Tips for Better Recovery From Running
An aspect of training that numerous runners take for granted is that recovery is just as (if not more) important than the actual running. Recovery from running begins the moment one run ends, and most injuries can be traced back to inadequate nutrition, rest, or failure to listen to one’s body. Detailed below are ten tips for better recovery from running that will leave you properly energized, fueled, and ready to go for your next workout!
Go easy on your easy days
Far too many runners fall into the trap of feeling as though they must run hard every day. This is a recipe for disaster, including injury and burnout. Instead, take the “work hard, play hard” approach and leave it all on the track during speed sessions, but use recovery days to run slower than normal. Not only will your legs feel better, but your mind will as well.
Perhaps one of the greatest keys to better recovery from running is longer and deeper sleep. Our bodies do not go into full recovery mode until we reach the REM stage of a sleep cycle. People who often feel tired, achy, or who have difficulty recovering from hard races or workouts could benefit from additional REM time, which only occurs for thirty minutes during each sleep cycle. As a general rule of thumb, runners should aim to sleep 7 – 8 hours per night plus an additional 10 minutes per 10 miles of weekly running. For instance, a runner who runs 60 miles per week should therefore sleep 8 – 9 hours per night. To achieve deeper sleep, athletes should avoid caffeine or exercise before bed and should also limit screen time from a computer, tablet, or smart phone. Certain supplements, such as tart cherry juice, can also promote deeper and more restful sleep.
Pay attention to diet
Properly fueling your body for recovery from running is extremely important. While some endurance athletes believe that less is more when it comes to eating, this attitude is harmful. Incorporating a good variety of fruits and vegetables along with protein, grains, and fat is essential for optimal muscle recovery. Runners should aim to eat at least 65 grams of fat per day from sources such as non-refined cooking oils (i.e. coconut, olive, sunflower, etc.), avocados, and legumes. Protein is also important, and incorporating enough sources into your daily diet is necessary for muscle repair.
When you sweat your body loses important minerals such as sodium, potassium, and calcium – all of which are important for proper muscle function. Calcium and potassium are necessary for muscle contraction and deficiency of these minerals can lead to muscle spasms and cramps. It is important to replace your electrolytes during and after exercise in order to limit the amount of damage that is sustained by your body.
Track your hydration
Dehydration can leave you prone to injury or illness, so knowing how much you sweat during a run can help you replenish your body to maintain optimal hydration. Weigh yourself before and after exercise and aim to replenish what was lost in water weight. It can also be helpful to track your weight (always weigh yourself at the same time each day) to have a baseline for hydration. When you wake up in the morning calculate how far you are from your typical value and be sure to drink extra fluids if you are more than 5% lower than average.
Invest in compression gear
After long runs, hard workouts, and races your body may be in a state of inflammation which is not favorable for recovery. Compression gear, such as calf sleeves, compression socks, compression tights, or arm sleeves helps draw blood to tense areas to flush out soreness-causing metabolites. Although relatively costly, compression wear is a good investment if you are prone to inflammation after exercise.
Eat within 30 minutes of a hard workout
Science has shown that muscles are most primed for recovery within 30 minutes of hard exercise. Seek to consume a snack with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio after a challenging workout in order to give muscles the best chance at a full recovery. Sample snacks include specially formulated recovery bars, a bowl of cereal, chocolate milk, or honey roasted peanuts.
Listen to your body
Sometimes your body will be craving a nap during a time when you would typically complete your second run of the day. Other times, your legs may be so sore that the thought of going for a 20 mile run sounds terrible. Occasionally, you may wake up on a Saturday morning only to feel like an extra few hours of sleep are absolutely necessary. The best runners listen to the feedback of their bodies and adjust accordingly instead of forcing themselves to stick to a pre-designed training plan. When you work with your body you will stay injury free.
No pain, no gain
Not to be confused with running through injury, this mantra should be applied to your recovery. There are a number of tools available to runners to help them repair their tired muscles at home without the help of a massage therapist. For instance, the foam roller (a dense cylinder made of foam that athletes roll their tired muscles on top of in order to relieve stress in calves, hamstrings, quads, and IT bands) provides many benefits but its use can be incredibly painful. Remember that a little bit of pain when it comes to a sports massage, physical therapy session, ice bath, or other recovery techniques is necessary in order to reduce the number of aches and pains.
While sports scientists have not concluded with certainty whether stretching wards off injury, the fact remains that the simple act of mindfully sitting down and stretching tight muscles can help you identify problem areas in your body and make you better aware of how you are feeling. Stretching has also been shown to reduce stress, improve circulation, and lower blood pressure which are all beneficial for recovery.
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