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Post Race Recovery and How to Prevent “Marathon Flu”

Posted on: May 3rd, 2023 by Dan Sivertson

Spring and early summer are the main road racing season in the lower mainland. Yahoo! 

Hopefully you have signed up for a big event or two; if not, it is not too late!  We talk and read a lot about what to do in our training to prepare for a big event like a 10 km, half marathon, or marathon.  It is less often we talk about what to do right after the race and in the subsequent weeks. 

Post Marathon Recovery
Physio Andrea at the end (!) of a 50 km race.

Regardless of your finishing time, there is no doubt you will have caused muscular damage.  If you have ever tried to walk down the stairs the day after a marathon, and almost fallen flat on your face, you probably know what we are talking about! 

Below you will find out what you should consider post-race in terms of: 

  • Nutrition 
  • Re- hydration 
  • Movement 
  • Immune system function 
  • Returning to training 

(*there are people with PhD’s on each of these topics so beware that this just scratches the surface!) 

Below is our recipe for your recovery plan.

Food … Yum Yum 

In the race you may have had a lot of carbohydrates (e.g. gels, sugary drinks) and are pretty sick of them. That said, your muscles and liver are going to be very depleted of glycogen, which is the carbohydrate stored in your body to keep your engine running.  So get a carb rich snack as soon as you can. Think post race muffins, bagels, bananas, humus and pita, or a  PB and jam sandwich. 

You need to start rebuilding the damaged muscles as soon as you can. Muscles are made of protein, so that is what you need. Experts recommend that you get about 20 g of protein within 2 hours of your race finish.  Try to get your hands on a cup of probiotic rich greek yogurt with granola (30 g protein), a lean meat sandwich (e.g turkey) or a  protein shake (1 scoop = 30 g protein).  Once the above nutrients are on board, then go for your big indulgent meal with friends or family. Think nachos or a burger!!! It’s time to celebrate


You will possibly be dehydrated, particularly if it is a warm day.  Your urine should be lemonade colour as soon as possible; so drinking some of your carbs in the form of chocolate milk, soy milk or (another) carb-based drink will quickly help. 

It is not uncommon for those big kids (over 19) to indulge a little bit in other drinks to celebrate. That’s all good, but just remember, your tolerance will be way down and alcohol is a diuretic meaning you will lose more fluid. If you drink alcohol, keep it very mellow! 

Immune System Function 

What you may not know is that new research has shown that you will very likely experience an “open window” of immune dysfunction.  This window is where your immune system is weakened for a brief period (3- 72 hours), leaving you more prone to getting sick. 

 In the running world some people call this the marathon flu, as it is so common to get a sore throat or a cold after a race. Interestingly, carbs are also the main fuel for your immune system to recover, and chomping or drinking carbs will likely help your immune system recover.  Some research has shown that probiotics 30 days prior to a marathon can help the immune system also. Speak to a dietician if you need some advice on this aspect of your training and recovery. 

Recovery Movement the Day of ….and the Month After 

The worst thing you can do is sit down in the moments after the race, unless you absolutely need to.  The muscles will tighten up and you may need to ask a new friend to pull you  up ! So keep moving. Later in the day, after your big lunch, see if you can go out for a short stroll . It will really help for the next day. 

People often ask, “How long until I can train hard again?” 

The simple answer is to take as many days off hard running or long running as miles you raced. So take it really easy for at least 13 days if you ran the 13 miles of a half and 26 days if you survived a full marathon.  We call this relative rest; meaning relative to your pre – race program it is “rest”, but you are not doing a sloth impression. 

Non-running exercise over the first post -race week is probably best. This is a good time to do some easy cycling, a light swim, or hop on the elliptical at the gym. 

So to summarize, the steps to recovery are food, fluid, movement and relative rest.  Most of all, have fun and celebrate your accomplishment! 

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