Written by Jen VanAllen
If you've been running for a while you know; if you want to get stronger, faster, and fitter, your body needs lots of time and TLC to adapt to new stresses and recover. What you do in the hours right after you run has just as big an impact on your fitness and overall health as the time you put in on the road. Take these steps to bounce back strong.
Eat Carbs and Protein
Eating wholesome carbs and protein in the 30 minutes after a tough workout or long run will help you bounce back for your next run. Carbs help replenish spent glycogen stores. Protein helps repair torn muscle tissue. And right after a run, your body is primed to quickly metabolize those nutrients. Make sure you have 15 to 25 grams of protein, and two to three times the amounts of wholesome carbs. While there are plenty of engineered foods on the market, if you refuel with whole foods (sweet potatoes or oatmeal) you will also be replenishing your body with lots of vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy.
Fluids support all the basic body functions; it helps digestion, it helps blood circulate to sore muscles, and it flushes waste products out of the system. Even if you're not thirsty, be sure to drink up after your run. If it's hot and humid, or if you're a salty sweater (you'll know because there will be white streaks on your skin when you come in), be sure to rehydrate with a drink that has electrolytes like sodium and potassium that will help replenish what you lost through sweat. When you're well hydrated, your pee should be the color of light straw or lemonade. If it's darker, say the color of apple juice, you'll want to drink more.
You'd be pressed to find a running topic that has undergone more debate than stretching. Some runners swear by it. Others just swear about it. While the research is too mixed to draw any definitive conclusions about the connection between stretching and injury prevention, many runners say they just feel better after they stretch. If it makes you feel good, you might try a simple routine of stretching your quads, calf muscles, glutes, and any other trouble areas. Take a gradual and gentle approach to each stretch. Don't try to win an Olympic medal in stretching by tugging vigorously or trying to go deep right away; you're likely to pull or tear something. And that could definitely lead to injury.
Get Some Rest
If you want to get fitter, stronger, and faster, sleep should be a high priority. When you sleep, strained muscles and bones repair themselves, so you can bounce back for the next workout. And there's evidence that chronic sleep deprivation can impair performance, rev up your appetite, and make you more prone to injuries. A 2007 study in the February 2007 issue of Physiology and Behavior showed that when deprived of sleep, athletes make more errors, and tire out sooner during exercise. In a study published in the March 2014 Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, chronic lack of sleep was the strongest predictor of injuries in teen athletes.A nap might not be feasible—finding time to run is tough enough when you're juggling your training with work and family responsibilities—but get as much sleep as you can, especially after tough workouts. Aim for at least eight hours per night.
Make it Convenient
It's easier to skip recovery than to take time for it. Taking the time to stretch can feel indulgent and frivolous. Most of us end up dashing to the showers immediately after a workout to tackle the day's activities, especially if we've been gone for a three-hour long run. But recovering right really will help you stay injury free and make you feel fresher for your next workout. To increase the chances that you'll take time to recover, make your recovery strategy as convenient as possible to execute. Plan and prepare your recovery meal before you hit the road so you can grab it quickly when you get in. Put your water bottle outside your house so you can pick it up on your way in from your run. Sip while you stretch and cool down, before you walk in the door, and must pick up family and work duties. While these steps are particularly important after tough speed sessions or long runs, or any time you've pushed your body farther or faster than it's gone before, it's a good idea to get into the habit of taking these steps after every run. That way, it will feel more automatic, and easier to execute each time.