Marta Montenegro: What to Eat and What to Bring at the Finish Line

When you run, nothing stops you. We runners know this for sure!

I was sitting in a meeting planning a 5K when someone asked: But what if it rains? The organizer, who certainly has logged many miles, looked at me confused. Rain never has been an issue with us as die-hard runners.

So whether you’re getting ready to run a 10K in freezing temperatures or to run through the beautiful Miami weather this January (as the city gets ready to host one of the biggest race in Florida where people come from all over the place for the ING Miami Marathon), when you cross the finish line we share the same feelings: accomplishment, toughness, pain, aches, happiness and… food.

You may not be thinking about what type of food when you cross the finish line. In the end, you made it and people are usually more concerned about what to eat before the race, what to drink during the race and what to eat after the workout on those training days leading up to the race. Oftentimes, either because you achieved your goal, or you’re so excited or so in pain, you have forgotten about feeding your body the best way post-race.

Let’s look at the typical post-race options. Are they the best ones to replenish the energy lost and to nourish your body after such a great effort?

What will you find?

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, sports nutritionist and author of the new book Food Guide for Marathoners for Everyday Champions, says, “You don’t have to rapidly recover. Your body will recover over the next few days. However, fueling right after a marathon will certainly make you feel better.”

Between the camera flashes and showing off your medal, you’ll often come across these items when you cross the finish line:

a)     Oranges: 90 percent water and has potassium to help refuel muscles with some sugar. Shari Portnoy, MPH, RD, CPT, adds, “While oranges have essential minerals like calcium and potassium, one orange may not be enough after a long race.”

b)     Bananas: These are one of the race food staples with a reason. They provide carbohydrates, vitamin C and potassium. In a study where cycles ate either banana chunks or a sports drink performed similarly. Nevertheless, as Clark mentions “the banana offered a beneficial anti-inflammatory response.”

c)     Bars and bagels: Clark says that both are good source of carbs to refuel and protein to repair the muscles. Also, bagels have sodium.

d)     Beer: You won’t find it necessarily near the finish line, but the local pub is nearby. Clark explains, “There are some studies that back up the anti-inflammatory properties of beer. Beer is plant-based, so has these antioxidants that have anti-inflammatories. But when you drink beer on an empty stomach especially after the race, it can hit you like a ton of bricks. I would advise against it. Non-alcoholic beer that would still be effective. If you’re going to drink beer, first have water, then food, then beer in moderation.”

What can your family and friends bring you in?

The options that you’ll find to feed your muscles after the race are good but certainly there’s room to improve. When you ask your family and friends to bring the camera, it may be a good idea to ask them to bring some food too. In the end, you don’t want to waste the one-hour window or so that the body has to maximize the recovery process.

Portnoy says, “Replacing sweat loss should be your number one priority after a marathon. You also need to replace glycogen (stored glucose) stores. The best post marathon foods and drinks will contain mostly carbohydrates, some vitamins and small amount of protein.”

Liquid is more easily digested than solids and carbohydrates are more easily digested than protein. Portnoy points out “keep it simple. Tell your family to bring cans of tomato juice, or a mix 0f all types of juices. A bagel and tuna is as quick as a yogurt topped with granola. Remember to eat slow. Sports drinks like Gatorade do play a part. The body can absorb more carbohydrates when it comes from a variety of sources and a sports drink has a variety of sources. You need some fat too to replenish what is lost during endurance exercise.”

In this regard, Clark advocates chocolate milk, fruit/yogurt, cereal and milk and even soup, saying, “salty and sugar: potato chips, caffeine (soft drinks), soups, bagels—you don’t get the antioxidants but it does refuel your muscles and the caffeine is a stimulant that makes things feel a little better.”

Are these “new options” worth it?

There has been a lot of buzz lately on the anti-inflammatory properties of the flavonoid quercitin, which is found in fruits, vegetables and some grains. Apples, specifically, have been associated with providing relief after endurance events due to its quercitin content. Nevertheless, Clark explains that you’ll need to eat quite a few apples to have a significant impact on race day. But don’t disregard one of the healthiest fruit yet. Clark says, “This is what you should have been eaten before the race, building up in your diet before.”

Some juices like pomegranate, cherry and grape juice, along with tea, have become to be very popular in races promoting their anti-inflammatory properties. Clark advises that they can provide vitamins and antioxidants but it’ll be more important to have them as a part of daily diet upon entering the event.

“Focus on giving your body what it needs, but don’t overdo it. Research shows that the body can handle the stress of a marathon. An optimal recovery relies on optimal eating all of the time, not just post marathon. Real food and beverages are the answer. Don’t stress out on finding the perfect supplement or bar, your body wants real food and drinks,” concludes Portnoy.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University.  Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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