Post-run recovery is one of the most important parts of training, and also one that is often dismissed or overlooked. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, taking the time to recover post run will make you a faster, stronger runner.
I’m about to start my real deal training for a half marathon I’m doing this spring, and I’m SO excited. Since graduating and finishing up my career as a collegiate athlete, I’ve craved the structure and intensity of actually training for a race.
Anyways, in the spirit of taking my training more seriously, I figured I would write a post about one of the most important aspects of running: recovery.
Importance of Post-Run Recovery
Recovery helps you bounce back to training quicker and prevent injuries. It’s important to remember that we actually don’t get faster or stronger during our workouts, but during recovery. Runner’s World does a great job of explaining the importance of post-run recovery in this excerpt:
As distance runners, we live in a constant cycle of destruction and adaptation. In turns, we push our bodies to the edge of their ability and then wait patiently for them to heal into a slightly stronger, faster state of homeostasis. In a nutshell, that’s what training is.
While vast details of the specific processes and bodily systems fill an impressive stack of textbooks in the office of Eugene family practice physician and acupuncturist Tom Etges, he assures me the basic process of training is fairly straightforward. In our training we strain ourselves to go longer or faster than is comfortable. In so doing, we deplete our various fuel sources and cause microscopic tears in our muscle tissue. Stimulated by the damage, our bodies whir into a fury of adaptation. Our stores open for maximum refueling, and our veins deliver white blood cells to repair the micro tears.
It’s not, therefore, in our workouts that we become better athletes, but in the time between them. Neglecting to take sufficient rest or to answer our depleted bodies’ needs not only limits our improvements, but can start a spiral of a very different sort.
When we don’t take time to recover, we miss out on a ton of training gains that we could be making. Plus, when we don’t make the effort to maximize recovery, we subject ourselves to injury and adrenal fatigue. So, it’s extremely important to think of recovery as a part of training, not extra.
Here are a few post-run recovery musts that will have you bouncing back quicker than ever!
I figured I’d start with one of the most basic yet most powerful post-run recovery tools: sleep. Again and again, research shows that sleep significantly impacts your performance and recovery. This is partly because your brain produces human growth hormone (HGH) while you sleep- an essential hormone that rebuilds damaged tissue and builds strong bones. HGH also converts fat to fuel – another essential when it comes to distance running.
Sleep also protects your body from injury and illness, considering how sleep plays a huge role in your immune function. Training without getting enough sleep takes your already damaged cells and makes them worse. Without sleep, illness or injury will eventually force you to rest.
Tips for better sleep (from my post “Become a Morning Runner (Ultimate Guide) “)
- Shut off all electronics an hour before bed. The blue light acts like the sun and messes with your hormones.
- Wake up early the morning before. Your bodies’ cues for sleep come from two primary functions: your circadian rhythm and homeostatic drive. Simply put, your homeostatic drive is low when you first wake up and builds throughout the day. So the longer you’ve been awake, the more sleepy you will feel. Try waking up early regardless of how much sleep you’ve had, and you will begin to want to go to sleep earlier.
- Keep the temp below 72 degrees F. The best sleep happens between 65 and 70 degrees F.
- Get sunlight in the morning. This send signals to your brain that it’s morning, and will know when it’s time for you to go to sleep a night.
- Be consistent. Staying consistent not only helps with sleep quantity but also quality.
Another essential and FREE post-run recovery tip!!
The two hours right after your run is one of the most important times for hydration.
According to Justin Whittikar, D.C., “your muscles were meant to be bathed in water, in fluid. There should be no resistance in their movement. Dehydration is the biggest wrench you can throw into that system, because if the muscles aren’t free-floating, lubricated, they start to adhere to each other, and then it’s a tug of war, and the movement that should be effortless is suddenly a struggle due to dehydration and byproducts. The muscles should be like putty. Elastic, malleable, pliable. When a person is nutritionally imbalanced or they’re dehydrated their tissue will be fibrose, chord-like, ropey.” (Source)
Make sure you have a water bottle on hand at all times. A lot of times I find myself not drinking enough water simply because I don’t have it around. One thing you can do is fill several containers with water before you go to sleep and plan to drink all of them the next day. This will help make the process of drinking more water more automatic.
Massage Stick and/or Foam Roller
Foam rolling every day will help your muscles recover more quickly and prevent injury. This is because doing so will not only relieve knots and tightness after running, it will also increase circulation and stimulate your lymphatic system. When you increase circulation in any area it helps speed the recovery process.
Here’s an except from my blog post 6 Must Haves for Runners that highlights some benefits of using a foam roller for post-run recovery:
Foam rolling can be beneficial for everyone but it’s especially helpful for runners. Foam rolling has all sorts of muscle benefits and central nervous system benefits as well. Apparently the foam roller offers myofascial release which is the use of low-intensity pressure to soft tissues over a long period of time (aka a massage). This basically allows contracted muscles to relax which improves blood and nutrient flow to the area being “massaged”. This helps muscles have smoother motion because the have less internal rubbing. So in even simpler terms the foam roller helps increase blood flow, gives you a better range of motion (which is super important for longevity), and a decreases injury risk (which I so need- you never care about preventing an injury until you get one).
There is a lot out there on foam rolling and it’s benefits so read up on all that if you’re interested! I have personally found incorporating foam rolling into my routine has helped me a ton.
I also use this rumble roller, which works even better than the foam roller because of the spikes:
A rolling stick can also be really helpful for when you are traveling or on the the go:
These compression socks are post-run recovery must have for me. They work really well to help increase circulation (similar to foam rolling) and prevent injury. This is totally anecdotal and possibly a coincidence but the one season I never wore these was the season I got a lower leg stress fracture. Plus, some research has shown that wearing thing can quicken healing for shin splints.
A Healthy, Real Food Diet
When you’re eating a diet that is loaded with processed foods and sugar, your body is essentially starving for nutrients, making it impossible for post-run recovery.
Plus, did you know that research has shown that whole foods work better for post-workout recovery than all the recovery supplements out there? There are tons of ads and marketing around post-run recovery replacement meals, shakes, bars, etc., but really, whole foods do a much a better job.
If you have difficulty figuring out what exactly you should be eating, I have a sample grocery list for runners that you should check out! The grocery list is packed with nutrient dense foods that will have you recovered quick.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful, and you will use them after your next run or workout! They have helped me become a better, stronger runner and I think they can really do the same for you!