- How marathons affect bodies
- How much time do you need to recover?
- What to eat during recovery
- Post-week calendar for every athlete
- How to monitor your recovery
- Can athletes take an extended break?
Your Post-Race Calendar And Resources
You just crossed the finish line, and you’re celebrating after a grueling marathon. Now, you might be wondering what your next steps would be…
The next step is to craft or follow a post-recovery plan that can help you rebound and start anew. Hold your thoughts about your next races for a while, and allow your body to recover fully. Rest and recovery are just as important as medals and finish lines—or all your athletic achievements combined. After all, you won’t achieve all of them if you don’t have a sound body and mind.
On this page, we’ll help you realize the importance of rest and recovery to athletes, especially triathletes and marathon runners, and assign the best post-recovery plan and strategies for you—depending on your skill level, fitness level, body condition, and athletic goals.
How Marathons Affect Bodies
Marathons are not like exercise sessions you can do every day. Marathons challenge your body—every physiological system inside you. Sometimes, marathon and grueling resistance workouts also temporarily damage muscles, tendons, and ligaments to make them stronger and promote muscle growth—this is called exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD).
Therefore, time off and a proper nutrition plan are necessary to ensure that these temporary damages won’t ruin your body and instead, improve your overall physical health.
“EIMD is characterized by symptoms that present both immediately and for up to 14 days after the initial exercise bout. The main consequence of EIMD for the athlete is the loss of skeletal muscle function and soreness. As such, numerous nutrients and functional foods have been examined for their potential to ameliorate the effects of EIMD and accelerate recovery,” emphasized a study published in the US Library of Medicine.
How Much Time Do You Need to Recover?
A post-recovery plan varies depending on the demands of the marathon or the activity. But as a general rule of thumb, athletes or regular marathoners need at least two weeks to recover fully. The first week could be a full-week rest, but you can incorporate light activities in the second week.
Of course, the actual duration of recovery varies per runner. We all have different experiences in every marathon. Some suffer an injury or serious EIMD, while others emerge as good as new or just a little tired. The best way to determine the duration of your recovery is to follow the standard duration and listen to your body.
What to Eat During Recovery
You need the right nutritional plan to replenish your post-marathon electrolytes and other physiological resources. After a marathon, refuel your body with lots of carbohydrates and proteins and a good amount of fiber.
Carbohydrates are the main energy sources for the body, so they should take up a considerable portion of your nutritional requirements post-race. Protein is for muscle repair and growth, so an increase in intake post-race is also important. Fiber, meanwhile, can help you achieve a healthy weight, a better bowel movement, and healthier blood sugar and cholesterol levels after the race.
Some of the best post-race food recommended by experts are eggs, dark chocolates, milk chocolate, greek yogurt, oatmeal, and potatoes. But of course, there are plenty of options available in the market. You should consider your fitness level, nutritional requirements, and preferences when planning a nutritional plan and picking your post-race food.
To know more about what to eat before, during, and after a race, head to our dedicated page, ‘What To Eat For Triathlons and Long Runs’. If you’re an athlete with food preferences, then this page covering the best vegan and non-vegan food options for triathletes is the best resource for you.
The Best Post-Recovery Calendar for Every Athlete
The standard two-week off after completing your marathon, especially if it’s a half-marathon or ultramarathon, should be followed with no questions asked. Don’t participate in another marathon or incorporate heavy training sessions into your routine within two weeks to promote full recovery and avoid further injuries.
As the recovery duration varies depending on the individual’s condition, the post-recovery plan also varies depending on the athletic skill or level of the athlete. You’ll need various recovery strategies that can help you rebound.
“The use of recovery strategies seems to be required to overcome the demands of, for example, a half-marathon- or a marathon-type exertion, to increase the athlete’s well-being and allow them to return to normal training as quickly as possible without increased risk of injury or illness,” said a study about recovery strategies published in the US National Library of Medicine.
Your complete post-week recovery plan or calendar should depend on your athletic skill, fitness level, and condition after the marathon. For reference, here’s a standard post-recovery program for novice, intermediate, and advanced athletes.
Post-Recovery Plan for Novice Athletes
Novice athletes should begin their recovery plan as soon as they finish the race. They need to prioritize immediate recovery to move on to new races and further improve their athletic skills and fitness level.
Immediately after the race, cool down while standing up. Avoid sitting down right after you cross the finish line, as it can affect muscle recovery. Instead, eat your post-recovery snacks and refuel while standing up.
When you make it back to your home or hotel, take a cold bath to promote healing and prepare your lunch or dinner packed with carbohydrates and proteins. You can also do your preferred personal rituals to make yourself comfortable. Then, get a good night’s sleep.
The post-recovery plan begins the day after, and here’s a calendar of activities you can follow:
Do nothing aside from getting back the calories and electrolytes you lost and putting your body at rest for the first few days. Make sure you get enough sleep during the day and at night. To experience maximum comfort and treat yourself at the same time, you can schedule a full-body massage.
During the weekends, you can try very light exercises, such as walking and running. If your muscles object to these kinds of exercises, skip them and reschedule all physical activities next week.
Begin incorporating light exercise sessions into your routine. You can start running, swimming, and cycling. Test your muscles if you can already do some regular workout sessions. Watch out for extended muscle soreness while doing these exercises.
If you don’t have any injuries or serious EIMD, then you’re nearly experiencing complete recovery. You can return to your regular routines and training sessions as soon as you can if you plan on competing in new races. As you can physically do light to moderate activities by this week, maintain the same high-carbohydrate diet you followed during your marathon training.
Consider returning to rigorous training if you wish to compete as soon as possible. If you want to fully recover since you’re still a novice athlete, you can incorporate light, moderate, and heavy exercises into your routine to maintain your fitness levels until you’re ready to compete again.
Post-Week Recovery Plan for Intermediate Athletes
Intermediate athletes have different goals compared to novice athletes. For one, most of them want to go advanced or professional. They immediately prioritize training after recovery to achieve their goals.
If you’re an intermediate athlete, remember that it’s still important to fully recover after crossing the finish line and the day after. If you’ve competed in a half or full marathon, extend your zero-activity days in the first week. You’ll want your body to fully recover before you move on to your new goals.
The post-recovery plan begins the day after, and here’s a calendar of activities you can follow:
Set aside your goals and eagerness to compete for a while and do nothing on the first few days. Prioritize eating carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals and sleeping at least 8 hours a day. Continue a high-carb diet for the whole week; then, you can tweak your nutritional plan before training.
During the weekends, you can try some light physical activities that won’t hurt your muscles. If you have injuries from your previous race, reschedule all physical activities next week.
As an intermediate athlete, you may think it’s time to train seriously again for the second week. Unfortunately, recovery should still be your priority in the second week. However, if you want to get moving, you can incorporate half-hour running or light workouts into your routine two to three times a week.
You may take four weeks to recover completely if you recently competed in a half or full marathon or if you have injuries and serious EIMD. It’s best to follow the week 1 and 2 programs if that’s the case. However, if you feel like your body has recovered completely, then your recovery period is almost done at this point, and you can start training again on the 6th or 7th day.
Return to moderate to heavy training if you wish to compete again. If you need a program to follow, return to the same mid-week training program you have when training for a race. Keep the workout easy, though. Consider returning to rigorous training on the 6th or 7th day, but listen to your body before doing so.
Post-Week Recovery Plan for Advanced Athletes
Advanced or elite athletes, of course, follow advanced programs and various post-recovery strategies to maintain their athletic skill and fitness level and expedite recovery. Most advanced and elite athletes have fully-booked months dedicated to their goals.
If you’re an elite or advanced athlete who hasn’t found the best and most appropriate post-recovery strategies yet, you may try various strategies after every marathon and conduct a trial-and-error experiment.
The post-recovery plan begins the day after the race, and here’s a calendar of activities you can follow:
As an advanced athlete, you may have competed in a half or ultramarathon that required you to run, swim, or cycle for miles. With that, you need to fully recover while doing nothing for three to five days. Eat a high-carb diet with proteins and fiber on the side, and drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich drinks.
At night, prioritize sleeping and resting. See if your post-race body condition affects your sleeping patterns. If yes, you might want to try some common solutions to fix sleeping problems, such as drinking tea, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and reducing blue-light exposure.
You can try gentle movements and light cross-training in the second week if you don’t have injuries or severe muscle pains. To promote muscle healing, you can try a 30-minute walk or restorative activities like restorative yoga, full-body massage, or leisure biking.
If all your muscular soreness and tightness have subsided, then you can do more recovery runs and start regular cross-training. You can also plan your training for week 4 and 5. The goal in week 3 is to maintain your fitness level while allowing your muscles to recover.
In week 4, you can already try low-intensity strength training, regular cross-training, and routine runs. Week 4 is also an excellent time to get back to working out, so take advantage of your gym membership if you have one. Begin establishing your foundational strength for your next race.
How to Monitor Your Recovery
Aside from religiously following various post-recovery strategies and nutritional plans after the race, it’s also important to regularly measure your recovery progress. This step can help you gauge your overall physical health and the readiness of your body to try on physical activities of varying levels.
You can monitor your recovery and overall health condition after a race through the following methods:
- Check your heart rate recovery (HRR) immediately after the race and during the post-recovery week
- Monitor your weight to track the calories you burned and gained
- Observe your sleeping patterns and the actual quality of your sleep
- Monitor your blood pressure
- Assess your energy level in accomplishing daily tasks
Do Prolong Breaks Impact Fitness?
The short answer is no. More time off won’t negatively impact your fitness or athletic goals. You can take as much break as you want before competing again in another race or following a training plan. Time won’t be wasted as long as you follow a healthy balanced diet and you’re prepared to bounce back through training. So, if you feel like you need more weeks to recover and rest, feel free to do so and don’t feel guilty about it.
Each athlete has different goals in life. The number of marathons you can finish in a lifetime won’t define your overall success as an athlete. As such, remember that rest and recovery is just as important as completing a race. Prioritize your body’s recovery before you force your mind to reach more of your athletic goals.
Our proposed post-recovery program listed on this page is a good recommendation for athletes who don’t have post-recovery plans yet. You can follow it or incorporate it into your current post-recovery plan. Alternatively, you can extend your post-recovery program for another week if you feel like you need to. Determine your goals before you decide to extend your recovery plan or compete in another race again. And lastly, always listen to your body.