Whether you’re an avid marathoner or a recreational runner, recovery is an integral part of any workout routine and healthy lifestyle.
As a matter of fact, to reach your full running potential while staying injury-free, your recovery methods are just as vital as your workout routines.
Why you might ask?
That’s because your body needs the right building blocks and enough rest in order to patch-up damaged muscle tissue, restore energy, and re-establish homeostasis.
In today’s article, I will delve a little deeper into post-workout science and teach you about the three pillars of proper workout recovery: proper hydration, proper nutrition, and proper sleep.
So, instead of dealing with post-run aches and soreness, implement these three scientifically proven strategies to help your body recover faster, feel better, and perform at your best.
But before we do that, let’s first take a quick look at what occurs inside of your body during the recovery period.
What Happens During The Recovery Period?
Although during running is when stimulation for fitness growth occurs, it’s during the recovery period that actual progress is made.
During this period, your body undergoes a number of processes to repair muscle fibers, builds new blood vessels to the damaged areas, and restore homeostasis.
Devoid of recovery, none of the training-related positive adaptations will take place.
Without further ado, here are the guidelines you need.
The first thing you need to do after a run is to rehydrate, and that means drinking plenty of plain water.
The Importance of Water
When you run, especially if you are doing it the right way, you’re going to sweat.
Sure, sweating is the primary mechanism for keeping core temperature in the healthy range, but it also robs your body of fluids and essential electrolytes that need to be replaced at some point if complete recovery is to take place.
For that reason, as a runner, you need to develop a post-run hydration protocol that restores the liquids and electrolytes lost during running.
The Human body is 70 percent water. So, it’s no secret that your body needs water to function.
Here are the main reasons water is crucial for recovery:
Transfer of Nutrients
Water helps move nutrients, electrolytes and almost every other substance required for healthy and optimal functioning.
By the same token, when you don’t drink enough water, the delivery of nutrients to your muscles is slowed down, which, in turn, hampers recovery and can even result in pain and injuries.
Running strengthens your muscles by first breaking them down and then repairing and rebuilding them through muscle protein synthesis. To kick-start this rebuilding process, your body heavily relies on water.
And here is the bad news. If you’re dehydrated, protein synthesis can be delayed.
The fact is, if you’re not drinking enough water, your body might even start breaking down muscle tissue. This can delay post-run recovery, undermine your training performance, and hinder your fitness growth.
Research has revealed that the amount of water within cells has an enormous impact on whether or not muscle breakdown occurs. In fact, according to a study published in Biochemistry Journal, dehydration may lead to cells shrinking and protein breakdown.
Another research published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research revealed that trainees who hydrated right after working out showed drastically faster heart rate recovery when compared to subjects who did not hydrate at all following a workout.
Said otherwise, water is a powerful tool in muscle recovery. So, put it to your advantage.
Other functions of water include:
- Lubricating your joints
- Regulating body temperature
- Removing and detoxifying waste out of your body
- Key for assimilating water-soluble vitamins.
I can go and on about the importance of water both for recovery and optimum health, but you get the picture.
For more on the importance of hydration, check my post here.
As far as I know, there are no universal guidelines for how much water to drink right after exercise for optimum recovery.
The exact amount will vary from one runner to the next, depending on many factors, including training intensity, sweat rate, clothes worn, the temperature, fitness level, and personal preferences.
As a rule of thumb, to stave off dehydration, you need to keep your body well hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Shooting for anywhere around half of your body weight in ounces of water per day is a good guideline to follow—That’s roughly 8 to 10 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
Also, drink water strategically before, during, and after your workouts.
Here is how:
Regardless of the intensity and length of your run, always start well hydrated. Drink enough water in the two to three hours before heading out.
During your runs, especially runs lasting over 45-minute, drink 6 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes.
Upon completing your run, drink at least one to two glasses of water.
If you’re running for longer than 60 minutes, consider a sports drink, or better yet, chocolate milk to replenish your fluids and electrolytes.
To err on the side of caution, drink enough water until you no longer feel thirsty.
Just don’t get me wrong. Do not over hydrate. That’s actually as bad as not drinking enough fluids. Drinking too much water has an adverse impact on your performance overall health. And you don’t want that.
Monitor Your Hydration Status
Look at your pee. If your urine color is pale yellow, resembling lemonades, then you’re properly hydrated.
If it’s a darker tint of yellow, then you are improperly hydrated, and might need more fluids.
Eat The Right Things
The Second thing you need to do is to replace the nutrients your body has lost during exercise—the raw materials required for building muscle tissue, nerves, etc.
The Post-Run Eating Window
During the recovery window, your body is better primed at absorbing nutrients by using carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen while using amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—to repair muscle tissue.
The speed and efficiency at which your body refuels and repairs itself depend on the nutrition you provide it.
If you skip post-run eating, you’ll not provide your body with sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and proteins for the rebuilding and replenishing processes.
You also need to prioritize healthy eating. Junk food will only compromise these vital processes, doing more harm than good. And you don’t want that.
So, what are the main building blocks of a great post-run meal?
The Two Big Players
To meet post-workout needs, as previously stated, carbohydrates and proteins are the main protagonists. These are what you need for maximum recovery and training efficiency.
As a result, consume a balanced meal within 30 to 60 minutes of your run. If you don’t have the stomach (or the time) for a full meal, then carry a sports drink, or better yet, milk-based shakes, to sip at the end of your routine.
Shoot for at least one-half gram of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. The exact amount depends on your fitness level, training intensity, training goals, and personal preferences. High-quality sources of carbohydrates include vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, bread, pasta, rice and low-fat milk.
Also, do not forget about your proteins.
To promote protein synthesis, consume at least 0.2g per pound of body weight of protein within 30 minutes post-run.
Some of the best sources of complete proteins include poultry, meat, fish, and eggs.
For a 170-pound runner, this would amount to 80 to 90 grams of carbohydrates and 20 to 30 grams of protein.
Chocolate Milk Enters The Picture
To ensure you’re getting the most out of the post-workout window, your next meal or drink must be up to par.
That’s where chocolate milk can come in handy, especially when you don’t have the time nor the stomach for a full meal.
So, why chocolate milk is such a good choice?
An abundance body of research supports the benefits of drinking shakes built with chocolate milk as a post-workout nutrition option.
Chocolate milk has all the high-quality carbohydrates and proteins your body needs for efficient recovery.
In fact, according to research conducted at the University of Texas that reported that cyclists who opted for chocolate milk helped them gain a performance edge over those who went for water or a sports drink.
One cup of whole milk—about 250ml—contains roughly 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fat, for a total of 190 calories.
Here is a quick breakdown of the main ingredients of chocolate milk.
First, at eight to ten grams per cup, chocolate milk is an excellent natural source of high-quality protein.
Broken down into amino acids by the digestive system, protein is required to shore up the amino acids lost during running and to patch up exercise induce muscle damage.
This beverage is also ideal for replacing lost glycogen—your body’s store of carbohydrates and the primary (and preferred) source of energy on the run.
A glass of chocolate milk contains anywhere from 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrate.
The Right Ratio
This drink has the ideal combination of macronutrients, making it the perfect recovery drink.
In fact, research suggests that a carb-to-protein ratio of 3:1 to 4:1 is ideal for rebuilding and refueling damaged and worn muscles.
In other words, when it comes to the carb and protein department, chocolate milk has you covered.
Besides the carb and protein content, chocolate milk contains a high amount of water content, which can help you replace some of the fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat.
Some of these electrolytes include potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, etc.
Chocolate milk is easy to make, and cheap, making it the ideal alternative to often-expensive sports drinks available in the market.
How much Should You Drink?
As you can already tell from the above points, I’m a big fan of chocolate milk.
But, how much do you need?
I wish the answer to that question were as easy as making a cup of chocolate milk.
Here is the truth. There is no such a thing as a universal guideline for the exact amount of chocolate milk to drink after working out for maximum muscle recovery.
But, all in all, most experts recommend drinking at least 200 to 300 milliliters—the equivalent of one cup.
That said, feel free to re-adjust in line with your current body weight, fitness level, workout intensity, training goals, and individual preferences.
Sleep for more
If you believe training for endless hours is the best way to achieve your fitness goals, then think again.
Believe it or not, sleep plays a vital role in your recovery and fitness growth. In fact, the time you spend under the sheets might be the most critical element in your training since most of recovery occurs during sleep hours. Research suggests that sleep deprivation can have drastic adverse effects on athletic recovery as well as performance.
So, why is sleep so important?
Here are the main the reasons.
Your Body On The Run
As previously stated, running, and other forms of exercise, breaks muscle fibers down and drains energy levels.
And as you already know by now, fitness growth happens when these tiny micro tears are rebuilt and repaired. Nevertheless, the rebuilding process can only take full effect while you’re at rest, especially when sleeping.
For that reason alone, getting ample sleep, especially during hard training days and weeks, is the foundation of proper recovery and improved performance.
The Growth Hormone
The main reason sleep is so important for recovery comes down to a particular hormone that’s secreted by the pituitary gland during the non-REM deep sleep stage. That’s the famous growth hormone.
Also known as HGH, this hormone promotes growth, while assisting in cell regeneration, cell reproduction, and other vital bodily functions in charge of restoring bones and muscles.
Research has shown that sleep deprivation decreases the production of HGH, making it harder for your body to bounce back from runs.
According to a Stanford research published in SLEEP and conducted at the Stanford University, getting enough quality sleep can improve athletic performance in basketball players who maintain a regular sleep routine 10 hours for up for five to seven weeks.
Further, a study by Reyner and Horne revealed that better sleep was tied to a faster sprinting speed and hitting precision in college tennis players.
The Perils of Being Sleep Deprived
If you’re sleep deprived, your body will be unable to complete the natural phases required for muscle repair and recovery. And that can only spell disaster on your fitness and overall health status.
Further, too little sleep can increase the secretion of catabolic hormones, like cortisol, and hinder the release of anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and insulin-like growth factor, according to research published in Sports Medicine.
What’s more, sleep deprivation is associated with a plethora of health issues including heart disease, obesity, impaired immune function, low productivity, and mental disorders.
So, what’s the ideal amount of sleep per night you need as a runner?
This is a difficult question to answer because, like many other things, the exact amount of sleep needed depends on individual differences.
Sleep needs vary widely by individual, depending in large part on activity level, age, environment, genetics, etc.
The fact is, you might even need different amounts of sleep at different stages of your life and through various stages of your training cycle.
So, when it comes to determining how sleep you need, the best person to turn to is YOU. In essence, if you still feel tired in the morning, you probably require more sleep.
That said, according to science, people who sleep seven to eight hours a night are healthier and live longer.
So, shooting for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep during the night time is ideal.
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, here are a few practical tips to help make sure you fall asleep faster and stay so for longer.
Exercise consistently. You don’t have to run every day, but doing some form of exercise, or cross training, every day, can surely help your sleep. In fact, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, consistent exercisers reported getting the best sleep.
No heavy eating. Avoid consuming high sugar foods or alcohol watching TV before hitting the sack. Research shows that this can disrupt our sleep patterns.
Schedule it. Go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Sticking to a rigid schedule can help regulate your body’s internal clock, thus making falling asleep, and staying so, easier.
Make a routine. Set up a sleep routine in which you get ready to hit the sack in the 60 minutes before you go to bed. Make sure that your sleep routine consists of activities that get your body ready to sleep.
Some of these include getting rid of electronics (especially your Smartphone and TV), dimming the lights, meditating, reading fiction, stretching, self-hypnosis, taking a hot shower, and journaling.
Sleep in a cooler environment. Sleep in good temperature that’s roughly 65 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 18 or 19 degrees Celsius.
To conclude, please keep in mind that successful running and the fitness results you want to see is contingent on a combination of three vital elements:
1- The consistency and intensity of your training;
2- The quality and quantity of your nutrition, especially during hard training days; and
3- The quality of rest, especially sleep.
Get these three elements in order, and you’ll be on your way to achieving your running best. Everything else is gravy.