Just Finished a Run or 5k? Focus on These 4 Things For Recovery

James Logie

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post-race recoveryPhoto by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

You’re not done yet…

If you’ve just completed your first 5k, marathon, triathlon, tough mudder, or any hardcore endurance event — things don’t stop when you finish.

You trained for months, and a lot went into the buildup leading to race day.

You no doubt paid attention to your training and nutrition, but just because the race is done, doesn’t mean it’s time to walk away yet.

Post-workout recovery is extremely important — especially if it’s been one of these bigger endurance events.

Through my own training, and working in fitness for over 20 years, here are four key things you want to focus on whether you’ve completed a competition or hard training session.

Important Thing #1. Don’t Stop Moving When You’ve Finished

If you’ve been training for an event for a while, the finish can be quite overwhelming and emotional.

All your hard work has paid off and you want to savor the moment — but this isn’t the time to stop.

As soon as you cross the line — or have finished a tough training session — you need to keep moving.

Don’t sit down immediately, but keep walking for 10–15 minutes at a light pace to cool down properly.

You need to keep moving after a race or training to keep blood flowing and to prevent it from pooling. If you just stop, it can lead to cramping and even fainting.

After a half-marathon — for example — the fatigue symptoms can last at least 24 hours. It can’t be understated how important the cooldown is.

Don’t forget to stretch, as it's part of the cool-down process. Focus on the stretches and don’t rush through them. Don’t bounce either.

You want to hold each stretch still and focus on the muscles.

Studies show that we should hold a stretch for at least 15–30 seconds. Thirty seconds might even better for optimum recovery.

Important Thing #2. Pay Attention to Your Hydration

You’ve hopefully hydrated properly before and during the race; now you want to replenish what you lost.

If you want to get specific on how much to drink, it’s helpful to weigh yourself before and after a race.

It's helpful to drink 16-ounces of water for every pound lost from the race. Ideally, replace the lost fluids within a few hours after your race or training is finished.

This is a general recommendation, but Runner’s World says it’s important to drink one liter of water for every 1000 calories you burn daily.

Continue drinking if you’re still thirsty three to four hours later. Thirst isn’t always the primary indicator of dehydration, so be proactive with it.

Then there’s the issue of post-race electrolytes. If you have balanced meals after, these might not be necessary.

A sports drink with electrolytes can be helpful, especially at the end of a grueling race or training session, and even more so if it’s excessively hot out.

You want this within 30 minutes of finishing, but remember to look out for sports drinks that are filled with dyes and artificial ingredients.

After that 30-minutes, focus on plain water. It’s important to sip it and not chug it as this helps to prevent cramping.

You may have cravings for salt because of sodium depletion and drinking and eating something with salt may be needed.

The craving for salt may also be because your body’s electrolytes are out of balance — especially from lost sodium because of heat and sweat — and this is where a sports drink can help.

Important Thing #3. Focus On Post-Race Nutrition

This goes without saying, but it’s still important to look at some key things. Proper post-race nutrition replenishes the body and kick-starts the recovery process.

The training or race has caused stress on the body, and it needs to repair and rebuild.

Look to have a snack within 30 to 60 minutes after you’ve finished and make sure it includes carbs, protein, and healthy fats.

This restores your muscle glycogen and helps to start muscle recovery. Aim for 10–20 grams of protein in this snack and a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio.

The studies show that carbohydrates plus protein restores energy, reduces fatigue, and decreases muscle soreness over a 72-hour period following a marathon.

You want to focus on choices that digest faster, such as:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Dried fruit
  • Hummus and rice cakes
  • Mixed salted nuts
  • Toast with nut butter

Two to three hours after this snack you’ll want a whole food meal that includes lean protein, a clean carb like sweet potato or brown rice, and a dark leafy green salad.

Important Thing #4. Ice Baths & Other Recovery

You may not like things like an ice bath, but it may help for post-race recovery and to reduce inflammation in the body.

Ice baths may prevent muscle soreness along with decreasing recovery time after a race.

The priority after a race or intense training needs to be hydration and nutrition, but recovery options like an ice bath shouldn't be too far behind.

The ice bath should only be around 20 minutes. It shouldn’t be so freeing cold that you can't handle it, but you should feel the desired effect.

It needs to be waist deep and you should start feeling “numb” after about 2 minutes.

If you feel a “pins and needles” sensation after these two minutes, it’s probably too cold and needs warming up.

There is varying research regarding if ice baths help with muscle recovery, but for endurance athletes, they’re seen as beneficial.

They also may help with tendon and ligament injuries which affect a lot of long-distance runners, Cross Fitters, triathletes, etc.

In the days following a race, stretching will continue to be beneficial, as will foam rolling. This is also a great time for deep tissue massage to further promote healing and recovery.

Final Thoughts

Just because your race or training is done, doesn’t mean you are.

You don’t want to train hard for months just to neglect your post-race hydration, nutrition, and recovery.

You’ve trained hard and owe it to yourself to prioritize post-race healing. Not only is this important for recovery, but it also gets you back to training as soon as possible.

Make your recovery as easy as possible and you’ll begin to bounce back faster each time.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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