Recovering after a long run is crucial for your body's overall health and performance. Whether you're a seasoned runner or just starting out, the post-run recovery process is essential for preventing running injuries and improving your running abilities.
In this blog post, we will explore the best practices for post-run recovery, including nutrition, hydration, stretching, and rest. By following my top tips, you can ensure that your body is properly taken care of after a long run, allowing you to recover faster and get back to doing what you love.
Varying training load is a key strategy that can help with runner recovery. By gradually increasing workload, runners can push their limits and achieve their goals while minimising the risk of injury. Training load is the cumulative product of external loads such as mileage, pace, and duration, along with the physiological internal loads that runners experience.
Rest and recovery are just as important as training when it comes to increasing the load within your training plan. It is essential to have a plan and gradually make progressions, focusing on frequency, duration, and intensity. Rest days, easy runs and active recovery, such as yoga or light stretching, can also help improve circulation and reduce muscle soreness, ultimately aiding in recovery.
Even elite athletes have easy days, not all workouts need to be hard runs or tempo runs. For professional athletes to reach peak performance, they need to manage their load and taper down to avoid burnout and injury; and the amateur runner is no different. By optimising load capacity through progressive loading and incorporating rest and active recovery, runners can decrease their chances of experiencing running-related injuries and improve their overall performance.
Nutrition plays a very important role in the recovery process between runs. After a long run, it is important to consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein to replenish glycogen stores and initiate muscle repair. Ideally, this should be done within 60 minutes of completing the run, as the muscles are primed to absorb carbohydrates and protein during this time.
Some examples of post-run snacks include a banana with peanut butter, an egg on toast, yogurt and granola, or a protein shake. Maintaining a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein is recommended for skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Additionally, consuming foods that fight inflammation can further aid in the recovery process. By paying attention to post-run nutrition, runners can optimise their recovery and prepare their bodies for the next workout.
Supplements for runners
Supplements can be beneficial for runners, aiding in both performance and recovery. For recovery, essential supplements include protein powder, tart cherry juice extract, creatine, glutamine, and omega-3s. These can help with muscle repair and reduce inflammation.
For performance, certain supplements can provide a physical edge during a run and boost post-run recovery. These include caffeine, beetroot, sodium phosphate, beta-alanine, and sodium bicarbonate. Additionally, some common supplements for runners to consider are UCAN Energy Powder for long-run fuel, magnesium for muscle cramps, vitamin D for bone health, iron for oxygen transport, and probiotics for digestion. It's important to note that the effectiveness of supplements can vary based on individual needs, so it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before adding any new supplements to your routine.
Amino acid supplements, particularly branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), can be beneficial for runners in aiding muscle recovery and performance. BCAAs, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, play a crucial role in muscle growth, reduction of muscle soreness, and energy metabolism. Amino acid supplements are rapidly absorbed by the body, providing support for muscles during and after a run. These supplements can help prevent muscle loss, reduce fatigue, and promote faster recovery, making them a valuable addition to a runner's routine.
However, it's important to note that essential amino acids supplementation is not always necessary, and individual needs may vary, so it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before adding any new supplements to your routine.
Hydration is particularly important for runners, as running and sweating increase the amount of fluid the body needs. Staying properly hydrated can lead to more energy, endurance, and a decrease in recovery time after a long, hard workout. The amount of water a runner needs to drink depends on factors such as the duration of the run and the amount of sweating, but a good basic guideline for a run lasting 45 minutes or longer is to drink about 5–10 fluid ounces of fluid every 15–20 minutes while running; you might also get the best results by drinking an electrolyte drink before your run, too.
Post-exercise hydration is also crucial for getting fluid levels back to normal and can aid in recovery, so drinking a sports drink like a bottle of Lucozade can help replenish some of the electrolytes you losing through sweating on a run. Dehydration can lead to decreased performance and heat-related illness symptoms, so it is important for runners to be well educated about adequate hydration during training and competition.
Cool or cold water is a good option for runs lasting less than 60 minutes, while sports drinks can be beneficial for longer or more intense runs, as they provide carbohydrates to help delay fatigue and electrolytes to help with fluid balance. Therefore, maintaining proper hydration is essential for runners to support their performance and recovery.
Sleep for Runners
Sleep is a critical component of the recovery process for runners. During deep sleep, the body releases human growth hormone (HGH), which aids in the repair of muscles after a long run. Additionally, sleep is essential for tissue replenishment, muscle building, and hormone regulation.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to increased cortisol levels, which can break down tissues and impact the body's ability to recover. It is recommended to prioritise getting a good night's sleep, especially during intensive training periods, as it is vital for optimal recovery and performance. Therefore, ensuring that runners get adequate and quality sleep is key to allowing the body to rebuild and repair itself between runs.
Active Recovery for Running
Active recovery is a crucial part of a runner's training routine and differs from passive recovery, which involves complete rest. It typically involves low-intensity exercise or movement that helps the body reestablish equilibrium and promotes muscle recovery after a strenuous workout or long run. Examples of active recovery activities that get the heart rate up slightly and help with circulation include walking, swimming, yoga for runners, and cycling.
The goal of active recovery is to keep the body moving while allowing for adequate rest and recovery, ultimately preparing the body for the next run or workout. It is recommended to incorporate active recovery into the training schedule, especially after intense running sessions, to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, and to maintain flexibility and blood flow.
Active recovery offers several benefits compared to passive recovery. Research has shown that active recovery can significantly reduce inflammation, soreness, and lactic acid build-up in the body, while also lowering the risk of injury. A study on runners found that active recovery enabled them to run three times longer during their next run compared to those who used passive recovery.
Additionally, active recovery has been shown to dissipate a significant amount of the lactate that accumulates in the blood after exercise, which would otherwise settle in the tissues. Active recovery also allows individuals to focus on maximizing their technique and can help maintain flexibility and blood flow, ultimately preparing the body for the next workout. Therefore, active recovery is considered more effective than passive recovery in promoting faster recovery and improving performance.
Rest is a crucial component of running recovery, and it is essential to strike a balance between active recovery and complete rest days. While active recovery involves low-intensity exercise or activity that promotes muscle recovery and prepares the body for the next workout, complete rest days allow the body to reestablish equilibrium and fully recover from exercise.
Rest days are important for minimising the risk of injury, allowing the body to absorb training, adapt to stress, and grow stronger. Adequate rest also ensures that the body is prepared for future workouts and helps prevent overtraining. Therefore, incorporating both active recovery and complete rest days into a training schedule is vital for optimising running performance and promoting overall health and well-being.
Running recovery methods
Stretches for runners
Stretching is an essential part of a runner's routine, helping to prevent injury and maintain flexibility. There are two main types of stretches that can benefit runners: static and dynamic.
Dynamic stretching, which involves controlled movements to prepare the muscles for activity, is generally recommended before a run. This can include exercises such as leg swings and hip circles.
Static stretching, where a position is held for a period of time, is more beneficial after a run to help with muscle recovery.
Some essential stretches for runners include the calf stretch, hamstring stretch, quadriceps stretch, and hip flexor stretch. It's important to hold each stretch for at least 60-90 seconds and to avoid bouncing, which can cause injury. A solid and consistent stretching routine can create more flexible and mobile joints/muscles and can be one of the best ways to prevent injuries.
Ice baths for runners
Ice baths are a popular recovery method among runners, as they are believed to reduce inflammation and soreness after long runs or intense training sessions. The cold water immersion is thought to constrict blood vessels and decrease metabolic activity, which can help reduce swelling and tissue breakdown.
Some studies have suggested that having an ice bath may reduce muscle soreness and facilitate faster recovery after workouts that cause muscle damage or heat strain. However, the scientific opinion on ice baths remains mixed, and some research has indicated that cold water immersion may not be more effective than other recovery methods. Despite the conflicting evidence, many runners continue to use ice baths as part of their recovery routine, and some find them beneficial for reducing post-run soreness and discomfort.
It's important for each individual to experiment and determine whether ice baths work for them, taking into account their own recovery needs and preferences. They certainly don't appeal to everyone but you might notice an impressive reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) if you jump in at the end of your run.
Foam rolling for runners
Foam rolling is a highly beneficial practice for runners during their recovery process. Also known as self-myofascial release, foam rolling involves using a rigid foam cylinder to break down adhesions in the fascia, the fibrous connective tissue that surrounds the muscles. This practice can help prevent soreness, reduce muscle tightness, and improve flexibility.
Foam rolling after a run can be a good idea as it will help to accelerate the recovery process by stimulating blood flow, delivering more oxygen to sore muscles, and improving circulation. It can also help reduce overuse injuries and make runners feel better during their runs.
Foam rolling is a cost-effective and accessible recovery tool, with a wide range of foam rollers available in different shapes, sizes, and textures. It is recommended to spend 30 to 60 seconds, and no more than two minutes, on each muscle group, using slow, deliberate, and controlled rolling movements. Incorporating foam rolling into a post-run routine can be instrumental in relieving muscle tightness and promoting faster recovery for runners. Alternatively, you can use a massage gun which also gives similar effects.
Sports massage can be a valuable tool for runners during the recovery process. A sports massage for runners typically involves a lot of fascial work to help the body recover and repair some of the damage that has occurred, without necessarily going deep into the tissues.
It is recommended that runners get a light massage 24 to 48 hours after a big run to release stiffness and improve blood flow for recovery. Sports massage can help reduce muscle soreness, facilitate injury healing, and improve flexibility and range of motion.
While some research has shown that sports massage may not directly improve performance measures like sprinting, jumping, and strength, it has been found to reduce subjective ratings of muscle pain and increase short-term flexibility. Therefore, incorporating sports massage into a runner's recovery routine can provide numerous benefits and aid in overall muscle recovery and well-being.
You might have seen some athletes wearing compression boots to recover between sporting events or a training session. Compression boots, also known as recovery boots, have gained popularity among runners as a tool to aid in recovery. These boots use intermittent pneumatic compression to create pressure at different points on the leg, which can help improve blood flow and circulation, ultimately contributing to changes in exercise performance and recovery.
Some studies have suggested that daily treatments using a pneumatic compression device reduced recovery time from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) when compared to a continuously-worn compression sleeve. The use of compression boots can help flush out toxins that build up throughout training and exercise, aiding the body to return to a healthy state with oxygenated blood returning to the legs, thus boosting recovery after working out.
While compression boots can be a financial investment, many runners find them beneficial for reducing soreness and increasing blood flow, especially after intense training sessions or races. Therefore, compression boots can be a valuable addition to a runner's recovery routine, providing a sense of relaxation and aiding in muscle recovery.
Strength training as a preventative measure
Strength training offers numerous benefits for runners, including improved running technique, reduced risk of injury, and faster recovery times between runs. By incorporating strength training into their routine, runners can strengthen their muscles, joints, and bones, which is especially important for high-impact activities like running. Additionally, strength training can help correct muscle imbalances and improve muscle activation, leading to more efficient running biomechanics and decreased risk of injury.
Research has also shown that strength training can improve running performance by increasing power and coordination between firing neurons and muscle contractions. By strengthening the muscles and connective tissues, runners can experience faster recovery times between runs, as well as improved race times and running economy. Therefore, adding strength training to a running routine is essential for maximising performance and reducing the risk of injury.
In conclusion, recovery is a crucial component of a runner's training regimen, playing a significant role in performance improvement and injury prevention. There is not one simple quick fix when it comes to recovering between runs; runners should take an holistic approach and consider as many factors as possible to get a well-rounded recovery. Various recovery methods can be employed to aid in the post-run recovery process. These include the use of compression clothing, massage, cold therapy, electric muscle stimulation, foam rolling, stretching, and active recovery. Additionally, replenishing fluids, consuming a balanced post-run meal, and getting adequate sleep are essential for effective recovery. It's important for runners to pay attention to their bodies and incorporate a combination of these recovery methods into their routine to optimise their overall performance and well-being.