The Best Things to Do After a Run – Post-Run Recovery Tips

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What you do after a run is almost as important as the run itself. Recover well, and you’ll be all set for another great run. Recover poorly and expect not-so-great things to happen.

And while our thoughts of recovery usually kick in when we get back home after our run, recovery really begins as soon as you finish running.

Here are the best things to do after a run to start recovery and give yourself the best chance of returning stronger and better.

Why Is Recovery After Running So Important?

Without effective recovery, you’ll never be as good a runner as possible. When you exercise, your body uses the glycogen stored in your muscles to fuel your activity.

By the end of your workout, this is usually depleted, and your body has started to dig into its fat stores to power your workout. At the same time, physical activity causes tiny tears in your muscles as they exert themselves.

Combined, These two factors lead to inflammation, which causes that after-run stiffness and pain.

Recovery is essential for two reasons: to give your body time to build up its glycogen stores again and to allow it space to begin healing those micro-tears in your muscle.

Skip your recovery; your body will already be stressed when you start your next workout. Lingering pain, stiffness, and inflammation can compromise your gait and make you more susceptible to injury.

12 Tips for Effective Post-Run Recovery

Follow these tips if you’re serious about recovering faster, feeling better, and improving your performance.

1. Cooling Down – More Than Just Walking Around

The cool-down isn’t just a time-waster while you wind down from your activity. It’s a valuable tool to kickstart your recovery.

Use it as a transition period. Gradually slow your pace—don’t simply go from high-intensity to slow. Ease into slower running so your heart rate can come down, and your muscles can start easing up.

Five to 10 minutes of slowing down should be sufficient. Don’t skip this, and don’t sit or lie down immediately when you’re done.

2. Hydrate and Eat for Optimal Recovery

What you eat and drink can help or hurt your recovery. Immediately after your run, it’s a good idea to rehydrate with water or a recovery-specific drink.

Not replenishing means your body won’t be ready to heal and recover, so the sooner you can get fluids into you, the better. Keep a recovery drink handy to start drinking when your run is over.

It also helps to have a light post-run snack, but make sure you choose something healthy. The ideal ratio of carbs to protein is 3:1, which will help replenish those glycogen stores and start the muscle-healing process.

Prepare your snack beforehand so you can have it soon after your run. Some good options include:

  • A peanut-butter bagel
  • Two boiled eggs and crackers
  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • A protein bar

3. Stretch It Out

Stretching your legs during your cool-down helps to ease up your muscles, increasing your range of motion and reducing the chance of stiffness setting in.

It’ll also help to promote circulation, which can kickstart the healing process by bringing oxygen-rich blood to the area. Stretching also helps to get rid of lactic acid faster, which goes a long way towards reducing soreness later.

After your 5- to 10-minute cool-down walk, prepare for some static stretches. Choosing specific stretches beforehand is wise so you know exactly what to do. Make sure to stretch your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

4. The Art of Foam Rolling: Self-Massage for Muscle Relief

We advise waiting an hour or so before foam rolling just to give your muscles some time to ease up after your run and stretching. Foam rolling after your run can help get that circulation going and start healing.

Foam rolling works because it eases up the fascia—the protective layer covering muscles, which tightens after exercise. The process is known as myofascial release, and it can be done by yourself without needing a professional massage therapist.

Roll the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Spend a few minutes on each muscle, and avoid rolling over joints or directly on bones. Keep your foam rolling sessions short—5 to 10 minutes in total—and take a day-long break in between foam rolling sessions.

If you’ve just run a long race, like a marathon, waiting a day or two before foam rolling is a good idea. Muscle damage is possible after a long race, so give them time to settle first.

5. Embrace the Cold: The Power of Ice Baths

Ice baths could be a secret recovery weapon! Yes, they’re uncomfortable and they require a lot of mental tenacity. But cold plunging can have a hugely beneficial effect on recovery.

Cold exposure—especially body-wide—causes arteries and veins to constrict, temporarily reducing circulation. This reduces inflammation throughout the body, easing pain and speeding up the lactic acid flush-out.

Take it slow, though. Begin with a temperature that’s uncomfortable but tolerable for a few minutes. Gradually increase the time you spend in the cold water, and gradually increase the cold.

10 to 15 minutes in water of about 60-degrees Fahrenheit is a good time and cold level for most. Keep in mind that this is as much a mental challenge as a physical one—but it’s scientifically proven to give you a dopamine rush with many benefits.

If you can’t deal with an ice bath, use ice packs to help reduce inflammation in your legs.

6. Gear Up: The Role of Compression Clothing in Recovery

Compression gear is an underrated recovery tool. Wearing compression socks, calf sleeves, or thigh sleeves can significantly improve circulation in these areas, speeding up the healing process.

After your workout, get clean and slip into your compression gear for a few hours. It’s best not to sleep in them, but you can wear them while awake for gentle massaging.

7. Keep Moving Towards Recovery

On rest days, keep moving. While one day a week should be as relaxed as possible, your other non-running days should be “active recovery” days—that is, you should still be doing some kind of exercise that isn’t running.

Cross-training – walking, swimming, cycling, strength training, or yoga – can get your blood flowing without putting a lot of strain on your “running muscles.” The increased circulation and change of activity help to speed up your recovery and get you back to running as soon as possible.

8. Soak Away Soreness

Don’t underestimate the power of Epsom salt. It’s a highly absorbable form of magnesium, which is superb for relaxing tight muscles and lowering inflammation levels.

After your run, prepare a warm Epsom salt bath. You can soak your entire body in the tub if you want to, or you can just do a foot bath, depending on how you feel. 15 to 20 minutes of soaking will work magic on your muscles.

9. Sleep Your Way to Fitness

The most underrated recovery tool is also one of the most accessible—sleep. During sleep, your body heals. But a lack of sleep spikes your cortisol levels and reduces essential recovery hormones, so you won’t be able to recover as fast.

Sleep is just as important whether you’ve just finished a race or come in from a training run. Aim for 7 to 9 hours per night, and optimize your space to help you get the required hours.

Make sure your sleeping space is dark and quiet, with no interruptions. It’s also a good idea to set a bedtime and a waketime, and do your utmost to stick to them.

10. Supplements for Muscle Recovery

Adding supplements to your daily routine can have a positive effect on your recovery. While you should be eating healthy and getting plenty of vitamins and minerals from your food, certain supplements can boost your body’s ability to heal.

BCAAs, L-glutamine, omega fatty acids, and collagen are all very valid supplement options to reduce muscle soreness and improve healing.

11. Tranquil Mind, Empowered Strides

Don’t focus so much on physical recovery that you forget about mental recovery! Mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can clear the mind and prepare you for your recovery and your next workout.

This is also a valuable chance to practice visualization, which can help to improve your performance, confidence, and mental resilience.

12. The Social Connection

Lastly, don’t neglect social interaction as part of your recovery. Discussing your training with like-minded people can help you to stay accountable, be encouraged, and find new motivation for your training.

It’s also a way to learn more about recovery and steps to speed it up. Whether you’re part of a running club or belong to an online group, find out what others suggest for speeding up their recovery and trying new things—you never know what might work best for you!

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.