Want to feel better and stronger after a hard workout? Consider what you do once you stop running.
Runners often spend a chunk of time preparing for long runs and hard workouts: watching the weather, recruiting training partners or babysitters, mapping routes, devising a hydration strategy, planning an outfit (admit it — you’ve got a favorite long run shirt), and so on. What many runners, especially those just getting started, fail to realize is that the planning shouldn’t stop once the run is complete. That is, if they want to make the most of an intense or taxing effort by recovering quickly.
Post-workout, -race, or -long run, help your body recover so that you can reap the benefits of your training efforts with the following steps.
Once you’ve finished hard effort (and cooled down), it’s time to start refueling. You have about a two hour window where your body is depleted and primed to start rebuilding. In fact, the sooner you start, the better: consume a snack with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein within 15 minutes of your workout for optimal refueling. Make sure to include a well-balanced meal an hour or two later.
Give your body what it craves (and needs to replenish and rebuild), which is plenty of hydration, protein, and carbohydrates. If you are unable to eat post-run, drink a smoothie, protein shake, or low-fat chocolate milk to help your body rebuild.
While an ice bath is not the most comfortable thing to do after a run, it can help to speed up the recovery process by decreasing metabolic activity and constricting blood vessels. This cold therapy, or cryotherapy, reduces damaging tissue breakdown. Once you are out of the ice bath your muscles will warm up and blood flow will speed up, flushing out harmful debris.
To take an ice bath, simply toss in a few trays full or a bag of ice into a tub, then fill with water. Other options include kiddie pools, garbage cans, or horse troughs; cool to cold rushing streams, creeks, rivers, and therapy whirlpools work well without the ice. You want the water level to be no higher than your waist when you are sitting in the tub. Aim for 10-15 minutes of soaking. To make the process more bearable, many runners wear a blanket or warm coat while they are soaking and consume a hot beverage as well. Make sure to have some entertainment to take your mind off of the icy cold water such as your iPod, radio, or a book. Tip: the first minutes are the worst, so practice your mental focus to make it through the 2-minute mark.
Elevate Your Legs
Another tactic favored by distance runners is to elevate their legs post-run. This helps to flush waste out of your legs and improves circulation. To try it: Find a wall; lay on your back with your legs in the air against the wall. Hang out for ten minutes.
Catch Some ZZZs
A quick nap gives your body time to start healing and will help you to feel refreshed. Aim for five to 30 minutes to limit grogginess and potential interference with sleep.
Roll out sore muscles and tendons with a foam roller. Roll slowly over achy spots to work out the knots after loosening up the big muscle groups: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves. Do not roll over your joints.
Vary the body weight and pressure to figure out what feels best or identify pain points. Common areas of inflammation include iliotibial bands and achilles tendons. Although this might feel torturous at first, it gets better and less painful the more you roll. Your muscles will thank you, especially the next day and the day after.
Try Compression Socks
Compression socks are another great option to help increase circulation to your legs. Simply put the socks on when you return home from your run and wear for a few hours. This is an easy, low-maintenance choice for runners.
Continue to eat well for the rest of the day, focusing on carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats — plus fruits, vegetables, and water for vitamins, minerals, and re-hydration. As the Run.com team says, #BeerIsARecoveryDrink (for runners over 21 years old, in moderation). Resist the temptation to celebrate your hard effort with excessive amounts of sugar, fat, and alcohol as these will slow down your recovery. A little treat is fine, but don’t go overboard if you’re concerned about recovering for an upcoming race, scheduled training, or weight.
Don’t forget to plan your recovery! When you have a post-run plan of action, you can give your body everything it needs to repair and rebuild quickly.