Are you feeling sore, tired, and completely drained after your daily run? Then know you’re not alone.
Running can take a toll on both your body and mind. Fortunately, proper recovery after running is the key to achieving peak performance and avoiding potential injuries.
But it’s more than just resting or taking a break. It involves a series of actions that help your body and mind heal and rebuild after an intense workout. Studies have shown that proper recovery not only helps prevent injuries but it can also improve overall performance and endurance.
In this post, we’ll discuss the best post-running recovery tips to help you bounce back and avoid burnout. From nutrition and hydration to stretching and foam rolling, I’ve got you covered. Get ready to recover like a pro!
Post Running Recovery Defined
I hate to break it to you but recovery isn’t just sitting on the couch and binge-watching your favorite show (although that can be a part of it!). Recovery is about restoring your body to its natural state. This, in turn, occurs, by repairing any damage done during training and preparing your body for the next run.
In fact, studies have shown that proper recovery is just as important as the workout itself when it comes to seeing results and preventing injuries.
Research shows that proper recovery is just as important as the workout itself. In fact, study out of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that performing active active, light jogging for example or walking, after a hard session was more effective at soothing muscles soreness than sitting on the couch the whole day.
This means that simply resting on the couch isn’t enough. You need to be proactive in your recovery efforts.
So what exactly does proper recovery entail? It’s all about the 3 R’s: repairing, resting, and replenishing. Repairing your muscles and tissues, resting your mind and body, and replenishing your energy stores.
Let me discuss these in detail.
Your Muscles Need Rest
Recovery is essential for repairing and rebuilding the micro-tears in your muscles that occur during running. These micro-tears are a good thing, as they’re what make you stronger, faster, and fitter. But without proper recovery, they can easily turn into painful injuries that can derail your training and send you to the sidelines.
I love the energy burst I get from a challenging session, but more running does not always mean more energy.
I learned this the hard way.
The danger of overtraining cannot be overstated.
It causes a drastic drop in performance despite (actually because of) increased intensity and volume of training.
A planned once-a-week recovery day may be all you need to prevent an overtraining episode since it gives your body a chance to rejuvenate.
Err on the side of caution and make sure you’re listening to your body.
If you feel so sore that you dread sitting down, you need to dial it down.
Take as much rest as needed.
If you second guess the message your body is sending, you’ll end up hurt and discouraged.
Prevents Overuse Injury
Running puts your muscles, joints, ligaments, and soft tissues under an immense load, and sooner or later, something is going to snap if you don’t take care of your body.
So what happens when you don’t take enough recovery? That’s when your body starts to break down in the form of overuse injuries such as stress fractures and Achilles Tendonitis.
You don’t want that.
Rest is crucial in protecting against all sorts of overuse injuries.
These are runners’ worst enemies and can put you out of commission for weeks, even months.
Post Run Recovery – How to Recover From Running
By now you should be sold on the importance of post running recovery. To help you get your things in order, here are ten practical strategies you can follow:
Running Recovery Rule – 1. Cool-down properly
One of the essential rules for running recovery is the cool-down, which is often neglected by many runners.
Think of the cool-down as the graceful finale of your running performance. It marks the transition from running to stretching and other post-run activities, and it’s a must-do for all runners. In fact, research shows that the cool-down window is critical and can significantly speed up or put a halt to your run recovery rate.
Skipping the cool-down is a big no-no. Stopping on the spot increases the risk of blood pooling and may cause your blood pressure to drop. This, in turn, may leave you feeling dizzy and disoriented.
Proper cool-down, on the other hand, efficiently transitions blood from the working muscles to the rest of the body, helping you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
Not cooling down after a run can also put you at risk of injury and other problems. By stopping on the spot, your muscles are still in a contracted state, and suddenly halting can lead to cramping, soreness, and other issues. To avoid these problems, it’s essential to take the time to cool down properly before shifting from running to “normal life.”
So, how do you cool down after a run? It’s simple, really. First, slow it down to an easy jog around 5 minutes. This helps regulate your breathing and heart rates, and it’s also a great time to reflect on your run, celebrate your achievements, and learn from your challenges.
Next, walk slowly for three to five minutes. You should be also breathing deep and scanning your body from head to toe to make sure that everything is back to normal.
Running Recovery Rule – 2. Hydration
Let’s start by acknowledging that when you run, you sweat. It’s a natural process that helps regulate your core temperature, but it also depletes your body of fluids and essential electrolytes.
This is where post-run hydration comes in.
Why is hydration so critical for recovery? For starters, water helps transfer nutrients and electrolytes throughout your body. Without enough of it, the delivery of nutrients to your muscles slows down, hindering recovery and even leading to injuries.
What’s more? Enough water intake aids in protein synthesis. This is the process by which your muscles repair and rebuild themselves. Studies have shown that dehydration can delay this process and even cause muscle breakdown. Yikes!
So how much is enough?
That’s a tricky question because it depends on factors such as your training intensity, sweat rate, and personal preferences.
But, overall, I’d recommend aiming for about half of your body weight in ounces of water per day.
To make sure you’re having enough, drink water through the day. You should also time your intake before, during and after your training. Research has shown that hydrating right after a workout can significantly speed up your heart rate recovery.
Additional resource – Can Running Help Cure a Hangover?
Running Recovery Rule – 3. Ice Baths
Ice bathe are used by elites athletes to reduce inflammation, flush out lactic acid, and kick-start the recovery process. But what’s the mechanism behind them?
Let me explain.
When you run, your muscles are working overtime, producing waste and breaking down fibers in the process. Ice baths help to reverse this damage by constricting your blood vessels, reducing inflammation, and allowing your muscles to heal and recover more quickly.
Research supports this. One study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that runners who took ice baths after their workouts reported significantly less muscle soreness than those who did not.
Of course, getting into an ice bath can be a shock to the system. To avoid the pain and discomfort that comes with the territory, it’s important to ease your way in slowly. Start by submerging your lower body in cool water, then gradually add ice until the temperature reaches around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Stay in the water for no more than 10-15 minutes. Keep your mind under control by focusing on something else other than the cold.
Not ready for a full-body ice bath? Then try applying ice packs to sore or achy areas, such as your knees, calves, or quads.
Running Recovery Rule – 4. Rest (Active Recovery)
Proper recovery is the key to unlocking your full potential as a runner. It’s the difference between being sidelined with an injury and achieving your personal best. Think of it as the fuel that powers your running machine. Without it, your engine will quickly burn out.
Research has shown that rest is essential for the body’s natural repair processes to occur. By allowing your muscles to rest, you’re giving them the opportunity to heal and recover. And when your muscles are properly rested, they’re able to perform better the next time you hit the pavement.
But rest doesn’t have to mean being a couch potato. In fact, active recovery is the way to go. This means performing relatively easy exercise that stimulates blood flow to your muscles without inducing additional stress on your body.
You could perform active recovery by going for an easy bike ride, a leisurely swim, or even a light jog. But if you really want to rejuvenate your mind, then join a yoga class.
Running Recovery Rule – 5. Eat for Recovery
Post-workout period is one of the most critical windows for nutrient absorption, and the choices you make during this time can make or break your recovery rate.
Think of your body as a high-performance sports car, and your post-run meal as the high-octane fuel that keeps your engine humming. During the recovery window, your body is like a sponge, primed to absorb nutrients that can help restore muscle glycogen and repair muscle tissue. But not all calories are created equal. If you skip post-run eating or opt for junk food, you’ll do more harm than good.
So, what should you be eating? The two big players are carbohydrates and proteins, which are the main protagonists for maximum recovery. Aim to consume a balanced meal within 30 to 60 minutes of your run, or carry a sports drink or milk-based shake if you don’t have the stomach for a full meal. Shoot for at least one-half gram of carbohydrates per pound of body weight, depending on your fitness level, training intensity, goals, and personal preferences.
But here’s the catch: not all carbohydrates are created equal, either. Aim for food that scores high on complex carbs, like sweet potatoes, peas, beans, lentils, and brown rice, to replenish your empty energy tanks. Quality protein, like eggs, lean meat, and dairy, provides your body with the building blocks and essential amino acids for the repair process.
If you’re short on time or can’t stomach food after a hard run, consider a sports drink or recovery shake. And if you want to keep things simple and convenient, reach for a glass of chocolate milk. This magical recovery drink is packed with natural sugar and protein, making it the perfect choice for busy runners who want to stock up on their energy stores and speed up the rebuilding process.
Running Recovery Rule- 6. Sleep Tight
Do you want to recover faster from your runs and improve your performance without spending a dime? Look no further than sleep! It’s the cheapest and most underrated recovery tool you have at your disposal. It’s not rocket science; just good old-fashioned sleep.
Proper sleep makes up at least 70 percent of proper recovery, according to performance experts, coaches, and professional athletes. It’s right up there with nutrition as the backbone of a good recovery. So, if you master these two, you’re on your way to proper recovery without worrying about any fancy equipment or expensive recovery tools.
When you’re running, you’re breaking down muscle fibers and draining energy levels. To rebuild and repair these tiny micro-tears, you need rest. And sleep, especially during hard training days and weeks is the foundation of proper recovery and improved performance. It’s during the non-REM deep sleep stage that your pituitary gland secretes the famous growth hormone, HGH, which promotes growth, cell regeneration, cell reproduction, and other vital bodily functions responsible for restoring bones and muscles.
Research studies have shown that getting enough quality sleep can improve athletic performance in basketball players and college tennis players. For instance, a Stanford research published in SLEEP, conducted at the Stanford University, revealed that maintaining a regular sleep routine of 10 hours for up to five to seven weeks improved athletic performance in basketball players.
Here’s the bad news. When you’re lacking on sleep, you’re limiting your body’s production of the growth hormone, which makes complete recovery tricky. Skimping on sleep also increases the secretion of catabolic hormones, like cortisol, and hinder the release of anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and insulin-like growth factor. That’s why too little sleep can spell disaster for your fitness and overall health status.
Research has linked sleep problems with plenty of health issues such as heart disease, obesity, impaired immune function, low productivity, and mental disorders.
So, what’s the ideal amount of sleep per night you need as a runner?
Again, I don’t have the answer since sleep needs vary widely by individual, depending in large part on activity level, age, environment, genetics, etc.
The fact is, you might even need different amounts of sleep at different stages of your life and through various stages of your training cycle.
So, if you still feel tired in the morning, you probably require more sleep.
But most experts recommend shooting for seven to eight hours during the night time is ideal.
Here are more sleeping tips.
No heavy eating. Avoid consuming high-sugar foods or alcohol and watching TV before hitting the sack.
Research shows that this can disrupt our sleep patterns.
Schedule it. Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Sticking to a rigid schedule can help regulate your body’s internal clock, thus making falling asleep and staying so easier.
Make a routine. Set up a sleep routine in which you get ready to hit the sack in the 60 minutes before you go to bed.
Make sure that your sleep routine consists of activities that get your body ready to sleep.
Some of these include getting rid of electronics (especially your Smartphone and TV), dimming the lights, meditating, reading fiction, stretching, self-hypnosis, taking a hot shower, and journaling.
Sleep in a cooler environment. Sleep in good temperature that’s roughly 65 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18 or 19 degrees Celsius.
Power naps are a must since they can help you with recovery and feeling more energized for the rest of the day—especially after a lunch break run. Study suggests that taking a nap around two hours after a run can help your body access a deeper and more restorative state of sleep.
Even a 20-minute is better than none.
Just make sure it does not go over an hour; otherwise, you will feel sluggish afterward and may even find it hard to fall asleep at night.
Running Recovery Rule- 7. Stretching
Studies have shown that runners are more prone to this tightness than other athletes. It’s important to address this tightness through a proper stretching routine, especially after a hard run.
Although there is no conclusive evidence that post-workout stretching reduces soreness, from personal experience, stretching does help. Stretching after a run allows for the flushing out of lactic acid from the muscles, reducing stiffness and fatigue the following day. It’s best to stretch during the post-run period when your muscles are warmed up and loose.
A proper stretching routine should last between 10 to 20 minutes. The longer, the better. Focus on stretching your quads, calves, hips, hamstrings, and lower back.
If you have any soreness or a troubled spot in your body, focus on it, stretch it properly, and breathe into it to release the discomfort. Just remember to stay within the limits of pain and not force it, or you risk injuring yourself.
After your stretching routine, take five minutes to do leg drains, also known as legs over the wall or Viparita, in yogic circles. This involves lying next to a wall, bringing your butt to the wall, your knees into your chest, and straightening your legs up onto the wall. Wiggling your butt closer to the wall will give you a better stretch. Doing this will further promote blood flow and help your muscles recover quicker.
Running Recovery Rule – 8. Foam Roll
Foam rolling, oh boy, where do I even begin? It’s like having your own personal masseuse at your disposal, minus the hefty price tag.
I first discovered foam rolling during my P90X DVD program, and it completely changed my post-workout stretching game. I owe a huge shoutout to Tony Horton and the folks who came up with foam rolling because it’s an absolute game-changer.
But why does it matter so much? Well, in my opinion, foam rolling takes traditional stretching to a whole new level. In fact, in some cases, it’s even more powerful than stretching.
When you foam roll, you can alleviate tightness and knots that traditional stretching just can’t seem to reach. And the benefits don’t stop there. According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise Journal, foam rolling can increase tissue repair, enhance mobility, and reduce soreness.
But how exactly does it work? You see, most of that post-run soreness and tenderness happens when your muscles and fascia, which is the connective tissue running throughout your body, become tangled and entwined. With a simple foam rolling routine, you can work out these troubled areas to get rid of those pesky knots and tightness. It’s like using a rolling pin on a ball of dough, kneading out all those pesky kinks.
But let me tell you, foam rolling isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It can be a real pain in the butt, especially when you’re working on those troubled areas. You know you’re doing it right when it hurts and challenges you. You’re untangling muscle knots, after all. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable experience but trust me; it’s worth it.
Running Recovery Rule – 9. Limit the pills
Let me tell you, my friend; there’s nothing quite like that post-run soreness. But when the pain gets too much to bear, it’s tempting to reach for the quick fix of Advil or Aleve. But before you do, listen up.
Though these drugs may help soothe your pain, they also have their own downsides. They’re synthetic, man-made creations that can disrupt the delicate balance of your body’s natural healing process. And as a runner, relying too heavily on these drugs can actually hinder your recovery, leaving you feeling worse in the long run.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But I need them to push through the pain and hit my training goals!” I hear you. I really do. As a fellow runner, I know how hard it can be to listen to your body when you’re trying to achieve your next personal record.
Research has shown that NSAIDs can inhibit muscle growth, cause ulcers, and lead to a host of other health problems. And while small doses here and there may not be too harmful, crossing that fine line can lead to serious trouble. That’s why it’s so important to consult with a physician who understands the importance of proper exercise recovery before making them a regular part of your routine.
But don’t worry, my friend. There are other recovery tools out there that can offer the same relief without the negative side effects. Foam rolling, stretching, and rest are all essential components of a healthy recovery plan. And if you can make time for them after every run, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your body bounces back.
Of course, I know we all have busy lives, and fitting into a full recovery routine isn’t always feasible. But even if you can only do a few stretches here and there, every little bit helps. Just remember the three essentials: hydration, refueling, and sleep. These are the building blocks of a healthy body, and ignoring them will affect not only your running but your overall quality of life as well.
Recovery For Runners – The Conclusion
I’m well aware that not everyone will have the time needed to perform this routine after every run.
But the more you do it, the faster you are going to recover between your hard runs and workouts.
In my opinion, this is the ideal recovery plan, but feel free to do and apply what you are able to fit in after each run.
But never forget the three essentials: hydration, refueling, and sleep. These are the backbone, and ignoring them not only hurts your running, but life quality as well.