresh should give you plenty of vitamins and minerals.

4. Eating for recovery

The food we eat is the fuel to our body and after a gruelling 26.2 miles our tanks are pretty empty. So ensuring you eat well post-race is really important. Although we hope you’re up and running (literally) in no time, it is important to note there are certain symptoms that may take up to 3 weeks to recover from. These include cellular damage, oxidative stress, muscle soreness and fatigue, and suppression of the immune system. It highlights the fact that you have to maintain a good level of discipline for more than a few days, and it has to continue even if you feel fine.

The first thing to understand is that there is no miracle food that will drastically help with healing / recovery. There are many foods which have higher concentrations of nutrients which prove to be more helpful than other, but no one food alone does all the work. The human body is resilient and can ensure many things (including running marathons). It is really good at healing itself, but the best thing you can do is create a better environment for that healing to occur. You can also avoid doing things that create a negative environment which slows down this healing phase.

Nutrition tips:

Immediately after running the marathon, replace depleted muscle glycogen by consuming carbohydrate-packed foods such as bananas, raisins, granola bars, energy bars, bagels and pita bread.

Have a few treats in the coming days - you deserve it! But don't overindulge - the aim is to try to return to ‘normality’ as swiftly as possible.

A important component of recovery is consuming protein for muscle repair. Protein can be found in meat, dairy, fish, or other sources. (Vegetarians: Think beans, legumes, and soy). For optimal recovery, consume carbs and protein in an approximate 4:1 ratio. This means about 4 g of carbohydrates for every 1 g of protein.

5. Massage / Stretching

Massage and deep tissue work releases waste products at the cellular level and may even leave you slightly sore; hence we recommend thinking of sports massage sessions as a type of workout. This way you can schedule them more strategically.

In fact, we don’t recommend getting a massage the day after your marathon. There's a substantial amount of muscular damage after a race like this, including inflammation, and your body needs to heal itself for the first 48 hours. 3 to 5 days after your marathon is about the right time to schedule your first sports massage - once your body has dealt with the initial symptoms of post-marathon soreness and muscle damage.

Make sure you tell your massage therapist about any specific painful areas which may be more than just muscle soreness so they can do an injury screen before the session. It’s important to differentiate between muscle soreness and injury - as you may require a visit to your Physiotherapist or a qualified healthcare professional for the latter. For the Londoners out here - don’t hesitate to book a Sports Massage session with us, as you’ll benefit from our physiotherapy and medical knowledge to help you recover quickly and safely.

With regards to stretching, keep to some gentle, dynamic stretches, and best to do them after a warm-up or light workout. Dynamic stretching involves going in and out of the stretch gently, using movement to explore the full range of a muscle (rather than holding the position, which is cold static stretching). Avoid stretching “cold" before a workout. Your soft tissues will be tight after a marathon and you want to avoid extra stress in the next days after the race.

6. Sleep

Using sleep as your recovery tool is going to be a lot more important than you think. After a gruelling marathon, there is likely to be significant muscle cell damage and strain on the whole musculoskeletal system. That isn’t there to scare you, but just highlight the importance of taking care post-race to obtain a swift recovery.

For cell growth and repair, optimal conditions occur within our deep sleep phase. People may refer to this as ‘slow-wave’ sleep, or non-REM sleep. This is the period of sleep where our heartbeat and breathing slow down and our body temperature drops. Our muscles are very relaxed in this phase, it’s harder to wake someone up and you’ll feel extremely groggy if that does happen.

If we get reduced sleep duration then we risk increasing the inability of our body to fully grow and repair our cells. 7-9 hours of sleep is still the current recommendations for daily sleep, however, for the following days or week after an endurance event it is normal for this time to increase to 9 or 10 hours a night. The key factor is to listen to your body as it will be giving you signs that you probably should get to bed earlier, and knowing that if you’re sleeping more for a few days then that’s absolutely normal. Age, running history, fitness and medical history are just some of the factors that determine exactly how much sleep you need post-race, and everyone is individual. Whatever you do, make sure you understand that sleep IS a priority and you give your body what it deserves.

Sleeping tips:

Avoid high levels of alcohol in the coming week. Acting as a diuretic, it can contribute to dehydration which we mentioned above as something we want to avoid. Also, it can negatively affect our quality and quantity of deep sleep. Your urinary frequency will also increase, meaning more disrupted sleep going to the loo!

Take a nice warm bath/shower before bed to get your body relaxed. Make sure your phone is put away and not the last thing you see before you close your eyes. Now spend some time to either sit on the bed or floor, and relax and concentrate on your breathing. You may already know how to conduct some breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, or even perform some gentle yoga positions. Having this short ‘downtime’ helps calm the body down from a busy day and prepare it for sleep.

A 20-40 minute nap during the day in the coming week is not such a bad idea. It can help you feel refreshed and help you move better during the day. Make sure the nap doesn’t turn into a few hours, as it will negatively impact your night sleep!

7. Return to exercise and injury prevention

Give yourself a (relative) break

It might be tempting to avoid any type of exercise at all in the week after your marathon, but light activity will increase your blood circulation, which will help flush out metabolic waste and get oxygen and nutrients flowing to your muscles again. On the other hand, we see a lot of runners getting back to training too soon after a marathon. Your body has been through a tough season of training and 26.2 miles on the road. The safest way to recover is to use the time after your marathon to prioritise light work out and cross training.

Unless you have another race booked in shortly after, here’s a simple plan for you to follow over the next month. This will vary depending on many factors including your previous training, any injuries you may have and your personal fitness goals, so don't hesitate to contact us for more tailored guidance.

Week 1: Rest and cross train

Invest the first week in short, light effort, low-impact cross-training activities that will boost circulation, warm your muscles and aid in the healing journey. Walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, or pilates are all good examples of cross training activities. If all feels well later in that week, you can go out for a short, easy-effort run of 20 to 30 minutes.

Week 2: Get back to short and easy running

If legs are still sore, keep cross training for now. At this point you may want to seek advice from your Physiotherapist or a qualified healthcare professional if you feel like you may have picked up an injury. If things are feeling good however, you can start getting back to your normal running frequency, but keep the effort easy and the distance around 50 to 75% for another week.

Week 3: Transition into pre-marathon distance and intensity.

If you’ve been feeling good throughout Week 2, you can start to ease back into your normal running distances and intensity.

Week 4: Return to regular training

You can now return to your previous running routine. Remember to warm up properly using dynamic stretches and activation exercises for key muscles groups such as glutes, hamstrings and calves before your run. Don’t hesitate to get in contact with us for a tailored warm-up routine.

If you feel like you’ve picked up an injury during your race, don’t wait too long before you seek medical advice.

Londoners - we have dedicated (and discounted) slots for London Marathon runners at our Physiotherapy clinic, don’t hesitate to book on our website or contact us at so we can help!

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