Top 5 tips to aid recovery after a run

Ciara McCallion MSc (Sports Med) MISCP

With so many people taking part in the Athletics Ireland and Irish Life Health “Runuary” programme, I have put together my top tips to help you get the most from your runs, and to help you recover for the next one. There are a lot of so-called recovery tools out there, but before you invest in the latest gadget, it is important to get the basics of recovery right. This advice is applicable to runners of all levels and ages. 

Your run is not done until you have recovered for the next one.
Here are my 5 top tips for improving your recovery after a run:

1.    Active recovery 

Low intensity exercise as part of a cool down after a run gradually reduces your heart rate back down towards resting levels. Heart rate recovery is one of the first stages of overall recovery from training so low intensity exercise should be the first thing you do at the end of a run. If you have run hard, this could be an easy jog for 5-10 minutes. If you have completed a slow steady run this could be a few minutes of walking. 

2.    Muscle recovery

If you’re taking up running for the first time or are returning to running after a period of relative inactivity, you may experience DOMS. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is muscular pain or stiffness that usualy occurs 24-48 hours after unaccustomed physical activity. A lot of runners will experience DOMS in their calves or quads. Some stretching or foam rolling after a run may help to reduce the feeling of DOMS. Focus on muscle groups such as quads, calves, hamstrings and gluteals. 

3.    Fuel

Nutrition is an essential part of recovery post-run. It is really important to rehydrate as soon as possible after a run to replace fluids lost during exercise. If you sweat a lot during a run perhaps consider an electrolyte drink. Otherwise, water is a good option. 
Refuelling is also very important. Getting your nutrition right overall, but particularly after a run, is key to improving recovery and getting the most out of your training. Time your carbohydrate intake around your training, and make sure you’re getting enough calories, carbohydrates, protein and fats in your diet throughout the day. For more detailed nutrition advice consider consulting a qualified sports nutritionist or dietician. 

4.    Sleep

Sleep is one of the most underrated, but most powerful, recovery tools we have at our disposal. Studies have shown that athletes who sleep for less than 8 hours per night are at a higher risk of sustaining an injury compare to athletes who sleep for more than 8 hours. Sleep is when our bodies repair themselves so make it a priority to help you recover from your running, and to help prevent injuries. 

5.    Plan 

Planning your runs and your recovery afterwards is the most effective way of making it happen consistently. Schedule rest days as well as hard running days. Make a cool down part of your running routine and have your drink and meal or snack ready for when you finish your run. 

There is some limited evidence that other recovery modalities such as compression garments, contrast therapy (hot and cold), cryotherapy etc. may have some beneficial effects on recovery after exercise. My advice here is to make sure you do the basics outlined above right first, before trying any of these. 

Happy running! 

Ciara McCallion MSc (Sports Med) MISCP
Athletics Ireland Physiotherapist
@runphysiocm on Twitter

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