WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IMMEDIATELY AFTER A RUN...AND WHAT CAN YOU DO LATER ON?
I don’t know why I don’t get this question more often. I do think that a lot of runners ask themselves the question, then probably try to answer it for themselves. Or perhaps they just do what their fellow runners are doing. Nothing wrong with that, if all the little but important things are being done. If there is any guesswork, however, I’d like to take the some of it out of it by covering what you should do right away, and what can wait a little while.
Running is a contact sport. Yup, you read that right! It may not involve person-to-person contact but studies have shown that running can produce a force of up to 3 times your body’s weight on your legs when you come into contact with the ground, depending on your speed and running mechanics. This is one of the main reasons I stress the importance of warming up before every run. We ask a lot of our bodies when we run so we should be sufficiently ready for this activity before we engage in it.
Once you’re done with the run and have had a moment to take in what you just accomplished (i.e. you just rocked another run and you’re that much closer to your goal!) then it’s time to focus on recovering and getting ready for the next run.
So then what should you do after a run? This is what post-run recovery should look like:
1. Perform some static stretches
You’ve heard me stress the importance of performing static stretches after a run, because this is when the recovery begins. Static stretches allow your body to cool down while still maintaining flexibility and can also help promote blood flow to areas that need it. I demonstrate a few of the most effective static stretches at the end of every one of our Beginner Runner Group runs. I’ve also blogged about some additional static stretches you can do on your own, so check them out!
"The healthier the fascia the better you move." - Trigger Point
This is just as important as the stretching, so you can even do it while you stretch. Especially if you’ve been sweating heavily. Hydrating after a run allows your body to replenish any electrolytes you may have lost through sweat. Even when it’s cold outside, you still sweat, and this may actually be a more crucial time because the cold weather can mask sweat very effectively. Without electrolytes your muscles cannot function properly (ever had a muscle cramp?) and therefore cannot perform properly. It’s okay to drink water but this alone isn’t enough because water does not naturally contain electrolytes. Supplement your water intake with a sports drink, hydration tablets like Nuun or even coconut water, to get everything you need.
Once you’ve had time to properly stretch and hydrate, it’s time to plan your recovery meal. There is an optimal window of up to 2 hours after a workout, especially a hard workout, when your body is primed to receive nutrients. Take advantage of this window and have a recovery meal of both complex carbs and protein. Then if time allows, follow it up a few hours later with a smaller meal of the same type. I tend to favor smaller, more frequent meals over larger ones, and earlier in the day. Avoid eating too late in the night because it may affect your quality of sleep. I’m speaking from experience here.
4. Roll your muscles
Some runners swear by it and some runners never do it but foam rolling is one of the most effective methods of muscle recovery! When you foam roll, you promote blood flow to the fascia that surrounds the muscles and that needs to recover. By circulating healthy, oxygenated blood through it, you relieve pain, reduce recovery time and keep it healthy and the healthier the fascia, the better you move. It may not feel very comfortable while you’re doing it (in fact it usually does not) but it’s an important step in the recovery process so get yourself a foam roller!
In my day-to-day recovery I usually also combine foam rolling with a method that involves rolling a firm ball (tennis or preferably a lacrosse ball) under the base of my feet for a few minutes at a time, working the ball from my heel to my toes and back. There are tendons at the base of your feet that can sometimes become irritated and inflamed. This practice can keep that inflammation at bay, allowing you to avoid that dreaded condition called plantar fasciitis.
5. Get enough rest
This can mean a few different things but the premise is the same. It may mean making sure you get enough sleep at night and wake up feeling rested and ready to go. If you already do this, it may mean staying off your feet and resting them for a little while, especially after a hard run. It could also mean taking brief naps during the day to keep you charged up. Whatever works for you, make sure that you always listen to your body (always!) and allow yourself the rest that you need. It could make you a better and happier runner!
Now there are quite a few more things that you could (and should) do...runners are a busy bunch huh! For example, you should take a shower. Obviously. You can also give your legs a light massage, especially the muscles in your lower leg, using muscle rub or oil. Arnica is always a good ingredient in a muscle rub, especially for sore muscles. You could also take an epsom salt bath, or even just a regular bath. These are all great post-run recovery methods. This is also where you should use your best judgement based on how much time you have and what your body needs. However, as long as you routinely follow the 5 steps above after every run you’ll be in great shape!
Run Better. Run Smarter. Run For Life.