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What should you eat or drink after a marathon?

Don't worry... your post-marathon beer made the cut

Well, you did it–you endured endless hours of training and preparation and completed 42.2 km to the best of your ability, and now it’s time to celebrate. After crossing the finish line, there is a lot of temptation to rest or celebrate with a few alcoholic beverages and treats, but consuming the right nutrients after a marathon will go a long way in helping you to feel less sore in the days after.

Nick Butter celebrates at the finish line of the Athens Marathon—his 196th in less than two years. Photo: Nick Butter

Emma Stevenson,  professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Newcastle in the U.K., states that runners should try to consume 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates within an hour of finishing the marathon, in either food or drink.

Consuming foods high in carbohydrates is necessary to restore your muscles and liver glycogen. What prolonged exercise does is deplete your glycogen stores. Therefore, when you finish a marathon there is a 30- to 60-minute window when the muscle is primed to take in the carbohydrates you consume and store them for recovery. 

It’s better to choose sources of carbohydrates that can be digested immediately to maximize muscle restoration, such as sports drinks, cereal bars, bananas or a bagel. Other good sources of carbohydrates are pasta, rice and bread for three to four hours after the race, helping replenish carbohydrate stores long term.

If you are unable to grab a sandwich or snack after you finish, set aside food to have after the race beforehand. This tip can be handy if you are travelling for a marathon.  

If you were to dabble in some post-run beverages, beer does contain carbohydrates and polyphenols (an antioxidant), which help aid recovery. The issue with beer is the alcohol, which may rob your body of essential nutrients and derail your metabolism. One or two beers can be beneficial toward recovery, but five or six could make more than your muscles sore. 

Although non-alcoholic beer doesn’t have the same thrills, it can be a great alternative for post-run hydration. There’s a way you can make beer more nutritious–by sprinkling in a little salt to replace the nutrients you sweat out. This trick may make your beer less enjoyable, which sort of defeats the purpose of a post-run celebration beverage.