A timeline of what to do after a long run to speed up the recovery process and keep your legs fresher for next time
0-10 minutes after the run:
Step 1a) Take a cool down walk – after you’ve hit your target distance/time for your run, don’t stop. Keep walking. Cool down for a minimum of 5-10 minutes. This will help your heart rate lower gradually, prevent pooling of blood in your extremities, and jump start the elimination of lactic acid and other waste products from your muscles for faster recovery. The longer and harder the run, the more important a proper cool down is.
Step 1b) Rehydrate – while you’re taking your cool down walk, start the rehydration process immediately. Take a lap around the block carrying your water bottle or sports drink. The amount of fluids needed will vary by person and with weather conditions, but a rough rule of thumb is to aim for 16-20oz of fluids in this initial recovery period. Replenishing your electrolytes after a long workout is a must (especially when it’s hot!) – so opt for a sports drink like Gatorade or water with a Nuun tablet added. Another quick and easy option that I used today are electrolyte supplements in capsule-form. If at this point, you’re feeling dizzy or your limbs are tingly, it could be symptoms of hyponatremia – have a salty snack to restore your sodium levels quick!
10-45 minutes after the run:
Step 2a) Muscle recovery: foam rolling and stretching – I prefer to foam roll first, it’s like priming the muscles for stretching, releasing the muscle fibers and promoting blood flow. Hit the major muscles (glutes, IT bands, quads, calves), spending extra time on knots and soreness that you come across. Plan on at least 5-10 minutes of foam rolling depending how much time/soreness you have. With extra time this morning, I started with a softer foam roller before upping the intensity (and pain!) on a firmer one, and finally worked my calves with The Stick. If you’re new to foam rolling, you can find a helpful how-to here.
After foam rolling, spend a good 10-15 minutes stretching those primed muscles. Pay special attention to your hip flexors, hips, quads, and lower back, but more-or-less you want to hit all the muscles in your legs and upper body that are tight. Here‘s a small sampling of some good post-run stretches.
Step 2b) Have a quick/easy snack – it’s important to have an initial dose of carbs and protein (150+ calories) within 30 minutes of finishing your long run to send immediate help to your depleted muscles. Ideally, this snack is consumed while you are foam rolling and stretching (hence 2b). My go-to is below: a fresh juice (prepared beforehand) and protein shake, but there are plenty of other options. I like this approach because it’s digested/absorbed quickly to facilitate recovery, it’s easy on the stomach, and requires almost no preparation time so I can quickly grab it before I start foam rolling. It’s just enough to hold me over until I eat something more substantial…
60 – 90 minutes after the run:
Step 3) Hot shower – ahhhhh
Step 4) Eat a healthy, more substantial meal – the snack in step 2b) was just meant to send some immediate nourishment to your muscles, but it’s important to have a more complete meal within 90 minutes of your long run. This meal should have plenty of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Today I made sure I got some solid foods in after my shake/juice with avocado+egg toast and a strawberry+Greek yogurt parfait 😋.
The rest of the day and beyond:
Some more tips for speeding up your long run recovery after the initial two hour window:
- Stay hydrated! Weigh yourself throughout the day to make sure you’ve returned to your normal bodyweight.
- Get a good night’s sleep! 😴
- Schedule an active recovery workout for the following day – low intensity, low impact cardio like swimming, walking, elliptical, etc.
- Get a massage
- Take an ice bath 😨
- Take a warm bath with epsom salts before bed
- Wear compression gear
- Take Ibuprofen to reduce inflammation
- Last but not least, my personal favorite: hang out in legs-up-the-wall pose as much as possible throughout the day and night!