While running is the thing that we all enjoy, you can’t skimp on the other side of the coin—recovery. Taking the proper time and steps to recover will ensure that you will be able to run hard without being impeded by injuries.
In this article, we’ll cover how to recover from hard runs, including what to do immediately after a run as well as general tips about recovery. We’ll also discuss some murkier topics like ice baths and supplements so that you have everything that you need to know about recovery.
How to Recover After a Run
Although you probably are relieved to have gotten through your hard run, this is not the time to drop dead on the couch and watch Netflix. You need to do several things first to make sure that you’re helping yourself recover properly.
Immediately After a Run
The minute that you want in your door, you should be doing the following things. You’ll likely be telling yourself that you don’t need to do them immediately, but you should if you want to recover properly.
Drink some water, Gatorade or another drink with electrolytes, a recovery drink, milk, or a protein shake. You’ve lost fluid, and you need to refuel. Make sure that you have replaced the carbohydrates, protein, and water that you’ve lost.
After your run, you need to refuel to make sure that the body has the nutrients it needs. Make sure that you eat some sort of protein to help your muscles rebuild themselves and don’t forget the garden salad to make sure that you get the minerals that you need.
While you might be tempted to get fast food or order a pizza, that is not what your body needs right now. Hold off on the junk food and instead eat something that is healthy and will get you the nutrients you need.
Make sure when you stretch that you focus on the major muscle groups. This includes your calves, hamstrings, hips, and quads. If you feel sore somewhere, stretch there! Make sure that you are very gentle in your stretching and that you don’t push yourself too hard.
A foam roller is also great to help remove any tightness, so don’t forget the second component. While you’re likely tired and don’t want to do anything, making sure that you stretch and foam roll will ensure that you feel a lot better later.
If there are any spots that are especially sore or you feel a nagging injury starting to occur, a percussive therapy gun can help reach those deep tissue areas.
Several Hours After a Run
Once you’ve had some time to recover, stretch, and refuel, you’ll want to do the following things.
Although you might be too wound up to nap, it is very helpful if you’re able to. By napping or sleeping after a workout, you are giving your body time to repair itself and grow the muscle tissue it needs. Often a quick nap will do the trick, and you’ll likely wake up feeling a lot more relaxed, well-rested, and less tired.
Getting a short 10-minute massage after your run will help you build muscle and recover quicker since it eases pain. A massage can also help to relieve tension and stress, which will improve your overall well-being.
While the name sounds really funky, it will help you recover faster. Lie on your back with your legs extended toward the ceiling and propped against the wall. Do this for around three minutes. It will drain the blood out of your legs, so that when you stand up, you’ll get clean blood in your legs.
Other Recovery Tips
Everything we mentioned above are things that you need to do. But to aid in recovery you might want to do even more. We have included several suggestions below.
Not only can recovery runs make you a stronger runner overall because you are training yourself to run in a pre-fatigued state, but they also will help you remove the waste product from your hard workouts.
When you run hard, you’re causing little tears in your muscles and tendons. The best way to help them heal is a gentle recovery run that increases blood flow and muscle flexibility. Additionally, recovery runs are a great way to reset your brain after a mentally hard workout.
Make sure that you’re not worried about the pace and just run what’s comfortable. As you get better at running, you’ll be able to run faster during your recovery runs. For example, when I got back into running about a year ago, my recovery runs were around a 10-11 minute mile pace, but now an 8-minute mile pace is very comfortable for me.
Electric stimulation (EMS or e-stim) is when your muscles contract due to a slight electric impulse. This is beneficial for recovery because it is a repetitive exercise that contracts and relaxes your muscles, increasing circulation and strengthening weakened or unused muscles.
The research shows that EMS is just as helpful as a massage for recovery, but it is definitely more effective than doing nothing. If you’re looking to vary your recovery routine, EMS might be a great way.
I always ice my feet after I run, no matter how short or how long it’s been. One time in the past year, I didn’t ice my feet after a couple short runs a few days in a row and I had to take a few days off from running because my right foot started to hurt.
When it felt better and I went back to running, I went back to icing and have run days in a row with varying lengths and it hasn’t hurt since then. If you’re feeling really macho, you can do an ice bath for your entire body, but that’s just a little bit too much for me!
Just make sure that you don’t ice before your run. Icing decreases pain and inflammation, which is what you want to recover quickly. Also, make sure that you aren’t icing for too long. You’ll likely want to do at least 5 minutes, but the limit is 20 minutes unless you want to risk frostbite.
A great way to get your legs back to normal is to take a hot bath. The water warms your muscles and makes them relax. Although you still can get some benefit from a hot shower, it’s not as good as a bath.
If you decide to ice your feet or take an ice bath, don’t rush to take a hot shower after. You want your body to gradually cool down and gradually heat back up. I typically ice my feet, wander around for a little bit around the house, and then take a brief hot shower. It’s worked well for me, although you should obviously figure out what works for you.
While supplements are not necessary for runners, you can get the nutrients you need through natural ingredients—“eat the colors of the rainbow”—some runners like to use them. Certainly, if you’re deficient in a particular area, a supplement can be a great idea.
For example, if you live in an area where there isn’t a lot of sun in the winter, you might be vitamin D deficient and more susceptible to fractures. If you’re not able to get vitamin D in your diet from natural foods (or if you need more), a supplement might be a good option.
The short answer is yes, alcohol slows recovery. You do not want to consume alcohol too quickly after a workout because it will contribute to dehydration, impact your body’s ability to resynthesize glycogen stores, and has the opposite impact of icing, which reduces swelling and bleeding.
When you’re recovering from a run, you’re better off avoiding the alcohol for a little while to allow your body to heal. If you really feel like you have to have a drink, try to limit it to one and ideally a beverage with low alcoholic content.
In the end, your body is designed to heal and recover, but you can make it easier by following these recovery tips. By making sure that you refuel and rehydrate as well as take the necessary time to stretch, drain your legs, and so forth, you’ll help your body heal faster. And if you need more ideas, don’t forget about ice baths, EMS, and supplements!