How To

    The 3 R’s of Post-Run Recovery: Refuel, Rehydrate and Repair

    running recovery

    Here are some things to be aware of to minimize the damage being done to your body after a hard workout

    Running training can take its toll on your body. Whether it’s an injury or joint and muscle pain, I’m sure you’ve experienced your fair share of it. The thing is, you can feel great before and during your run and therefore, of course, you push yourself hard. After all, challenging your body is part of the running training process.

    It’s in the hours and days afterwards that your muscles begin to seize up. Cramps, getting out of bed and pain even when you’re walking to have another look in the fridge.

    So, how can you minimize the damage you’re doing to your body?

    Sure, putting your feet up for a few days might sound like a great idea, but it’s not a viable long-term strategy if you want to take training seriously.

    In this article, you’ll learn the three R’s of a post-run recovery: refuel, rehydrate, and repair.

    workout hydration


    It’s no secret that you can lose a lot of liquid during and after hard exercise.

    Arguably, the most important time to rehydrate is actually before and during your run (during there are options such as handheld bottles and vests you can wear). This will help you to maintain proper fluid balance, which becomes even more essential as we head into warmer months.

    Before and during your run, make sure you have a drink that’s easily absorbed. The typical sports drinks are generally pretty high in sugars, which actually slow down their absorption into your bloodstream.

    Instead, you should drink a diluted sports drink mixed with water. By doing so, you’re providing your body with ample amounts of electrolytes, while also making the fluid readily available for your exercise.

    After your run, it’s important that the liquid you consume contains plenty of sugar as well as electrolytes. Avoid drinking diluted sports drinks now because they’ll be rapidly absorbed and cause you to be over-saturated.

    breakfast eggs


    It’s widely thought that the sooner the better when it comes to refueling after exercise.

    Generally, you should aim to eat something within 30 minutes of your run, as your body needs the nutrients to begin the recovery and growth process after hard exercise.

    Both carbohydrates and protein are essential for proper recovery. During intense exercise, your body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates (stored as glycogen). You can only hold a certain amount of glycogen in your liver and muscles, and when you work out hard, these levels begin to deplete. Things like a banana, granola, cereal bars, oatmeal and rice cakes are all excellent sources of carbs.

    As well as your glycogen levels depleting, your muscles also break down. Protein is essential to the repair and growth of your muscles after your run. In the 24 hours after a hard run, you should include protein in your meals.

    Good sources of protein include chocolate milk, eggs, natural yogurt, peanut butter and protein shakes. There are also some good powdered-drink mixes available, such as Osmo’s, to help with recovery. 

    runner stretching


    The repair phase is all about damage control and growth. Post-run stretching is one of the simplest yet most beneficial things you can do to reduce the risk of injury and improve muscle tightness.

    Straight after you finish your run, keep moving! The temptation is to stop in your tracks and jump in the car to head home or lie down. Try to keep walking for a few minutes once you have finished your run as this will help to limit the amount of lactic acid build up in your muscles.

    Within 30 minutes of your run, you should aim to perform a basic stretching routine for your major muscle groups: quads, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors. You shouldn’t stretch to the point of discomfort — this is about avoiding the muscles tightening too much and risking injury. Your post-run stretching routine should last somewhere around 10 minutes.

    If you’ve had a really tough run, consider jumping in an ice bath. Yeah, it’s not pleasant, but I promise it works. Studies (like this and this) show that ice baths can help with preventing muscle soreness and limiting performance decrease, particularly after distance running.

    The ideal temperature range seems to be between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything less than 50 just becomes painful with no added benefit.

    Closing Thoughts

    Effective running train is more than just the training session itself.

    In order to maximize the benefits of your running program, you should implement simple yet proper pre- and post-workout routines. Post-workout routines such as rehydration, refueling and stretching are proven to help with injury prevention as well as limiting drops in performance.

    That means you’ll be able to run harder and train more often while benefiting more. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.


    Connor Mollison is a full-time commercial photographer with a passion for exploring the outdoors and a background in elite sport.

    Feature image by lzf, Shutterstock; Hydration image by Kate Joie, Unsplash; Breakfast image by Brooke Lark, Unsplash; Stretching image by Alora Griffiths, Unsplash
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