There’s a lot of talk about pre-race nutrition. Well, that makes sense since you’ll spend between 12 and 20 weeks training. Making sure you have the right fuel in the tank for the big day is obvious. However, today we’ll be delving into the poorly covered post-race nutrition and recovery – what to eat after a half marathon.
The food you consume immediately after the half marathon plays a crucial role in reducing muscle soreness, recovery time, and repairing any in-race injuries during the first 72 hours after the race.
In this article we cover:
- Half marathon nutrition
- What to eat after a half marathon
- What to eat in the hours after a big race
- The best foods to eat after a half marathon
- Post-race meal ideas
What to Eat Before a Half Marathon
Is there anything you can do before your race to reduce the amount of time spent on recovery?
The best way to be proactive about recovery is to start incorporating good nutrition and fueling practices early with carbohydrates, protein, and a structured hydration strategy.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source.
Carbohydrates provide glycogen stores in your muscles and liver, which are the front lines of defense for aiding in recovery.Simply, carbohydrates are used for energy. After running a half marathon, your glycogen stores will be depleted which causes DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Before your half marathon, you should be consuming complex carbohydrates like:
- Bananas – 27g per serving
- Oats – 54g per serving
- Dried and fresh fruit like apricots and raisins – 23g per serving
- Sweet potatoes – 27g per serving
- Toast – 10g per serving
Proper hydration is vital for performance, recovery, and cellular function.
Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day and especially before, during, and after long runs.During longer training runs and during your half marathon, incorporate sports drinks or electrolyte supplements to replenish sodium and other essential electrolytes lost through sweat.
Protein supports muscle recovery.
Include a moderate amount of protein in your pre-race meals. It will aid in muscle repair and recovery after the event. Include lean sources of protein (high protein with low fat) like:
- Chicken – 38g per serving
- Salmon – 40g per serving
- Eggs – 6g per serving
- Tofu – 10g per serving
- Legumes – 8g per servingHigh performing athletes will consume anywhere over >1.2g of protein per kg of body weight per day. Meaning, a 150 lb athlete will be consuming 80-100g of protein per day.
Avoid experimenting with foods before your race.
Choose only familiar foods that you know work well for your digestive system – this may be challenging if you’re traveling internationally for a destination race. Do your best.
In the two to four hours before your big race – eat a little protein protein, simple carbs, and fluids. Good choices for race day breakfast include a combination of any of: toast, bagel, cereal, fruit, small amounts of peanut or almond butter, low-fat cheese, low-fat milk, or a fruit protein shake.
By fueling your body properly before a half marathon, you’ll give yourself the best chance of performing well as well as minimizing the time needed for recovery afterward.
Think about it this way, putting higher quality fuel into a car helps promote the health and longevity of your engine. The same is true for humans.
What To Eat After a Half Marathon
Now that we’ve discussed half marathon sports nutrition before the race, let’s chat about what happens after.
Your main goal after your race is to:
- Replenish glycogen stores
- Rebalance fluid and electrolyte levels
- Intake essential nutrients for muscle repair
To achieve these goals, we’ll go through how and when you should consume carbohydrates, proteins, anti-inflammatory foods with muscle recovery benefits, and hydration.
You can also use this as a guide for how to recover from your long runs with the least amount of muscle soreness.
Complex carbohydrates are needed to replenish glycogen stores in your muscles and liver.
Consume a carbohydrate snack as soon as possible after a race.
Continue eating mixed meals and snacks high in carbohydrates within 4 hours to ensure that the muscles continue to get glucose for glycogen replenishment.
Our Recommendation: Eat 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour for the first 4 hours after a half-marathon.
Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains (e.g., brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread), sweet potatoes, fruits, bananas, dried fruit, bagels, pasta, yogurts, cereal with low-fat milk, sports drinks, granola bars, french toast, sub sandwiches, baked potatoes, smoothies made with fruit, fruit juice, and frozen yogurt.
Fluids and Electrolytes
No matter how much Gatorade you smash into your mouth during your race, you will finish your half marathon in a fluid-depleted state.
Right after completing a half marathon, start replenishing lost fluids and electrolytes by consuming a sodium-containing beverage or water alongside sodium-rich foods.
Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost.
Hint: this will require weighing yourself before the half marathon. If you can’t or don’t remember to do this, it’s reported that during a full marathon runners will lose between 6-10 lbs. So, for a half marathon you can estimate between 3-5 lbs. So, between 48 oz and 120 oz of fluids.
To restore fluids, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein all at once, it can be beneficial to sip on commercial recovery drinks (like Gatorade), homemade smoothies, chocolate milk, or real foods (such as a banana and granola bar) alongside water.
Incorporating fruits and vegetables antioxidants and vitamins like Vitamin C and Vitamin A will also help accelerate the recovery process and support the immune system.
Watermelon, blueberries, cantaloupe, oranges, coconut water, avocados, veggies, and leafy greens are all rich in antioxidants.
Salted nuts can also provide sodium, protein, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory fats
Your muscles need amino acids to initiate the repair process after a half marathon.
To maximize protein absorption, eat 20 to 25 grams of protein every 3 hours post-race for the next 12 hours.
Research has shown that this is the ideal strategy for promoting efficient muscle recovery.
What does 20-25 grams of protein look like?
- 3.5 to 4 ounces of chicken breast, fish, or steak (about the size of a deck of cards),
- 6 to 7 ounces of tofu
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt
- 3 to 4 large eggs
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 1-2 scoops protein powder
Eat one of these foods every 3 hours in the 12 hours following your half marathon to meet your body’s protein needs.
Don’t Indulge Right Away
Once you have ticked the boxes for electrolytes, hydration, carbohydrates, and protein, enjoy a post-race treat!
While it might be tempting to indulge in fun foods (my personal favorite is pizza) immediately after the race, it’s better to focus on nutrient-dense foods first to support recovery. Give your body time for rehydration and refuel with nourishing foods before treating yourself to post-race indulgences.
How about Post-Race Beer?
There is nothing like cracking a cold one at the finish line to celebrate your achievement.
Beer contains water, carbs, sodium, and protein. All these can can all contribute to marathon recovery.
Beer can be enjoyed as part of your post-run recovery in combination with food and water and in moderation.
Beer is a diuretic, so a good rule of thumb is to match your beer serving with a serving of water to counteract its dehydrating effects.
Try sticking to light beer (below 5% ABV) or non-alcoholic beer if you’re going to enjoy a post-race beer.
What to Eat After A Half Marathon: 6 Hours After
Your main goals immediately after a race are to replenish muscle glycogen stores, rebalance fluid and electrolyte levels, and eat essential nutrients for muscle repair.
Carbs: Eat 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight per hour for the first 4 hours after a half-marathon
Fluids: Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost.
Protein: Eat 20 to 25 grams of protein every 3 hours
Electrolytes: Snack on salty foods, have a sports drink, eat antioxidant rich fruits.
Indulgences: Hold off for now if you can!
What to Eat After A Half Marathon: 12-24 Hours After
During this period, continue prioritizing nutrient-rich foods to support your body’s recovery process.
Carbs: Focus on whole foods and complex carbs. Have a balanced meal combining carbs with protein (ideas below).
Fluids: Continue to drink fluids. Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost.
Protein: Continue to eat 20 to 25 grams of protein every 3 hours for the 12-hours post-race. Have a balanced meal combining carbs with protein (ideas below).
Indulgences: Treat yourself to a post-race treat or beer now and not any earlier than 12 hours if you can.
What to Eat After A Half Marathon: 48 Hours After
In the following days after the race, your focus should still be on recovery and providing your body with essential nutrients. Follow general healthy eating patterns and healthy recipes.
The Best Foods to Eat After a Half Marathon
Why: Bananas are high in carbohydrates, potassium, and Vitamin C.
What: Sweet Potatoes
Why: Sweet potatoes are vegetables with highest complex carbohydrates per serving as well as a healthy amount of fiber.
What: Greek Yogurt
Why: Greek yogurt is easy to consume with fruit or nuts mixed in which is a great source of protein, calcium which supports bone growth and density, as well as and magnesium for muscle and nerve function.
Why: Salmon has as much protein as any lean meats as well as omega-3 fatty acids which is celebrated for it’s anti-inflammation effects on the body.
Why: Quinoa is an ancient grain that not only provides complex carbohydrates like any rice would – but it’s naturally high in protein and fiber.
Why: Spinach is nutrient dense with iron (for energy and internal body processes), calcium, and vitamins.
What: Tart cherry juice
Why: Somewhat new to the market, tart cherry juice has become popular for it’s antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce muscle soreness. We’ve found professional runners love Cheribundi.
Why: Eggs are high in protein and all nine amino acids.
Why: Oranges contain a dense amount of Vitamin C per serving and also function as a food that will hydrate you.
Post-Race Meal Ideas
The most effective approach to refueling post-workout is to combine carbs with protein in a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio.
This balanced combination aids in muscle repair, recovery, and glycogen resynthesis. All these post-run meals contain a source of complex carbohydrate and 20 grams of protein.
- Grilled Chicken Salad: Grilled chicken breast (3-4 ounces) over a bed of quinoa, mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Dress with a vinaigrette dressing.
- Whole Wheat Wrap with Turkey and Hummus: A whole wheat wrap filled with sliced turkey breast (3-4 ounces), hummus, spinach, and shredded carrots.
- Tofu Stir-Fry: Tofu cubes (6-7 ounces) stir-fried with broccoli, bell peppers, snap peas, and a teriyaki sauce. Serve over brown rice or noodles.
- Greek Yogurt Parfait: Greek yogurt (5.3-6 ounces) layered with mixed berries, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of granola for added crunch.
- Veggie Omelette: Two-egg omelette filled with sautéed spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, and feta cheese.
Frequently asked questions about what to eat after a half marathon
Your main goals immediately after a race are to replenish glycogen stores, rebalance fluid and electrolyte levels, and eat essential nutrients for muscle damage repair.
Bananas as they are rich in carbohydrates, potassium, and Vitamin C. Sweet Potatoes for their complex carbohydrates and fiber. Greek yogurt for their protein and calcium. Salmon for protein, omega-3 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory properties. Quinoa for protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates.
First and foremost – celebrate! If possible though, give your body time to rehydrate and refuel with nourishing foods before treating yourself to post-race indulgences.
Your goal should be to eat 20 to 25 grams of protein and 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight in your big meal after a marathon.
The best post-marathon foods are rich in carbohydrate, protein, antioxidants, fluids, and electrolytes.
The day before your race, eat 8 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of weight. Include carbohydrate-rich foods like bagels, pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread in your meals.
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