Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise. People get into running in order to lose weight and stay in shape. Some catch the running bug. It becomes part of their daily routine and soon they plan on competing. A 3k run turns into a 5k run. Eventually, the runner could be doing 10k and 15k distances. The ultimate goal, of course, is to complete a marathon.
It’s a great feeling to cross the finish line after a long race. All the months of preparation have paid off. However, a long run can be hard on the body. Other than the usual muscle and tendon strain, studies have shown that a long run such as a marathon can lead to cellular damage. Long runs that are particularly gruelling can compromise your immune system; making you susceptible to infections.
Why You Need To Recover After A Long Run
Once the long run has been completed, the first thing that a runner should do is to jump- start the recovery process. Failure to initiate proper recovery protocols can expose you to the following health risks:
Fatigue – Exercise depletes glycogen which acts as your energy stores. If you don’t replenish lost glycogen levels, you will be severely fatigued. In some cases, runners collapse from sheer exhaustion and lack of energy.
Dehydration – You lose water, electrolytes, and other valuable minerals through sweat. If you are dehydrated, you may experience severe cramping, nausea, or loss of consciousness. Keep in mind the human body is made up mostly of water.
DOMS – Otherwise known as Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness, DOMS is a painful condition that occurs within 24 hours of strenuous activity. It can be debilitating in some cases as DOMS may result in small tears, muscle spasms, and lactic acid build-up.
11 Best Ways To Recover After A Long Run
Runners, even the most die-hard ones, often take a few days off after a long run. Getting back on the road and pounding the pavement can’t come any sooner. However, in some cases, it may take a while to get back on your feet.
As much as you would like to, it could be hard to ignore the discomfort that comes with strained joints and muscles. When damage is at the cellular level, recovery may take longer. You could find yourself dealing with extended fatigue or fighting off infections.
If you want to resume your running schedule, you have to take recovery as seriously as you do training.
Here are 11 best strategies to achieve recovery after running long distances:
- Refuel Right Away
After the customary high-fives and hugs, reach out for the water bottle right away. How much water should you drink?
Weigh yourself before and after the race or long run. The rule of thumb is to drink 20 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost. So if you lost 4 pounds after the long run, you should drink 80 to 96 ounces of water.
It is important to drink the correct amount of water slowly. Even if you’re very thirsty, resist the urge to chug it down like a gallon of milk.
Water is always a safe choice for your post- long run beverage. However, you can add an electrolyte drink, coconut water, and even chocolate milk to replenish fluids. The advantage of these other drinks is that they contain carbohydrates which can restore glycogen levels.
- Get Dry
You may experience some shivering after a long run. This could be the result of excessive sweating or by running under rainy or chilly conditions. After the race, remove your wet clothes, wipe off your sweat, and get into dry clothes right away.
Shivering can lead to cramping and severe muscle contractions. If possible, alternate between a cold bath and a hot bath. The purpose of the cold bath or soak is to reduce the level of swelling in your muscles. The hot bath or soak will promote blood circulation.
- Drink Coffee
Coffee contains high amounts of caffeine which blocks the accumulation of a molecule known as adenosine. This molecule leads to excessive tiredness or fatigue after intense exercise. Coffee can help support recovery after running.
Drink eight ounces of brewed coffee after the long run then take a short nap right away. Do not sleep for more than 45 minutes. Otherwise, you might wake up sluggish and it could disrupt your sleeping patterns.
- Take A Comfortable Stroll
After every strenuous activity, your muscles get filled up with lactic acid. This is a by-product of glycogen and is triggered as a protective mechanism to warn you that you are approaching physical limits.
Taking a stroll after a long run will bring circulation back to normal and induce light sweating. It will help remove some of the lactic acid that has accumulated in your muscles.
- Eat Carbohydrates
In addition to sports drinks, replenish your glycogen stores by eating foods that are rich in carbohydrates. Choose foods that are good sources of simple carbohydrates and have the benefit of being stocked with vitamins and minerals. Simple carbohydrates are foods that are easily converted to glycogen.
Fruits such as watermelon, oranges, bananas, and pineapples are excellent choices for your post-workout run. These fruits are not only high in simple carbohydrates but also contain potassium, vitamin C, and anti-oxidants that speed up recovery and reduce cellular damage.
- Do Static Stretches
After a race, your muscles become tight. Static stretches help relieve muscle tightness, improve blood circulation, and remove lactic acid from muscles. Stretch your calves, hamstring muscles, quadriceps, hips, gluteus and lower back muscles.
Perform static stretches in a slow, controlled manner. Do not force the muscle past a comfortable level. Hold the stretch for at least 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch as many times as necessary.
- Get A Massage
Massage is another effective way to enhance the recovery process. Similar to static stretching, massage will improve blood circulation; remove toxins, and lactic acid from your muscles.
When getting a massage, only hire certified or licensed massage therapists or physical therapists.
- Take In Protein
Protein contains amino acids which are responsible for repairing damaged muscle tissue and ligaments. Like carbohydrates, choose protein sources that are easily absorbed. Good choices would be whey protein, egg whites, and lean chicken breast.
A smart strategy would be to have your carbohydrate and protein at the same time. Whenever you eat a carbohydrate, it will trigger a release of insulin from the pancreas. The insulin will act as the vehicle to drive the carbohydrate into the muscle cell to be converted into glycogen.
By pairing a protein with a carbohydrate, the insulin can likewise drive amino acids into muscle tissue and initiate repair. This combination will surely speed up recovery after a long run.
Popular pairings are whey protein mixed with a sports drink or eating egg whites with fruits.
- Get Extra Hours Of Sleep
Sleep is an overlooked component of recovery. Yet, it may be the most important. Sleep is your body’s natural way of recharging itself. According to a study made by Flinders University from Adelaide, Australia, runners need to get at least nine to 10 hours sleep after a long and gruelling race.
- Do a Recovery Run
Recovery runs are light runs that are approximately three minutes slower than your usual pace. The purpose of the run is to enhance recovery by getting more circulation throughout your body but especially in the legs, hips, and lower back. How easy should the recovery run be? You should be able to carry a conversation during the run. Besides, running with sore legs is never fun.
- Shift to Another Activity
Any sport-specific activity like running places more emphasis on certain muscles more than others. Your legs may still feel sore one week after a long run. Instead of forcing a run, try cross- training by shifting to another activity.
The advantage of cross- training is that it can develop other muscles and systems overlooked during your running program. This can help correct strength imbalances and introduce new stimuli that can improve your overall conditioning.
Among the best choices of cross- training activities for runners are weightlifting, swimming, and biking.
Recovery after running is just as important as the actual training itself. In some cases, especially after a particularly strenuous event, recovery may even play a more important role.
Follow the recovery tips we outlined in this article and get back on the road a better, stronger, and faster runner!