How to recover right
Many runners (myself included) finish their long run or workout and immediately move on to the day’s next task: showering, work emails, getting the kids off to school, etc. But if you aren’t taking the proper post-run recovery steps, you could be limiting your progress.
Your workout isn’t over once the last interval or mile is gutted out: a cool-down is essential. If you stop abruptly after running fast or long, the blood will pool in your legs and you may experiencing fainting, leg cramps, or nausea. Jog slowly for a few minutes and then transition into walking before stopping. This gradual cool-down will allow your heart rate and body temperature to lower safely as well as keep the blood circulating through your legs.
Once you head off the track, treadmill, or road it’s time to start thinking about fuel. In addition to water, it’s important to consume a small meal that contains about 200 calories and a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. Even if you’re stomach feels a little off, get something into your system ASAP – it will assist in restoring glycogen to your muscles and reducing next day soreness. Try a glass of low-fat chocolate milk, yogurt and a banana, or a piece of toast with peanut butter and honey.
After you’ve showered and refueled some more, you may want to slip on a pair of recovery socks to increase blood flow. Maybe it’s just psychological, but my legs always feel a little better when they’re wrapped in snazzy recovery knee socks. You can also lie on the floor and elevate your legs up against the wall. This will reduce inflammation in your muscles and is particularly helpful after long runs. And while you might be tempted to veg out on the couch all day, it will be more beneficial to your body if you keep the blood flowing – go for a walk around the block, do some light stretching, or practice gentle yoga.
On days when I race or run hard, I sometimes feel ready for bed at 7:30pm! While this early bedtime makes me feel a bit like a grandma, I listen to my body and give it the extra rest it needs. The human growth hormone (hGH) is essential in repairing muscles and soft tissues broken down by training. However, when deep sleep is absent or interrupted, hGH levels decrease, prolonging recovery from exercise. A few years ago, a study published in the clinical journal Sleep indicated marked delays in muscle recovery by subjects that were prevented from accruing 90 minutes of continuous (deep) sleep. Getting some extra Z’s is probably the easiest thing you can do to speed recovery.
So the next time you run hard, don’t forget the essential steps to recovery: cool-down, eat up, and sleep tight. Happy running!