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: what to do immediately after a run, and general tips about recovery. We’ll also discuss some murkier topics like ice baths and supplements to round out your recovery knowledge.
How to Recover After a Run
Finishing up any run is a small accomplishment, especially those hard speed workouts that leave you knackered. As much as you might want to sink into the couch for a nap, now is not the time. Netflix can wait. You need to do several things first to make sure that you’re helping yourself recover properly.
Immediately After a Run
The minute you want in your door, you should be doing the following things. Don’t put them off – you should do them immediately 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. Generally, for recovery, getting some protein to repair muscle is more important than replacing carbs.
After your run, you need to refuel to make sure that the body has the nutrients and calories it needs. Make sure that you eat some sort of protein, especially if you are not consuming a protein-heavy drink. This feeds your muscles so they can rebuild themselves. Other nutrient-rich foods are equally as important. Time to get your salad on!
While a certain school of thought says you can go out for a cheeseburger and a couple beers because you just burned calories, don’t make a habit of it. 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 neglect this 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 more relaxed and well-rested.
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 will improve your recovery game. To take it to the next level, you might want to do even more. We have included several suggestions below.
Recovery runs make you stronger overall because you are training yourself to run in a pre-fatigued state. They also will help you remove waste products 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.
Recovery runs are not the time to worry about pace. Just run what’s comfortable. Actually, run slower than that. 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) – and similar to a TENS device – uses a small electric device to stimulate and contract your muscles. This is beneficial for recovery because it is a repetitive exercise that increases circulation and strengthens weakened or unused muscles.
Research shows that EMS and TENS are just as helpful as a massage for recovery. And 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 many 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.
Ice bath not getting you excited? A hot bath is also a great way to get your legs back to normal. 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.
Supplements are not necessary for runners, because you can get the nutrients you need through natural ingredients “Eat the colors of the rainbow” is a good guide to food, whether for recovery or anything else. Still, 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.
One short answer is yes, alcohol slows recovery. Another short answer is that a beer is a fine beverage option after a run. In other words, use common sense and practice moderation if you like a drink after a hard workout. You do not want to consume too much 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.
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!