Post Race Recovery Tips for Runners
Preparing for a race is challenging and requires a lot of planning. What you do before and after the race is equally important. Every finish line is also a start line, so you have to come up with a recovery plan that allows you to return to your training. From recovery runs to recovery foods and stretching exercises, there are several things you can do to prevent catabolism and maximize muscle repair. These post race recovery tips will help you limit unnecessary damage to your muscles:
Have a Sports Drink
Drink Gatorade or another electrolyte drink immediately after the race. This helps replenish lost electrolytes and fuels your muscles. Opt for a beverage with 4:1 carbs to protein ratio to speed up recovery. Consume at least 16 ounces of fluid per pound of water weight lost during the race. Your body needs calories and electrolytes within the first 30 minutes after running to begin rebuilding damaged muscle tissues and restore glycogen stores.
Eat the Right Foods
Your post race meal should contain protein and simple carbs. Eat foods that are easy to digest, such as bananas, chocolate milk, granola bars, bagels, yogurt with fruit, pasta, honey, or fruit smoothies. Choose a snack that contains at least 200 calories, from which 80 percent cars and 20 percent protein. Glucose tablets are a good option too because they increase insulin levels and ignite the recovery process. Any calories you consume within the first two hours after a race will be used as fuel by your body. Heavy meals take longer to digest and should be avoided. Running long distances can severely upset your GI tract, so resist the urge to overeat.
Stretch Your Muscles
Stretch your muscles gently as soon as you cross the finish line. This helps reduce muscle soreness and eliminate the waste by-products that have built up during the race. The whole point is to stretch your muscles while they're still warm. At a minimum you should keep walking slowly for at least three minutes to dissipate lactic acid, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and prevent arrhythmia. Static stretching, walking, and foam rolling will increase blood flow to your muscles and speed up recovery. Do not stretch to the point of feeling pain.
Apply Ice Packs
If you experience pain or swelling after a race, apply ice packs to the affected area. Don't take anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Medications can affect recovery time, slow down protein synthesis, and impede your body’s natural healing process. According to researchers, the over-use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may lead to stomach ulcers, joint cartilage degeneration, digestive problems, and kidney damage. Most times, pain goes away by itself.
Get a Massage
One of the best ways to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness is to get a massage within 24 hours after a race. Choose a therapist with experience in sports massage. This form of therapy can have dramatic effects on recovery time. It also contributes to the prevention and management of overuse injuries. However, it's not recommended to get a massage immediately after finishing the run because it can make things worse.
Take an Ice Bath
Ice baths decrease swelling and speed up healing by constricting the blood flow to your legs. After the race, runners can enjoy cold baths followed by a deep massage. This habit reduces inflammation and aches, relaxes your body, and reinvigorates the muscles. Recent studies suggest that ice baths may lead to actual strength gains. If you’ve never done it before, draw a cool bath and get in it. As you get used to the temperature, add cold water. Take an Epsom salt bath before bed to remove excess toxins from your muscles.
Get Plenty of Rest
Your body needs time to recover after strenuous effort. Take a few days off from your training routine and get plenty of rest. Your strength and endurance won’t diminish overnight. Active recovery is strongly encouraged, especially if you're planning to train for another race soon. Rolling out with a foam roller and engaging in low impact cardio exercises promotes muscle repair. You may also opt for recovery runs, which clear away lactic acid and increase blood flow to the muscles. They also improve your overall fitness despite being shorter and slower than your regular workouts.
Take It Easy
Return to your workout routine gradually. It's important to calm your mind and let your body heal. Cross-train for up to 30 minutes a day and stretch major muscle groups, including your back, shoulders, and legs. Stick with activities that are mild on your joints, such as yoga, Pilates, swimming, and cycling. Keep the intensity slow to moderate. By all means keep active, but take it easy. Even if you’re feeling prepared for intense training, your body is still recovering. Be kind to yourself and have patience.