Running fast workouts and nailing long runs is a key part of the training process.
During the run we are feeling strong, pushing through that pain, and when we finish, we are greeted with one of the best feelings in the world; the runner’s high.
We go to bed that night with a smile on our faces, proud that we had a great run or race, and excited for what we can achieve in the future.
But then you get out of bed the next day.
Every step hurts,
We wonder if we can run if my legs are sore?
Surely, this cannot be good for my body to run again (if you even want to run again that is).
Will running with sore muscles help or make me feel worse?
In this post, I am going to outline what I call “the optimal recovery process”.
Unoriginal name, I know, but I’m not fan of making up strange words to impress.
I understand that not everyone will have the time necessary to perform this routine after every hard workout. You may only be able to fit this in after long runs or even as little as once per month.
While this is the ideal recovery plan, feel free to pick and choose what you’re able to fit in after each workout. If it is sore calf muscles after a race that are bothering you, you might want to check out these exercises for preventing sore calves.
For example, the easiest elements, hydration and refuelling, should be a priority after every run while the ice bath is a nice treat when you have the time, although personally, it’s something I’d always suggest to make time for when you get home.
On a side note, this is what separates professional runners from the rest of the pack; in addition to running, drills, and strength training each day, elite runners will often spend 1-4 hours per day on recovery!
Ready to get those sore muscles back to normal?
Let’s do it!
How to Treat Sore Muscles After a Run
After a hard workout or a tough long run, you should begin by hydrating within the first 10-15 minutes after stopping.
Even if the temperature was cool, or downright cold, you still sweat a significant amount and you need to replace the fluid loss.
An electrolyte solution like Amped Hydrate works well and you should aim for at least 500ml of fluid.
When running in the summer or warm, humid conditions, you will lose considerably more sweat so be sure to top up with extra fluids at regular intervals before, during and after your run.
You should also consider a small glass of natural orange juice – read why fresh orange juice beats most other sports drinks on the market.
Refuel your Muscles
After you’re hydrated, be sure to reach for your post run snack or beverage.
This post run fuel could be something like chocolate milk, an IsaLean shake, yogurt with berries and granola or a peanut butter bagel with natural orange juice. You want to aim for a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.
There is also a case for consuming glucose tablets (made for diabetics) directly after running. The tablet is pure glucose, which stimulates the insulin response in the body and ignites the recovery process.
Take the time after your run to stretch
The stretching and post run fueling should begin within 25-30 minutes of finishing your run.
Your stretch routine should last 10-15 minutes, focusing on the major muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips) as well as any niggling issues or anything that felt sore during your run.
While the merits of stretching are a hotly debated topic in running circles, I believe stretching after a run is beneficial in allowing the muscles time to cool down and relax.
It’s always a good idea to include some foam rolling exercises in your stretching routine to aid muscle relaxation, remove lactic acid and initiate the recovery process.
Ice bath is miserable now, but worth it later
After stretching, it’s time to hit the ice bath.
Fill your bath tub with cold water and add ice until the temperature reaches a balmy 12-15 degrees Celcius.
If you don’t have a thermometer, the ice should still completely melt, but it should take about 3-5 minutes for a normal size ice cube to do so.
Next, grab a towel and your favorite magazine and submerse your entire lower body, up to your hips, in the water. Now, the trick to ice baths is surviving the first 3 minutes.
Bite the towel and dream about your biggest goals. This will help you get through the hardest part of the ordeal.
After 3 minutes or so, you’ll notice the temperature feels more temperate and you can actually relax a little. If you are a veteran ice bather, or just a sadistic human being, you can kick your legs a little to stir up the water.
This will help circulate the warm water surrounding your body and make things cold again.
Remain in the tub for 10-15 minutes.
Trust me, the more you ice bath, the more comfortable this process becomes.
After letting all the water drain from the tub, go ahead and take your shower. Your legs will feel cold for a few hours, but your muscles will thank you later.
Eat a well-balanced meal 1-2 hours after your run
After the ice bath, you’ll want to ensure that you get a well-balanced meal in your system.
So far, you’ve re-hydrated and consumed some light snacks.
To completely refuel within your second optimal window, your muscles need something more substantial.
If you run in the morning, this could be breakfast – eggs with veggies and whole wheat toast, oatmeal with fruit and toast, I even think pancakes are a decent choice if you top with fruit and yogurt.
Lunch or dinner could be salad with a sandwich, pasta, or leftovers from the night before.
You just want to consume a high quality meal with a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This will provide your body with the final nutrients it needs to top off the recovery process.
Take a nap or get a massage – what a luxury
After your meal, put your feet up, take a nap, and experience the healing power of massage.
I know this is where things can get “ridiculous”, as massages and naps are a fantasy and extreme luxury; however, I thought it should be included since this is the “optimal” recovery guide after all.
Warm bath with epsom salts
About 60-90 minutes before bed, you should take a warm/hot bath in Epsom salts.
Combine 4 cups Epsom salt with 1 cup baking soda and relax in the hot water for 10-15 minutes. After the bath, dry off and roll out your muscles with a roller again along with a gentle stretching session.
Not only with this help remove excess toxins from the muscles, the stretching before bed will ensure that you wake up feeling ready to go for your next run. Furthermore, the relaxing bath and the Epsom salts will help you sleep.
To sum up, be sure to:
- Hydrate as soon after your run as possible with an electrolyte drink
- Stretch major muscle groups and anything that is sore or tight. Roll out any niggling injuries or problem areas.
- Eat a small meal that contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein
- Take an ice bath
- Eat a decent sized, healthy meal
- Nap, put your feet up, or get a massage
- Take an Epsom salt bath
- Roll out your foam roller and have a gentle stretch
- Get plenty of sleep
As you can see, this routine is quite extensive. You won’t always have the time to get in all of these recovery protocols, but it does give you glimpse of the things you could do on those rare occasions. Do what you can, but at least now you have a plan.