What your body needs for marathon training

20 April 2017 by
First published: 23 March 2016

Recovery is incredibly important when it comes to marathon training and has to be factored in when planning your training cycle. Put simply: if you don’t allow adequate recovery then you will drastically reduce your output and rapidly increase the risk of overtraining – leading to injuries. It’s so important to know what your body really needs when you’re marathon training.

Recovery involves more than just muscle repair alone. In fact, we have different systems that all need to recover – hormonal, neurological, and structural. Our structural system includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Muscles recover the quickest because they receive a direct flow of blood to them. But tendons, bones and ligaments don’t have this direct blood flow supply and this massively impacts their recovery potential, making them more susceptible to overtraining stress.

There are certain ways to identify whether you might be ‘overtraining’, Some signs are: increased stress levels, having trouble sleeping, becoming irritable or anxious, niggling aches and pains and a drop off in the quality of your training/running. If this is the case, reduce your training frequency and make sure you have the following recovery strategies in place.

Sleep more

This is the most important time to recover. Having enough sleep will help balance your hormones and aid muscle recovery, too. Optimal sleep for the average person is anything over eight hours per night, so try and make that your target.

Try DIY massage

Try and perform your own sport’s recovery massage with a foam roller as frequently as possible. This will improve your circulation and range of motion, reduce stress hormone levels, and boost serotonin and endorphin levels (painkillers and mood regulators), which will reduce the risk of overtraining.

Have a rest day

Recovery is a must when planning your training cycle. Not allowing enough rest will lead to ‘overtraining syndrome’, which occurs when you train your body too hard and beyond it’s means of recovery. Rest days allow your muscles, bones, nerves and connective tissue time to re-build, recover and be ready to go again when required.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is also vital. It sounds simple, but an adequate amount of water is critical to health, energy levels, recovery, and overall performance. Studies have shown that when you’re even just slightly dehydrated your performance is impaired.

Balance electrolytes

During exercise the body’s electrolytes balance can begin to shift. As we lose electrolytes through sweat, this imbalance can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue and mental confusion, which all lead to a drop in performance.

Sports drinks are one option to replace these lost electrolytes, however a lot of them are packed with artificial sweeteners and are high in sugar. Instead you could try: coconut water, which naturally contains five essential electrolytes, plus more potassium than a banana. With no added sugar and no fat, it’s the most natural way to rehydrate and replenish lost nutrients. Also Himalayan salt, which
is packed with trace elements and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium and iron, is a good option.

Refuel properly

Carbohydrates and protein are both critically important for recovery. Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source, and are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. After heavy training, the body’s carb stores can become depleted, as it can only store a certain amount, so they will then need to be replaced before your next training session.

Protein is important for the growth and repair of muscle tissue, and as strenuous training depletes the body’s stores, it’s vital you take on some form of protein straight after training. This will help reduce the offset of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and help the recovery process.

Some of the best things to eat after a heavy training session include:


A mixture of fruits can help with recovery, as they are high in carbohydrates and contain enzymes to help your body break down nutrients. This means they can be delivered to your fatigued muscles. Blueberries and pineapple are great choices, as they are full of micronutrients and have anti-inflammatory benefits.

Almonds and Brazil nuts

Nuts can help repair damaged tissue, and eating a variety of fats from whole sources has a protective effect on the body. Almonds are a great omega-6 fat source that helps with aiding recuperation from intense exercise.

High quality protein sources

This can include: free-range eggs, salmon, turkey and chicken. You can also supplement these with a protein shake directly after your workouts.

Good quality carbohydrates

Try wholegrain pasta, rice, pitta bread, as well as grains like quinoa and couscous.