At the end of a long run, you might experience a post-exercise high or the joys of a job well done. You might also feel sore. And exhausted. If you can spend the rest of the day lying on the couch and don’t have another run on your horizon, you’ll probably be fine. But if you’ve got a training regimen to stick to, or are taking part in a multi-day race, you need to recover — fast.
Nothing beats rest and proper nutrition when it comes to repairing your body and preparing it to move again, but there are a handful of strategies for speeding up your recovery. Give these tricks a try, and see how they help you recover between runs.
Stretching after a run helps you cool down and prevent stiffness. It may even lead to more flexibility over time. Stretch when your muscles are still warm to reap the most benefit, and target those hard-working muscles like your quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and hip flexors.
“Stretching promotes healing blood flow and increases range of motion,” says Jason Fitzgerald, the running coach behind Strength Running. “It’s my preferred way of stretching because it’s more effective.”
If you’re out for a long run, you need to feed your muscles with a steady supply of glycogen. Once you’re finished, you should replace those glycogen stores with a dose of carbs and electrolytes, but that’s also the time to ingest muscle-repairing protein. A study in the International Journal of Medical Sciences found fueling with whey protein reduced inflammation and improved endurance in marathon runners. Aim for 20–30 grams of protein, depending on your size and the intensity of your run.
Matthew Martin, a personal trainer and distance runner, says he always has a protein bar or shake after a long run (same goes for his long bike rides and gym workouts) to give his body a quick hit of protein. “An hour or two later, I’ll sit down for a meal, where I’ll aim for another good dose of protein, plus carbs and vegetables,” he says. “One of my favorite post-run lunches is a green salad, fish or chicken, and either rice or a baked potato topped with Greek yogurt.”
After pounding the pavement, your feet need a break. But don’t just set them on the coffee table — lie down and put them up the wall. Studies have shown inverting your lower half may be helpful in lymphatic drainage, promoting circulation and reducing swelling. And, as an added benefit, it’s also a nice hamstring stretch.
Compression socks and tights have gained in popularity in recent years, and manufacturers tout their benefits. Whether they’re useful during a run is debatable, but they have been shown to increase circulation and improve blood flow — two things that translate to quicker recovery. According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, runners who wore compression socks for 48 hours after completing a marathon improved their performance on a treadmill test two weeks later.
“After a long run, I often slip on compression socks after I stretch and shower,” says Martin. “Anything I can do to help with inflammation and blood flow, I’m all for. I’ll kick my legs up while relaxing or watching TV, and it helps me feel better that night and the next day.”
Cryotherapy gives a whole new meaning to your typical cool down. Rather than icing your knees or sitting in an ice bath, cryotherapy involves standing in an upright chamber while dry air, as cold as –200ºF, envelops your body. It’s meant to reduce muscle pain and inflammation. According to a Frontiers in Physiology study, it can be effective in “relieving symptomatology of the whole set of inflammatory conditions that could affect an athlete.” So, if you can brave the cold for a few minutes, it might be worth your time.
“I have a love/hate relationship with cryo,” says Martin. “Those are three very long minutes, but I always leave feeling refreshed, less sore and less fatigued overall.” So, if you can brave the cold for a few minutes, it might be worth your time.
Nothing beats a good massage. Not only does it feel great, but massage has been shown to aid recovery and repair damaged muscles. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research followed participants after they completed a vigorous stair run. The subjects, who received 15-minute post-exercise massages, showed improved proprioception and muscle strength. If getting an actual massage isn’t a viable option after every run — which makes sense — you can try self-massage with a foam roller, “the stick” or a lacrosse ball.
Conventional wisdom says that, if you want to reduce pain and inflammation after a run, reach for some ice. But a 2017 study published in the Journal of Physiology has a different take on the matter. Researchers found that heat, not ice, helped the body recover faster after endurance exercise-induced fatigue. So, consider slipping into a hot bath to soothe your joints and muscles after one run and before the next.