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Post-Race Fuel: What to Eat After a Marathon

Amanda Wendorff

After you finish your marathon race, celebrate a little, and catch your breath, you should immediately start making your next decision: what to eat. Racing a marathon is a major accomplishment and a big effort. Your body will need some time to recover post-run, and the best way to start that recovery process is to get food into your system as quickly as possible.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What to eat after running a marathon
  • The benefits of eating after a marathon
  • How much to drink after running a marathon
  • What you shouldn't eat immediately after a marathon
MOTTIV app user Chris Bumstead right after completing a race, contemplating what post-race food he plans to eat!

Carbohydrates vs. Protein vs. Fat

In the hours after a marathon, starting as soon as you cross the finish line, you should eat a balanced variety of foods to kick-start recovery.

But before we discuss what you should eat after a run, let's examine the roles and recovery benefits of each of the macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.


Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for runners in higher-intensity races like marathons. When you eat carbs, they are stored as blood glucose (blood sugar) or glycogen in the muscles and liver.

While racing 26.2 miles, your blood sugar and muscle glycogen stores will gradually be depleted as the body relies on carbohydrates for energy. Eating carbohydrates in your post-run meal will allow glycogen resynthesis to replenish those stores. This will ensure the body has the energy to carry out daily living and, later, more exercise.


The primary role of protein, generally, is to build and repair body tissues.

Any time you run, especially in endurance races like a marathon, you will break down some muscle tissue, which leads to the muscle soreness you feel after hard training runs and races. Proteins are made up of amino acids, organic compounds essential in repairing muscle damage and promoting the growth of new muscle tissue. Thus, eating protein after a marathon race is essential to kick-start muscle recovery and repair.


Although fats can be a fuel source for runners, in a relatively high-intensity race like a marathon, your body will likely rely more on readily available carbohydrates. While you may deplete some fat stores, replacing them is not essential immediately after a marathon.

Fats are still very important for runners, as they play many roles in keeping athletes healthy and performing at their best. Healthy fats (like avocado) can help reduce inflammation, support the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins, ensure hormonal balance, and provide long-lasting energy.

Why You Need to Eat After a Marathon

You should start thinking about your recovery nutrition as soon as you cross the line at the end of your marathon race. Try to eat calories, particularly foods that are high in carbohydrates and proteins, shortly after your race to start the process of immediately:

  • Replacing the glycogen stores that you burned through during the race
  • Repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue
  • Reducing inflammation

Research has shown that the body is primed to absorb carbohydrates immediately post-workout or race, even more so than at any other time. Many athletes and coaches refer to this time, the half hour or so after marathon training or racing, as a "recovery window." Eating carbohydrates and protein during this window will kick-start your post-marathon recovery.

As a bonus, consuming carbohydrates after your race or workout, when the body is best able to absorb them, will teach the body to store muscle glycogen more efficiently. This is very helpful for marathon runners.

Best Foods to Eat For Marathon Recovery

Post-race refueling generally is a two-part process. First, you should have a small amount of food shortly after crossing the finish line. Follow that up a bit later with a bigger, balanced meal.

What to Eat Immediately After the Race

In the days immediately after a marathon race, you likely won't have an appetite for much food. This is normal. When you're racing, blood will move towards the hardest-working muscles, like the legs, and away from the gut, which may lead to short-term nausea.

Small, easily digestible post-run snacks that contain carbohydrates and, ideally, a protein source are the best food options right after a race to jumpstart the body's recovery process.

Some good examples of post-race food include:

  • A pre-prepared protein shake or recovery drink, like Skratch Labs' Post Workout Recovery Drink Mix
  • Low-fat chocolate milk, which has a good combination of carbs and protein
  • A piece of fruit with nut butter
  • An energy bar like a Clif Bar
  • A bagel or any other food that is served at the finish line

In terms of quantities, an ideal recovery snack includes about 1.0 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram (or 0.45 to 0.68 grams for every pound) of body weight and 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram (or 0.54 to 0.91 grams per pound) of body weight. For most runners, that equals about:

  • 50 - 80 grams of carbohydrates; and
  • 15 - 25 grams of protein.

Remember, that's the ideal breakdown. Depending on how your gut is feeling and what is available at the finish line, it may be tough to get in a perfectly balanced recovery snack. Don't worry if that's the case - your biggest goal immediately after a race is to get some food in and start the recovery process. You'll have more opportunities to get additional nutrients once you've recovered a bit after your race.

What to Eat a Few Hours After the Race

Your stomach should be ready for a larger, nutritionally balanced meal within an hour or two of finishing your marathon.

For this meal, the priority remains eating carbohydrates and protein while also introducing some healthy fats. Ideally, this meal should focus on nutrient-dense foods and have limited processed foods. Include plenty of whole foods that will aid in faster recovery, like:

  • Fruits and vegetables, like cherries, cantaloupe, and leafy greens, which are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to help the body repair itself.
  • Whole food sources of protein, like grilled chicken or lean beef.
  • Whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
  • Healthy fats, like avocados or fatty fish like salmon, which is packed with omega-3 fatty acids.

Remember, also, that completing a marathon is a major accomplishment! There's nothing wrong with celebrating with a big meal of some of your favorite foods after your race. Balance is important in all aspects of athletic performance, including diet. So go ahead and meet your run buddies for a big post-race brunch or dinner!

Here are a few good post-race meals to consider:

  • Eggs and whole wheat toast with fruit and Greek yogurt
  • A bagel with nut butter and a glass of tart cherry juice
  • A nice, juicy cheeseburger and a salad

What to Drink After a Marathon

Just as important as eating the proper foods after a marathon is replenishing your fluids and electrolytes. Particularly in hot or humid conditions, you may sweat quite a bit during a marathon race and even be dehydrated at the finish. Your body needs liquid and electrolytes after a run in order to start replacing what was lost in sweat. Start gradually rehydrating as soon as you can by drinking water with electrolytes, like NUUN, or a sports drink like Gatorade.

The amount you should drink after completing the marathon race depends on how well-hydrated you were before the race and how much you sweated during the race. Every runner's sweat rate is individual and varies according to the conditions, so there's no specific number of fluids to drink after a run. A runner with a heavy sweat rate could easily lose over six liters (203 ounces) of fluids during a marathon, while others may lose less than 40 ounces through sweat on a cool day.

To ensure you're effectively rehydrating yourself after the marathon, pay attention to your thirst and how you feel. If you've got a headache or feel lightheaded and lethargic, that may indicate dehydration. Have a bit more of an electrolyte drink! Also, keep an eye on your urine output. Clear or pale urine generally indicates good hydration. If your urine is darker yellow, or if you cannot urinate in the couple hours after a marathon, you're likely dehydrated and should take in some more fluids.

What to Avoid Eating or Drinking After Running a Marathon

While there are many good choices of food and drinks after a marathon, you should avoid foods that may slow the recovery process, disagree with your system, or cause more inflammation. Some foods to be cautious with after a marathon include:

  • Overly processed or high-sugar foods, like soda, candy, or french fries, are generally of low nutritional value and might cause a quick blood sugar spike. A blood sugar crash will likely follow soon.
  • Extra spicy or acidic foods, which are likely to cause GI distress so soon after a hard running race.
  • Alcohol, which can dehydrate you, trigger an inflammatory response in the body, and delay recovery.
  • Extra large portions, which can hinder digestion and cause bloating.


If you're like many runners, it won't take long after crossing the finish line at a marathon to start thinking about your next athletic venture. It's important to approach your post-race fueling strategically so that your body can begin the marathon recovery process quickly. The better your post-race recovery, the sooner you can return to running!

In this article, you've learned:

  • The roles and recovery benefits of carbohydrates, protein, and fat
  • Why it's important to eat the right foods shortly after finishing a marathon
  • The best foods to eat after a marathon, and how much you should consume
  • The best ways to rehydrate after a marathon
  • Foods and drinks to avoid after a marathon

Any time you cross a finish line, you should be very proud of your accomplishment. Grabbing some of your favorite foods and having a balanced post-race meal is the perfect way to celebrate and help your body prepare for the next one!

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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