Top Running Recovery Tips

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Recovery is probably the most underrated part of being a runner, and yet it’s also the most important!

Here are our top running recovery tips based on our personal experience. Keep in mind that everyone’s recovery is different—what works for someone else might not work so well for you, and vice versa.

But with some focused consideration and an action plan, you can kickstart your recovery from the moment you finish your run. You’ll come back stronger and more to go for your next workout!

Running Recovery Tips

Why Do You Need to Recover From Running?

Running, like any activity, takes a toll on your body. Your muscle glycogen is emptied, your joints take on impact, your muscles endure micro-tears, and your tissues become inflamed.

Neglect recovery and none of these things will be able to get back to full capacity. This can lead to injuries, muscle weakness, fatigue, weight gain, poor sleep, and even increased anxiety.

Only after you recover can you continue to perform well. But dive back into it before you’re recovered, and your body will pay the price.

When Does Recovery After a Run Start?

Some people consider your cool-down the first part of recovery, which means it would start immediately after your run. Others believe your recovery begins after your cool-down, about 10 to 15 minutes after your workout ended.

Either way, recovery doesn’t wait until you’re home and chilling on the couch! Start taking steps as soon as you finish running, and you’ll be ahead of the recovery game.

How Do You Know When You’re Sufficiently Recovered?

You’re probably well-recovered if you go into your next workout feeling strong and ready to run. But if you feel exhausted, overwhelmed, sore, or unmotivated, you might not be fully recovered.

When you’re properly recovered, you probably have:

  • A normal resting heart rate
  • Your usual appetite—no more, no less
  • Normal body temperature, not feeling cold or hot
  • A clear mind and normal anxiety or stress levels
  • High energy levels with fuel in the tank

Immediate Post-Run Recovery: The First Steps to Recovery

What you do right after your run can make all the difference to a successful recovery. Here’s what we suggest.

Take Time to Cool Down

Don’t rush through your cool-down, or you could be shooting yourself in the foot. As you end your workout, slow down gradually and progress into a slower and slower run, eventually a walk.

This slowing down/walking phase should take 5 to 10 minutes to allow your heart rate and breathing to come down to relatively normal.

Replenish Lost Fluids

Rehydrate as soon as possible, with electrolytes added if you’ve been exercising for more than an hour, in particularly hot weather, or you’ve been sweating a lot.

Making sure you’re hydrated will help your body transport nutrients more efficiently and balance electrolyte levels.

Water with an electrolyte tablet or a recovery sports drink are both good options. Alternatively, add a teaspoon of salt to a large water bottle, or a squeeze of lemon.

Stretch After Your Run

This is technically the second half of your cool-down. Once your 5 to 10 minutes of walking is up, settle yourself somewhere where you can stretch. Static stretching increases blood flow, which brings vital nutrients and oxygen to your sore, stiff muscles.

Make sure you stretch each one of the muscles in your lower body—quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. Hold each static stretch for 30 to 60 seconds to get the full benefit. Don’t stretch so hard you feel pain—be gentle with yourself.

Refuel Within 30 Minutes of Your Run

To get your muscles stocked up with glycogen again, have a light, healthy snack within 30 minutes of finishing your run. A high-carb, moderate-protein snack is the best option to refuel yourself—aim for a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 of carbs vs protein grams.

  • Protein bars
  • Protein shakes
  • Greek yogurt and fruit
  • A bagel with nut butter
  • Boiled eggs and veggie sticks

A Few Hours Later

Once you’re home and settled in, take these steps to continue the recovery process you’ve already started.

Opt for a Well-Rounded Meal

A few hours after your run, enjoy a good meal. High-carb, moderate protein, and low fat and fiber is the magic combination here. Choose a lean protein and healthy carbs like whole grains or vegetables.

This will go a long way towards boosting the glycogen stored in your muscles, and it should also boost your energy levels.

Soak in a Warm Bath

Run a warm bath and sprinkle a cup of Epsom salts into it. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes to get all the muscle-relaxing benefits of this high-dose, easy-absorption magnesium. You can also do a foot soak if you don’t want to take a full bath yet.

Use a Foam Roller to Release Muscle Tension

By now, your muscles should be starting to tighten a little. In many cases, the fascia—the sheath that covers the muscles—is what’s responsible for tightness, and you can release that tension with a foam roller.

Carefully foal roll your sore muscles one at a time. Avoid joints and bones, go easy, and stick to just a few minutes for each muscle.

Use Compression Gear

Consider wearing compression gear on your feet, calves, and upper legs to stimulate blood flow and help flush out lactic acid. Don’t sleep with them on—but you can wear them for a few hours to kickstart healing.

Rest and Elevate Your Legs

Elevating your legs above the level of our heart can help to reduce swelling. As fluid drains from your legs, it eases up inflammation and can speed up recovery. Only keep your legs elevated for 30 minutes or so at a time; you can come back to another session later.

Sleep Is When Your Body Repairs Itself

Don’t neglect sleep! This is when the healing process happens in the body—and if you’re skimping on it, you won’t get the full benefits of it. And when you’re not recovering properly, you’ll never be as successful as you can be as a runner.

During sleep, stress hormones decrease and growth hormones increase, stimulating healing. When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your healing is impaired, so you might never lose that weight, gain that muscle, or get back to full muscle and cardiovascular health.

The Next Day

Recovery doesn’t stop the day after your run. What you do today will dictate how you feel tomorrow!

Opt for a Light Jog or Cross-Training Session

Rather than do back-to-back hard runs or intervals, follow up a hard run with an easy one or a cross-training session instead. Cross-training allows your regular running muscles to take a break and prevents overuse injuries while still keeping your general fitness up.

Choose an easy run or easy cross-training of your choice. If you’re quite sore and stiff, you may want to opt for something like yoga or Pilates. If you’ve got some energy and aren’t feeling too bad, you can go for something like cycling, elliptical, swimming, rowing, or anything else you enjoy.

Cross-training is often called “active recovery,” so don’t worry about staying active for most of the week instead of resting completely.

Have an Ice Bath

Elite athletes swear by them, so there’s something to be said for ice baths. They’re not easy, but help to lower inflammation. Choose a temperature that’s uncomfortable but tolerable.

Start with 2 to 3 minutes per session. Wear a t-shirt if you need to, and make sure you have a towel, dry clothes, and warm beverage nearby when you get out.

Treat Yourself to a Massage

Book a sports massage or a regular one if you need extra help releasing muscle tension. Or, you can foam roll again or try using a percussive therapy massage gun instead.

If you’re doing it yourself, keep your massage session to around 15 minutes in length. This will ensure that you don’t overdo it and accidentally cause injury.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

Yes, diet is part of recovery! Focus on eating whole foods, plenty of carbs, moderate lean protein, and healthy fats.

Don’t be tempted to go all-out on the carbs if you’re feeling hungry and tired—opt for more healthy protein as it will fill you up and keep you fuller for longer.

Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day

Hydration is also extremely important. The more hydrated you are, the more easily your blood will be able to transport valuable nutrients to your muscles, which is essential for recovery.

Keep a large bottle of water near you and drink consistently. If the weather’s cold and you struggle to drink, try warm water with a lemon slice. Important note: coffee doesn’t count as hydration, unless it’s free from high-calorie cream and sugary syrups.

Mental Rejuvenation

Take time to rest your mind, too. Running is as much a mind thing as a body thing, so spend some time rejuvenating activities like meditating, practicing gratitude, breathing exercises, or indulging in some yoga for the mind-body connection.

Strategies for Injury Prevention

A huge reason recovery is so important is that heading back to running without being properly recovered can lead to injury. Here’s how to counteract that and keep injuries at bay.

Make Recovery Part of Your Running Routine

It might seem difficult to do all the small things after every single run. What if you run before work, or in your lunch hour? But making recovery actions a part of your running routine is key to building a habit.

If you’re short on time, prioritize a few recovery actions after you run. Don’t skimp on the cool-down, and it’s not difficult to grab something easy and convenient to eat, like a protein bar or shake.

No time to foam roll? Try carrying a small lacrosse ball with you and using it to target trigger points throughout the day. It’s easy to do in the office without anyone even noticing.

Strength Training: Building Overall Body Strength

Strength training builds muscle, which is an essential ingredient in injury prevention. The more muscle you have, the more support your bones and joints have. And the stronger you are, the less likely it is for your muscles to overwork in your run. Other benefits include:

  • Improved strength and power when running
  • Better muscular endurance over long runs
  • Increased speed thanks to the above
  • Better joint stability and strength
  • Improved posture and running form
  • Increased bone density (especially as you age)

Divide Your Training Into Cycles

Cycling between high-intensity periods with lower volume and lower-intensity periods with higher volume can help reduce stress on the body. It’s also an adaptable and sustainable way to train.

You can cycle it daily or monthly, but weekly is a good way to do it when you’re new to the structure.

Check Your Shoes Regularly for Any Visible Damage

Worn-out shoes can lead to injury, no matter how strong or fit you are! They can cause you to change your gait without even realizing it, which places strain on your feet and legs and increases your risk of damage.

Check your shoes before each run. If you notice damage—worn tread, tears in the upper, or wearing through—it’s a sign that you need new shoes. Don’t delay—your chance of injury increases with each wear!

Rotate Your Running Shoes

It’s also a great idea to rotate your running shoes. If you have more than one pair, make sure you never wear the same pair twice in a row. This gives the materials time to recover and they’ll eventually last longer.

Schedule Regular Rest Days

At least one day per week should be a FULL rest day—that means no running, but no other activity, aside from your everyday walking here and there.

These valuable days give your body (and mind) much-needed time to relax and enjoy some time off from being beaten and put through the paces!

They’re essential to prevent nervous system burnout, alleviate lingering fatigue from the week, and boost the immune system, which can be suppressed during intense or frequent training.

Take one day per week to do nothing. And don’t feel bad about it either—you’re doing your body a big favor!

Listen to Your Body

Of course, listening to your body is the final piece of the puzzle. If you’re tired, sore, or demotivated, rest a day to rejuvenate. If you’re constantly tired, sore, and unmotivated… Well, it might be time to reevaluate your training program!

Don’t push through pain or be stubborn. Take rests when you need them—remember, your body is the only one you have! Treat it well and listen to it when it talks to you. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.

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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.