After running or a training session, our muscles tend to be fatigued, sore, tired and if we’ve worked hard enough we know that we’ll be in for that dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the next day. But what can you do after a training session to optimise your recovery?
Recovery Tip #1 – Warm Down
As soon as you finish your training session you should try to start your warm down (or cool down) as soon as possible. This is so that you can return your body to its state prior to exercise.
The idea is to warm down gradually, lowering your heart rate back down to normal, keep your muscles functioning after hard exercise and to keep blood flowing around your body so you can flush out waste products produced during exercise such as lactic acid. It will also help to slowly lower your breathing rate back to normal and lower your core body temperature back down. By continuing to exercise at a low intensity, you can prevent the pooling of blood in your lower legs as the contractions of your leg muscles help to pump blood back to the heart.
Recovery Tip #2 – Eat Right
Immediately after exercise, there is a window of around 20 – 30 minutes in which your body can use food that you consume to replenish what has been used during exercise. During running, your leg muscles undergo forceful contractions. In order to repair any damage done to muscle fibres from running, you should try and consume around 20g of protein after exercise as this will allow your body to kickstart the muscle recovery process.
If you’ve undergone prolonged or high-intensity exercise then consuming carbohydrates can also help to replenish used up glycogen in the muscle stores. Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index are best eaten around this time as they are absorbed easily by the body and can quickly be digested.
Recovery Tip #3 – Hydrate!
The importance of water is easily overlooked by runners, however, it plays a significant role in regulating muscular contractions along with our minerals, known as electrolytes. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron are minerals that aid in muscular contractions, so it can be worth consuming these in a sports drink, but this is only really necessary if you don’t consume enough of these minerals or have been exercise at high intensity, for a long period of time or if it is very hot and you’ve been sweating a lot.
Many runners happen to be dehydrated early on into a training session because most of us do not drink enough water for optimal function. Dehydration has been linked to fatigue so make sure you hydrate!
As well as this, if your muscles are dehydrated then the protein synthesis that occurs to rebuild your muscles and make you stronger will be slowed, leading to a longer recovery. When you are dehydrated, your blood volume is decreased which means your heart has to work harder to pump the blood around your body to ensure the parts that need vital oxygen and nutrients get them.
Better hydration helps to ensure your body can return to its resting heart rate quicker and better deal with the stress of exercise. Whilst many runners do hydrate after running, it can be rather surprising how much water your body loses through sweat, so more often than not we are not drinking enough water to replenish the fluids lost during exercise.
Recovery Tip #4 – Stretch
Performing dynamic or static stretches after a training session can ease muscle soreness and reduce the shortening of muscle fibres by lengthening them. Stretching can also help to relieve tension within your muscles.
If performing static stretches, hold them for up to 30 seconds and be careful of performing any vigorous movements immediately after as the sudden contraction causing the lengthened muscle fibre to shorten again can pose an injury risk.
Recovery Tip #5 – Move!
After training and on your rest days you should try to move a little – a lot. This will keep blood flowing to various parts of your body supplying your muscles with oxygen and nutrients for muscle repair and will help to prevent blood pooling in your legs (especially if you have a desk job) which will help keep your legs from stiffening up.
Your muscles will tend to stiffen up in they remain in a shortened or lengthened state for a prolonged period of time which is why it is a good idea to move little and often.
Recovery Tip #6 – Have a Warm Bath
Having a warm bath after a hard session to aid recovery can be a good idea because the warm water helps promote blood flow around the body so your muscles can receive nutrients from the blood for improved recovery. It can also help to reduce soreness, but its effects do appear to be limited so it is not the most effective recovery tip.
Recovery Tip #7 – Have a NICE Bath
This one isn’t recommended to be used all the time as studies have shown that it can inhibit muscle protein synthesis, but for back to back competitions and hard training weeks this is a very useful one recovery method.
It numbs the pain neurons in your muscles (okay I know it can feel ‘painful’ immersing yourself in cold, icy water). The effect of the cold causes vasoconstriction within your muscle tissues which reduces blood flow and the inflammation and swelling that follows exercise. Whilst the reduction of soreness and swelling can help you feel better the next day, it is thought that this inflammatory response to our muscle fibres being torn during exercise is what we want and that a certain degree of inflammation is actually beneficial in the long term to become a stronger faster runner.
Recovery Tip #8 – Have a Massage or Foam Roll
A massage or foam rolling can help to remove muscle ‘knots’ in your body. These knots are the result of several muscle fibres becoming adhered together. The pressure applied when foam rolling or having a massage can help to release these knots so that the muscle fibres can function and contract more efficiently when training.
What recovery tips do you use after training? Will you be using any of these? Let me know down below!