Recovery is considered to be one of the most neglected parts of the training process. The nature of the runners' game is to push harder and faster every step of the way, which only makes recovery that more important. Neglecting it or taking it lightly can be very harmful, even dangerous in extreme cases. Just as the silence is an irreplaceable part of music, adequate recovery habits must be an integral part of every training process.
The following are some standard steps for recovering your body after a hard run. You probably won't have the time to go through them all after every training session.
Keep in mind that it may take some time for your body to adapt and accept some of them. Do not force it, don't expect miracles right away and be patient. Give yourself time to adapt to the routine and listen to your body, because your body will tell you best if and how you need to modify these basic recovery techniques to better suit your needs.
This is a vital step in recuperating after a run. It is best to begin hydrating 10-15 minutes after you've stopped, as it is necessary to replace the lost fluids. Juices with electrolytes like Gatorade are considered the best solution, and the amount should vary - opt for the range of 16-20 oz.
Running in the summer causes significantly larger loss of fluid, and the exact amount may wildly vary from one person to another. It is advisable to use a calculator for finding out the exact amount of fluid lost (there are many of them online) and to trim your fluid replenishment accordingly.
Carbohydrates and proteins
Before you've stretched, it's a good time to have a little snack.
You should aim for a carbs-protein ratio of four to one, in order to replace the sugars human body uses as a primary source of easily accessible energy.
You could have a chocolate milk, a candy bar, a banana, bagels, or even some run supplements or whatever your body responds to the best. Be sure to check out nutritional charts in order to get the maximum out of this little refueling session.
Keep in mind that, while these basic rules should be obeyed, not everyone has the same metabolism and digestive system. You should choose the snack that fulfills your individual needs. Listen to your body and experiment, that is the best way to find out what your exact needs are.
How to stretch
After you hydrate yourself, begin to stretch your muscles.
You should begin stretching about 25-30 minutes after the workout. Always stretch all of the most important muscle groups, especially focusing on the muscles that suffered the biggest burden during the workout, or those that are sore and feel especially strained.
Stretch gently and carefully. Besides being a physical necessity, this part of the post-training routine should ease the body and mind into a more relaxed state, and will help you recover faster.
Maybe the hardest part of recovery process is the ice bath. It is advisable to spend 10-15 minutes in water cooled to 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit, submerged from the hips down.
It will be very hard at first, but after three minutes or so, the water will feel almost lukewarm.
Take a regular shower after the ice bath, and don't worry if your legs feel cold. That is precisely why this is done and your muscles will be grateful the next day.
The post-training meal
Contrary to popular belief, it is not that important what you eat after the workout, as long as it is well balanced, healthy and has high nutritional value.
You should balance proteins, fats and carbohydrates in order to enable the body to recuperate in the best possible way.
Eat naturally, just don't have huge meals in the evening or light snacks for dinner. Of course, avoiding junk food altogether is advisable. It's called junk food for a reason.
A nap, a warm bath with salts in the evening and stretching before going to bed would be optional steps in a post-training recovery process. However, not many people have that much time to use for recovering their muscles.
Nevertheless, you should take the recovery process very seriously. You should at least allow yourself to hydrate properly, to eat a snack, stretch and enjoy a good meal after an exhausting run (or a workout in general).