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Recovery after a race

Recovery after a race | UPMC Health Plan

As race day approaches, many of us are preparing by logging tons of miles so we can run the full distance and complete the race. But one aspect that many people forget about is recovery! This is important not only after each workout, but also after the race. Runners who don’t recover properly run the risk of lingering soreness and even injury.

So here is a step-by-step guide of what to expect from the minute you cross the finish to the hours and days after the race.

5 minutes:

Recovery begins right after you cross the finish line. First, keep moving — walk or slowly jog to bring your heart rate and body back to a resting state and flush out lactic acid from your muscles. Aim for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on your fatigue level).

10 to 15 minutes:

Rehydrate with 16 to 20 oz. of fluids. Drink water or sports drink to replace fluids and electrolytes.

Spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching hips, calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps, along with any other tight spots.

15 to 30 minutes:

Refuel your energy stores with a small snack. Eat a snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein. Research has shown that consuming carbohydrates within the first 30 minutes optimizes recovery because muscles are most receptive to building glycogen stores at that time. Protein is an equally important part of recovery for muscle repair. Aim for a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein — ranging from 100 to 300 calories. Some good options are banana and peanut butter, granola and yogurt, fruit smoothie, or chocolate milk.

To keep from getting cold, change into dry clothes.

1 to 2 hours:

Eat a small meal. Focus on eating a healthy meal with protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. The goal is to help give your body the nutrients it needs, decrease inflammation, increase muscle and liver glycogen stores, and rebuild damaged muscle tissue.

Continue to hydrate. At this point you can stick with just water. All the extra sugars from sports drinks can cause GI distress.

2 to 24 hours:

Take a nap to let your body rest and recover.

Consider taking a short walk. Light activity can promote circulation, deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, and help rid the body metabolic waste — aiding in healing and recovery.

1 to 2 days:

Continue to hydrate! The race may have been one day ago, but hydration can continue to help flush out the waste and promote recovery.

Consider going for short walks. Nothing too long; keep it low intensity!

Use a foam roll and stretch. If you feel up to it, consider booking a massage as well! Watch this video about how to stay injury free using a foam roller. 

1 week:

Continue to hydrate during this time, as well as foam roll and stretch to aid in recovery.

One question that many people ask after completing a race is “When can I get back into exercise?”   There is no definitive answer. Some experts recommend taking one day off for every mile you ran; so if you ran 26. 2 miles, then you should recover for 26 days. Others may recommend taking a few days off and then starting an active recovery program (light exercise) because it can assist in recovery. The best thing you can do is to listen to your body. If you are feeling any soreness or pain, take time off and recover. If you feel pretty good, slowly incorporate light exercise like biking, walking, swimming, or even slow running into your routine.

Recovery is just as important as training for the race. Take the time to let your body heal and enjoy your accomplishment!