Post-Run Recovery: 3 Runner-Tested Tips to Bounce Back

How do you bounce back from a long run, race, or push-the-limits mile pace?

You know...

  • You run hard. 
  • You chase the finish line with everything you've got. 
  • And there's NOTHING left in the tank.

That ever happen? If you've been there, you know the feeling...

  • Muscle soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of motivation to get back out there

If you keep grinding like this day in and day out, you're headed for burnout or worse...a running-related injury.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

In this article, WeeViews Ambassador Lucie Hanes shows you 3 post-run recovery practices to speed healing and improve performance so you can keep going.

My first running coach once told me....

...there’s no such thing as overtrained, just under-recovered. 

They both stem back to the same issue that plagues so many runners, even unintentionally: 

  • Not being able to bring your best each day because you’re still stuck under the weight of your last workout. 

But thinking about it in terms of TOO LITTLE RECOVERY instead of TOO MUCH TRAINING helped me understand that just resting in between runs isn’t enough. 

Recovery takes just as much effort as the running itself.

Recovering properly from a run is both a physical and mental endeavor. 

  • Not only have you taxed your body with hard efforts day in and out...
  • You’ve done the same to your mind by focusing intently on your training and psyching yourself up to stick to your guns. 

Focus and motivation are just like your muscles; they need time to recover back to full value after putting them to work. 

If you want to be able to work hard toward your goals, you need to recover even harder.

There’s no substitute for basic rest, but that’s just a starting point. 

Here are three post-run recovery tips to help you bounce back between runs.

1. Nutrition & hydration

Recovery from your run starts before you even start running. 

  • Make sure to pre-fuel every run with enough food and hydration to carry you through. 
  • That way, you aren’t doing even more damage to your body by forcing it to run on fumes. 

According to endurance sports dietitian Kylee Horn of FlyNutrition: Running fasted or under-fueled—especially for longer distances or harder effort—puts your body at higher risk of:

  • Cardiac distress
  • Decreased training adaptations
  • Bone injuries
  • Kidney distress⁣
  • Ligament and tendon injuries⁣, and...
  • Hormonal imbalances

That’s because your body sees RUNNING as a form of stress.

Yes, that’s part of the point of training; inducing a certain amount of stress from running helps your body adapt and build back stronger from the strain.

But it’s important to keep that amount of stress manageable for the body to process.

Too much stress leaves the body overly fatigued and prone to injury or illness.

So, it makes sense that training too hard or chaotically would lead to too much stress. But asking your body to run on too little fuel has the same effect. 

  • Try to avoid fasted running if at all possible—even first thing in the morning—to kickstart your recovery from the get-go. It doesn’t have to be much, especially for just a few miles. 
  • Go for a meal or snack that’s mostly carbs, low-fiber, and easily digestible to top off your energy stores. 

After your run, the recovery process continues.

  • Make sure to refuel from the effort with a combination of carbs and protein.
  • While many runners believe that protein is the most important, Van Horn actually stresses a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. 
  • The protein helps rebuild muscles that were broken down during training, and the carbohydrates help replenish glycogen stores that were used up during the run. 

It’s also important to refuel as soon as possible after completing the run.

“For higher intensity training sessions, sessions longer than 90 minutes, or if you have a double training session day, eat something within 30 to 60 minutes after,” Van Horn suggests. 

“For shorter sessions, quick timing may be less important, but you should still aim to get something in within 1 to 3 hours.”  

The issue is, running has a tendency to curb some people’s appetites.

Long runs and hard workouts take an especially large toll on the gastrointestinal system.

The reason why goes back to the stress concept.

Coach Jeff from RunnersConnect explains that...
 
“...on these really hard workouts, as your body starts to work harder and harder, it starts to shut down less essential bodily aspects…so it can divert those resources to making sure that you run hard or run long.” 

The digestive system is often one of the first to go by the wayside. 

This phenomenon doesn’t mean that your body is fine without the fuel.

  • It still needs the calories to recover properly. 
  • Your hunger cues are just temporarily suppressed and delayed due to the impact of stress on your hormones and internal organs.  

So, absence of hunger isn’t an excuse to skimp on your post-run recovery fuel.

If you’re not hungry right after a tough run, liquid calories make a great substitute for solid food. 

  • Try a quick recovery drink, or whip up a tasty smoothie that’s easy to stomach. 
  • Even if communication lines are down for the time being, your body will thank you later as all its systems begin to wake back up.

Finally, pay attention to electrolytes too.

Runners lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium through sweat.

Low levels of electrolytes can lead to:

  • Dehydration
  • Cramping
  • Indigestion
  • Fatigue, and...
  • Slower recovery 

Take in electrolytes both before, during, and after your run with a hydration supplement like Nuun or Ultima to maintain and restore a healthy balance. 

2. Movement & meditation

You’ve just put in plenty of physical effort on your run, so it makes sense that many runners head straight to the couch for a little R&R. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking it easy after all that hard work, but resist the urge to lie flat on your back for the rest of the day. Why?

  • Tight muscles and connective tissues benefit from gentle movement to loosen them back up. 
  • Plus, blood flow helps restore any damage done to those tissues on the run. 

The key word here is 'gentle.'

Stop short of going for a rigorous hike or adding in an unplanned second workout. 

Too much activity adds more stress to the equation and slows recovery even further. Think...

  • Easy walks
  • Dynamic stretches
  • Maybe a light cycle or swim
  • No need to get your heart rate up too high or break out in a sweat; after all, the run already took care of that part. 

These types of movement should relax and rejuvenate you, not wear you out more. 

Post-run yoga

Post-run yoga is a simple way to get in a good flow after stopping the clock, no matter where you are.

  • Combine this with a stroll at the trailhead or around your neighborhood, and your body’s already off to a good start on recovering from your run. 
  • Stay active throughout the rest of your day by playing with your kids, taking stretch breaks, and getting on your feet at least once every hour. 
  • Some fitness watches will even remind you to stand up at regular intervals for this very purpose. 

But it’s not all about your body. Your mind needs time to recover, too.

Another benefit of post-run yoga is its ability to calm down the nervous system and clear the mind after focusing so intently on running your best.

Yoga’s about movement, but it’s also about finding your breath.

According to Brynn Cunningham, yoga instructor with Inhale Exhale Run:

“When we breathe deeply we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the restorative center of our body, allowing for optimal post-run recovery”. 

  • Breathwork helps slow down both the body and mind, giving runners a way to channel their racing thoughts.
  • Pair breathwork with gentle stretching during a yoga session, or pick up a regular meditation practice. 
  • Even five minutes of meditation anytime in the day after a run can do wonders for your nervous system and help untangle all the leftover knots in your brain so that you go into your next run feeling refreshed. 

3. Massage & bodywork

In a perfect world, runners would get regular massages to promote better recovery. 

There’s nothing like massage therapy to:

  • Target trigger points
  • Reduce tension, and...
  • Improve blood circulation

Research also shows that massage decreases cortisol and increases dopamine and serotonin for better stress relief.

  • However, traditional massages tend to be too expensive for most runners to include them in their regular recovery routine. 
  • If you’re able, schedule one as a treat to your hardworking body after a tough race or peak training week. 
  • The extra attention via the magic hands of a masseuse will fast-track your recovery when you need it most. 

Using bodywork tools for self-massage

A massage gun like the Theragun or Roll Recovery R1 works by: 

  • Releasing tension
  • Breaking up knots
  • Lowering stress levels, and...
  • Enhancing blood flow through percussion and vibration. 

Note: Different massage-gun heads target different muscles at various depths, depending on what your body needs. It’s still an investment of $100+, but one that keeps on giving since you can have it on hand anytime. 

A classic foam roller covers many of the same bases as a massage gun.

  • It can’t get quite as deep or target such specific points, but can be better for rehabbing larger and longer muscles. 
  • Foam rollers can also be combined with stretching for a more active massage that hits a range of places as you move, rather than the passive point-and-press nature of a massage gun. 
  • They’re much cheaper than massage guns, too; so if you’re willing to sacrifice a little portability, depth, and ease of use for a better price point then you’ll still reap the benefits of self-massage.

Other helpful gadgets for post-run recovery include: 

Gua Sha scrapers, compression tools, and recovery shoes. Let's take a closer look at these...

  • Muscle scrapers like the Sidekick Tool or the Wave Tool boost recovery from running by reducing inflammation, increasing blood circulation, and releasing knots through repeated scraping over the skin atop the muscle. 
  • Compression tools also improve circulation by applying pressure in certain areas to direct blood flow more efficiently. This can look as simple as pulling on a pair of compression socks for a few hours after your run, or as fancy as letting a set of motorized compression boots take care of the job. 
  • Recovery slides like Oofos can also help you with post-run recovery. These shoes use foam construction to lighten the load on your feet and legs. Reduced impact speeds recovery by taking some of the weight off of your muscles and joints so that more energy can go toward the healing process.

No matter what, strategic rest is the best way to recover from a run.

Remember that rest days are just as important to your improvement as any run on the schedule. 

None of these suggestions will do you much good without basic, regular rest at the foundation. 

But once you’re ready to take your recovery game even further, add in some of these strategies and tools for a well-rounded routine that will have you feeling psyched and strong whenever you lace up your shoes next. 

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Lucie Hanes
Ambassador
Eagle, CO

Ultrarunner, rock climber, occasional artist, fond of good wordplay. Small human on big adventures with big goals and big feelings.

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