This question is always on the mind of runners. Whether you’re just starting, or you’ve been running all your life, it can still be tricky to figure just exactly what you need to do after a run to recover and avoid injury.
Since running can produce a strong force of up to 3 times your body’s weight on your legs as you contact the ground and we engage our bodies so much when we run, the sport is considered a heavy contact sport and this means once you have finished, not only do you have to appreciate the goal we have just accomplished, but we also need to focus on our recovery.
Luckily we have written this article to tell you a little more about post-run recovery and how to make the most out of it, making you feel fresh and motivated for your next run, and avoid as much muscle soreness or injury as you can. Let’s jump right in!
Does Running Burn Muscle?
Before we dive into the post-run recovery tips, you might wonder why muscle soreness after a run is so common. You might have a smile on your face the whole way round and feel on top of the world after a long run, but getting out of bed the next morning is more than a struggle.
Surprisingly, however, running doesn’t burn muscle. However, it promotes the growth of new muscles and develops them to make the sport easier.
Runners usually have bigger quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles because of this, as these are the muscles that work the hardest during a run, hence the soreness the next morning.
Your body will not promote the growth of unnecessary muscle groups but if you fail to use a muscle at all, it will atrophy, meaning it will shrink and weaken due to a lack of use.
This is what causes the ‘muscle-burning myth’. A lot of people believe that running burns muscle tissue, and this simply is not true.
This belief is a result of the gradual atrophy of extraneous groups. However, your body whilst running is also involving your core, hips, and arm movement, and so overall, running does not burn muscle but build it instead.
What Do I Do After A Run?
To avoid the muscle soreness outlined above after a long run, and to avoid injury after any kind of run, you need to know what to do afterward. The steps outlined below should send you on your way and help you to feel great again.
During the cool-down period, your body returns to its resting state. Your heart rate decreases, your veins constrict and your blood pressure drops. However, your blood will still be pumping out metabolic waste as it repairs the muscle fibers.
Before completing these steps, you need to jog slowly after immediately finishing your run for around 5-10 minutes, and then begin some bodyweight exercises to target different muscle groups.
We recommend a routine consisting of exercises to strengthen muscles and reduce tightness, such as high knees, high skips, and jumping jacks. You should then always stretch after a run, whether you have gone 3 or 30 miles.
After running, the most important thing you need to remember to do is hydrate. This should be done within the first 10-15 minutes after finishing your run, even if the temperate was cool. This is because whatever the temperature was, your body still sweats, and you lose fluid.
You then need to hydrate to replace this fluid. You could use an electrolyte solution for longer, more strenuous workouts, but you should be drinking around 16-20oz of whichever fluid you choose.
As we previously mentioned, you never want to skip stretching after a run and it’s almost as important as hydrating. Without it, you may end up with an injury and a lengthy rehabilitation period that will inevitably slow down your training. To reduce that muscle soreness after a run, static stretching is recommended.
This also helps increase flexibility. They are held for about 30 seconds, as opposed to dynamic stretches which involve continuous movement. You always want to move slowly into the stretch until you feel the tension in the muscle and once you feel this, hold it there and feel the stretch.
A post-run snack is great for refueling your body and replacing the energy you have expended after a run. The optimal window for eating after a workout is 2 hours and this is when your body is primed to receive nutrients. The snack should involve complex carbs and protein and you should follow up later with a smaller meal of the same type if you can.
Carbohydrates replenish muscle fuel stores and protein repairs muscle damage. We recommend unprocessed sources of food such as fruit or yogurt. Chocolate milk is also popular as it contains a ratio of 4:1, carbs to protein.
Sleeping and resting are essential after a run to recover, rebuild, and repair. You need to be sure you are getting at least eight hours of sleep a night, especially on running days.
When you don’t run, as part of your training, it is still good practice to get enough sleep in. Getting enough rest helps your body recover and helps to avoid injury. If you have the time, a post-run nap is always recommended!
Roll Your Muscles
Rolling your muscles is one of the most effective ways of helping your muscles recover.
When you foam roll, you promote blood flow to the fascia and this surrounds the muscles that need to recover. By doing this, you are helping to circulate healthy and oxygenated blood through it, which reduces recovery time, keeps it healthy, and relieves pain.
Some runners also enjoy combining their foam rolling with another method that involves a firm ball under the base of their feet. You should work the ball from the heel to the toes and back.
This is because there are tendons on the base of your foot which can become inflamed and this practice keeps inflammation down. This helps to avoid a condition called plantar fasciitis.
Now this might seem extreme and it’s only recommended for much longer runs, but adding ice to a bath till it reaches around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and braving the cold after stretching could be worth it in the long run.
Immerse your lower body in the water and to survive the first 3 minutes, bite the towel whilst thinking about your biggest goals.
After these minutes have passed, you should start to relax a little. If you are an experienced ice bather, kick your legs to stir the water and this should circulate the warm water, making you cold again.
Don’t get out of the bath until 10-15 minutes has passed and after you have let the tub drain, go ahead and take a shower. Your muscles will thank you for this uncomfortable process, trust us.
We hope by reading this article you have learned a little more about what to do after a run and how to reduce muscle soreness and injury. Performing these steps can enhance your training plan and keep you feeling great after each run, no matter how far you have gone.
So get that water and a post-run snack ready and don’t forget to stretch! Happy running!