You train hard. But when it comes to getting stronger and faster, it turns out that how you go about recovering after workouts can be just as important as the work you invest in the first place. Recovering smart can help you get the most out of your training, squeezing more strength and speed out of every mile you log.
Here are four ways to recover (smarter).
Eat right. Especially when a big motivator for a lot of runners is losing weight, it can be tempting to look at nutrition mainly in terms of calories taken in and calories burned off. But how much you eat is only part of the equation. What you eat is really the name of the game. Making solid nutrition a priority can be the difference between being a weekend warrior and a serious high-performing athlete. “Fueling Up: What to Eat Before, During, and After a Run” is a post we published last year that lays out some very specific foods you can eat throughout your day to give your body what it needs to (A) perform well during your run and (B) rebuild properly afterwards. The short version? Carbs before, protein after.
Ease in. Motivational quotes and inspirational sayings aside, your body really doesn’t care to “hit the ground running.” Warming up slowly and following a steady build-up in intensity will reduce shock on your body, allowing your muscles to focus on getting productively stronger rather than simply recovering from the unexpectedly intense paces you just put them through. “Post-Run Recovery Tips” on runningtimes.com gives some good strategies for easing in, including building up to your workout pace over 4 to 5 minutes and mixing up workouts between (for example) hilly and flat runs to avoid over-stressing the same muscles again and again.
Cool down. You just worked your tail off, blew the doors off of your last run, and generally nailed your workout — surely you’ve earned a flop down onto the couch to catch your breath, right? No matter how much you may have earned it, resist the urge. Just like your body doesn’t like going from 0 to 60 at a moment’s notice, it doesn’t like slamming on the brakes like that, either. There’s a reason your Bluefin programs include a cooldown at the end of each workout. “5 Ways to Cool Down After a Workout” from MensFitness.com stresses the importance of gradually tapering off your workout and stretching out afterwards, pointing out that screeching to a halt after intense training can lead to muscle cramps and big fluctuations in blood pressure. A few minutes of walking and a good solid stretch can make all the difference.
Sleep well. One of the most counterproductive things you can do is try to train while depriving yourself of sleep. Those solid hours of shuteye are not only when your body reenergizes to prepare for the day ahead, but it’s also when it does a lot of the basic recovery work needed to rebuild tired muscles after a hard workout. As much as it might up your street-cred at the office, charging along on no sleep with a big mug full of coffee isn’t hero stuff — it’s hurting your training. How Running Affects Sleep (and Vice Versa) from Running Research News has some very detailed information about the science behind sleep for runners that more than makes the case for getting a good night’s rest. The good news is that getting enough exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve sleep quality, so running hard and sleeping well are absolutely compatible and even complementary.
Managing your recovery is critical to anyone who wants to take their running performance to the next level. What do you do to bounce back between runs?