- About overtraining
- Is stretching and cooling down important?
- Best post-run snacks and meals
- What are compression garments?
- Should you do a post-exercise recovery?
- How long is the recovery period?
Running Essentials: How to Recover From A Long Race
Finishing a long race or intense training is both satisfying and rewarding. But sometimes, it can also be painful and tiring. That’s why a serious recovery process is necessary to improve performance and prevent overtraining.
In this guide, we’ll help you recover from a long race or intense training. So, when your next race comes on, you’ll come back stronger to conquer challenges.
Overtraining and Fatigue After Running
When you exceed your aerobic capacity from running too far or too extreme, you’ll feel extreme fatigue. This may lead to various changes in the body’s physiological processes, the most probable one being anaerobic metabolism. In this process, the body relies on the combustion of carbohydrates when oxygen is absent. It basically allows the body to shift from oxygen consumption to carbohydrates consumption.
According to a case study from Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Anaerobic metabolism is one of the metabolic factors causing muscle fatigue. Your body will adjust to your condition, and the initial sacrifice would be your muscle functionality.
This concludes that overtraining and fatigue can sabotage your future performances and affect your general health. Consistent overtraining top with muscle fatigue can cause hormonal imbalance, sleep disturbances, weight loss, exposure to low-level viruses, and more. Hence, it is important to prevent overtraining and know the proper ways to recover from a long race or intense physical activity.
Tips on How to Recover From a Long Race
You should always prioritize your physical and mental health, even if you’re a competitive athlete who wants to push your body to its limits to earn achievements. Prioritize your recovery period after a long race, and follow our helpful tips below.
Do Some Stretching Exercises
Don’t sit in a car or walk straight home after a long race or intense running training. Make sure to stretch your body thoroughly and allot a cool-down period before calling it a day and leaving the race or training site.
Cooling down is an important process endurance athletes like marathoners shouldn’t ignore because it helps regulate blood flow and offers immediate rest. Although there are no studies that 100% prove that cool-downs can help in injury prevention, they are proven to enhance future performance and recovery.
According to a review article published in Springer’s Sports Medicine, “An active cool-down is largely ineffective with respect to enhancing same-day and next-day(s) sports performance, but some beneficial effects on next-day(s) performance have been reported. Active cool-downs [also] do not appear to prevent injuries.”
Hydrate ASAP and Always
Begin hydrating immediately, preferably during the first 10 minutes after the long race. Your body produces a significant amount of sweat during a long race or training, regardless of the weather, so you need to replace the lost fluids immediately.
Aim for 16 to 20oz of fluid. You might need more if you completed a race during the summer. Diversify your hydration options by drinking water, sports drinks, or any healthy electrolyte solutions. A good option is to make a homemade sports drink containing all the electrolytes and nutrients your body needs for recovery.
Consume Post-Run Snacks And Meals
Following hydration, you also need a post-run snack to refuel your energy. Don’t just consume any type of food—you need something that can help repair and rebuild muscles and ultimately prevent soreness.
Make sure to prepare your post-run snack before the race or training. Grab snacks or meals with complex carbohydrates and protein. As much as possible, stick to healthy choices with less sugar. Here are some examples of healthy post-run snacks with complex nutrients:
- Whey protein shakes
- Chocolate milk
- Raw vegetables
- Apple, banana, and watermelon
- Cottage cheese
- Oatmeal bowl with fruits
- Greek yogurt
- Whole-wheat bread
- Trail mix
- Hard-boiled eggs
Although eating the right type of snack won’t automatically expedite your recovery period, it can improve your energy and prevent muscle soreness and fatigue. “Protein supplementation did not meaningfully alter recovery during the initial 24 h following a marathon. However, ratings of energy/fatigue and muscle soreness were improved over 72 h when CP was consumed during exercise, or immediately following the marathon,” proved a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
After consuming your post-run snack, ensure that all your meals and snacks during your entire recovery period are rich in protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients. Take what your body needs and not what you want. There will be room for your cravings later. In the meantime, consume food that are crucial for muscle recovery.
You may want to have some downtime and fun after a long race or training; and this may involve drinking with friends. But before you do that, know that alcohol and sports don’t just mix together. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends athletes to avoid alcohol altogether.
“The 1982 position stand of the American College of Sports Medicine on the use of alcohol in sport emphasized that there was little benefit for an athlete. Subsequent literature continues to demonstrate that there are adverse effects on performance,” stated in one report published in the US National Library of Medicine.
It is understandable that it’s difficult to avoid alcohol altogether, especially if it’s your definition of fun time with family and friends. Moderate drinking of alcohol isn’t 100% bad. However, completely avoid it during recovery.
Alcohol increases your urine output, making it challenging to rehydrate. Alcohol can also intervene with muscle recovery as it negatively impacts myofibrillar protein synthesis when you consume protein-rich foods.
Enjoy a Post-Recovery Massage
Professional or leisure massage may not always be accessible for some runners, but know that it offers lots of benefits, not to mention that it would make you feel good and refreshed.
According to American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), fitness enthusiasts and athletes in training can benefit from massage therapy. Based on the organization’s research, post-recovery massage can help reduce muscle tension, improve relaxation, reduce muscle hypertonicity, monitor muscle tone, increase range of motion, improve soft tissue function, decrease muscle stiffness and fatigue, reduce swelling, and reduce the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Although the benefits vary per athlete or person, and some of the aforementioned changes won’t automatically work for you, you have nothing to lose if you get a post-recovery massage. Getting a massage is the best leisure activity that can give you full-body muscle relaxation.
Wear Compression Garments
Compression garments are tight and compressive clothes that are often made of or with elastin and nylon. Compression garments are recommended during and after training or performance. The most popular option is socks, but you can also look for compression shorts or tights.
Wearing compression garments can limit muscle swelling and improve oxygen and blood flow in the body because they apply mild pressure to important muscle groups and compress underlying tissues and veins. However, if you’re a fan of compression garments, know that these types of clothing can only help improve recovery and not necessarily increase performance or heal injuries. It would still depend on your recovery process.
“The use of a lower limb compression garment improved subjective perceptions of recovery; however, there was neither a significant improvement in muscular strength nor a significant attenuation in markers of exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation,” said a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal that focuses on aerobic conditioning.
Try Anti-Inflammatory Drinks or Medicine
Anti-inflammatory medications can speed muscle recovery and reduce soreness after a long run or intense training. But before anything else, we don’t advise you to take anti-inflammatory medicine with your own knowledge and make it part of your regular routine. For best results and for your safety, ask the advice of medical professionals regarding the right type of anti-inflammatory medicine you should take. Only take anti-inflammatory medications when necessary and as much as possible, opt for herbal or organic medications as some drugs can negatively affect muscle strength.
In other news, you’re welcome to try over-the-counter, commercially available, or homemade anti-inflammatory drinks. You can buy turmeric or ginger-based beverages at grocery stores or make your own teas, smoothies, juices, and tonics. According to Harvard Medical School, the best food bases with anti-inflammatory properties are tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, and fruits.
Take A Consistent Good Night’s Sleep
During your recovery period, always ensure that you have 8 hours of sleep daily. If you can, aim for 8 to 10 hours—the recommended range for professional athletes. Sleep is the most important part of the recovery process because while you’re unconscious, your body repairs itself.
When it comes to bedtime and sleeping windows, aim to shut your body down roughly between 8:00 PM and 12:00 AM. Dr. Matt Walker, head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, shared to Stanford Medicine’s blog that the said range is the time where the brain and body can get “all the non-REM and REM shuteye” they need to function at their best.
Lack of sleep in athletes can increase the risk of injury, negatively affect the immune system, decrease reaction time, expedite muscle fatigue, and lessen executive functions like learning and decision making. As such, make sure to get the right amount of sleep during training and recovery period; if possible, all the time.
Relax Both Your Body and Mind
Science has already proven that there is a direct connection between the body and mind when it comes to improving physical health. During your recovery period, incorporate planned downtime and active relaxation as short as 10 minutes a day. Some examples are yoga, meditation, and lengthy solo walks. You can also listen to music or read a book. It’s best to schedule these activities beforehand so you can remove distractions like social media or phone calls for a while.
These downtime and active relaxation activities can not only help you improve your physical health, but they can also decrease the effects of stress on your mind and body. If you’re worried about your performance, training, or future races and sports events, take a break and breathe it all out.
Resume Training or Exercise Slowly
Resume training or physical activities at least two days after your long run or intense training. This range is applicable if you have another training or race coming up. If you don’t, it’s best to take a 1 to 2-week recovery that only contains easy to moderate physical activities.
If there’s no alarming or intense muscle soreness, do mobility work or stretching exercises days after your long run. Yoga, for one, is one of the most effective activities that can mobilize and stretch your muscles, enhance your core strength, and improve your posture or running form. After yoga or any other similar activity, you can slowly resume regular training with moderate physical activity.
Movement is still important in post-recovery, so you really have to stay active to get back in shape. However, take note of your current condition. Listen to your body before you do any intense activity.
How Many Days Should You Recover After a Long Run?
Specifically, the recovery period depends on the duration of your long run and your physical condition. The timeline is different per runner. But generally, runners need at least 1 to 2 days off after a long run before going back to another set of exercises or running schedules. Young runners are encouraged to take a two-day off, while older runners should take a minimum break of 3 days.
Again, the best way to determine your recovery period is to follow the general timeline and listen to your body’s personal cues. Be conscious of how ready your body and mind are for running or exercise.
Our tips are all helpful, but remember that every athlete’s body is different. Take the time to rest and recover properly. Take all the time you need if you don’t have a new race or competition coming up. Self-care is often unrecognized by many athletes—when in fact, it’s the most important part of the recovery process.