Hit the Ground Running: Smart Strategies for Beating Post-Run Muscle Soreness

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Have you ever found yourself hobbling around the day after a challenging run, wondering why your muscles feel like they’ve been through a boxing match? Well, you’re not alone!

Muscle soreness – it’s like the unwelcome guest that shows up after a party, reminding you of all the fun (or in this case, running) you had. But why does it happen? Is it just because our muscles are drama queens, or is there more to it? Spoiler alert: It’s not just your muscles being over-dramatic.

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or someone lacing up their sneakers for the first time, muscle soreness doesn’t discriminate.

However, beginner runners or those making a comeback after a break tend to experience it more frequently. But don’t worry, there’s hope, and we’re here to guide you through it.

In this article, we’ll explore the two primary types of exercise-related soreness: the immediate or acute soreness you feel during or right after a run, and the more familiar Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

From the “Start Slow” principle, the importance of the golden window of post-run nutrition, the power of protein, and the wonders of compression gear, to the soothing effects of foam rolling, the perks of coffee (yes, coffee!), and even the chill therapy of ice baths – we’ve got it all covered.

Plus, we’ll dive into the benefits of topical ointments and why you shouldn’t stop moving, even when you’re sore.

Ready? Let’s go!

Muscle Soreness demystified

Let’s dive into this topic and unravel the mystery of muscle soreness.

The prevailing theory is that muscle soreness occurs due to muscle damage, often in the form of tiny tears in your muscles. Yes, you read that right—tiny tears. It might sound intimidating, but it’s a common part of the muscle-building process.

Muscle soreness is something many runners, regardless of their fitness levels and training backgrounds, have encountered. However, beginner runners or those returning to running after a hiatus tend to experience muscle soreness more frequently than those who maintain a consistent training regimen.

There are primarily two types of exercise-related soreness. The first type is immediate or acute soreness, which you feel during or shortly after a run. The second type is the more familiar one—Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, affectionately known as DOMS in fitness circles.

In most cases, muscle soreness is mild and arises after a challenging run, such as long runs or intense sprint and hill repetitions. It usually doesn’t last more than a couple of days. However, there are times when this soreness doesn’t make its presence known until two or three days post-workout.

Dealing With Post-Run Muscle Soreness

Unfortunately, according to the current scientific theory, there are no fool-proof ways for speeding up the recovery of muscle soreness.

(Of course, there is one fool-proof way to avoid soreness altogether, which is to give up running altogether.

And I guess that you don’t want to do that.)

With that said, here are a few helpful training tips and recovery guidelines that are worth trying to get your body primed for the next run.

1. Start Slow

Taking a gradual approach to running is the golden rule, especially if you’re new to the sport or making a comeback after a long hiatus. Let’s break down this journey into manageable steps:

  • Embrace the Walk/Run Method: If you’re a complete novice in the running world, don’t fret! Start with the walk/run method. This means alternating between walking and running intervals. It’s an excellent way to build your endurance and avoid pushing your limits too soon
  • Gradually Increase Endurance: Once you’re comfortable and can maintain a continuous run for around 30 to 40 minutes without excessive strain, you’re on the right track. This milestone is your green light to start thinking about enhancing your running performance.
  • Introduction to Speed Work: At this stage, consider introducing speed work, but proceed with caution. Small increments of speed intervals can work wonders for your overall running performance.
  • Follow the 10 Percent Rule: To protect your body from overuse injuries, it’s crucial to follow the 10 percent rule. This rule advises against increasing your weekly running mileage by more than 10 percent compared to the previous week. This gradual approach minimizes the risk of pushing yourself too hard too soon.

Additional resource – Sore quads after running

2. Eat Right Away

Right after your run, there’s a golden window of opportunity that lasts for about one to two hours. During this time, your body is like a sponge, ready to absorb nutrients efficiently. Skip this crucial post-run nutrition, and you might find yourself running on empty in your next session, while also missing out on the muscle recovery benefits.

So, what should you do? Well, it’s simple—eat something right after your workout. The key is to aim for a ratio of 3 or 4 parts carbs to 1 part protein for optimal recovery. But don’t worry; it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

You might need to experiment with ratios and foods to discover what works best for your body.

Liquid Nutrition for Quick Recovery

If you’re pressed for time or not quite ready for solid food, liquid nutrition can be your go-to. My personal favorite is the classic chocolate milk or a banana-based smoothie. These options provide a quick dose of essential nutrients without overloading your stomach.

Here are some other fantastic post-run food choices:

  • Yogurt
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Orange juice with two hard-boiled eggs and whole-grain toast

If you have a bit more time and a hearty appetite, consider options like brown rice with chicken, a bowl of quinoa, or an omelet paired with an avocado. The key is to find the post-run meal that satisfies your taste buds and your body’s recovery needs.

3. Consume Protein

I might sound like a broken record, but I can’t stress this enough: protein is your best buddy when it comes to preventing muscle soreness. Not only is it crucial for building muscles, but it has also been shown to work wonders in reducing post-workout muscle damage, as per scientific studies.

So, here’s the science behind it: protein intake stimulates a process called protein synthesis. This process is as fundamental as it gets in biology—it’s where amino acids line up to help your cells create specific proteins. Think of it as the construction crew getting to work.

But that’s not all. A sufficient intake of protein also elevates the level of amino acids in your blood. Why is this important? Because it sends a biomechanical signal to your muscles, telling them not to resort to protein as an alternative fuel source. Translation: when you consume enough protein, you provide your muscles with the essential building blocks they need to repair and rebuild damaged tissue.

Additional resource – Does running build muscle?

4. Compress it

Want to fast-track your recovery and kiss muscle soreness goodbye? Consider slipping into some compression gear. There’s solid scientific evidence backing this up.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that wearing compression garments during and after exercise can significantly reduce muscle soreness. But that’s not all—another piece of research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that marathoners who sported compression socks in the 48 hours following a race reported a speedier recovery compared to those who skipped them.

So, how does this magic work?

Here’s the theory: technical compression fabric comes to the rescue by providing support to muscle groups, which in turn reduces those pesky micro-tears in your muscles. But that’s not all! Research also shows that compression can boost circulation.

5. Foam Roll

Foam rolling is like a soothing massage that you can give yourself, and it’s one of my all-time favorite methods for saying goodbye to post-run muscle soreness.

But what exactly is foam rolling, and how does it work its magic? Well, picture a long, cylinder-shaped tool that can work wonders for your body. Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release, and it targets those tight and sore spots in your muscles.

The idea behind it is pretty cool—foam rolling helps prevent scarring of the connective tissues, known as fascia, which are nestled between your muscles. By keeping these tissues supple and happy, you’re less likely to experience pain and injuries.

But that’s not all! Foam rolling also does a fantastic job of boosting blood flow to your hardworking muscles through applied pressure, which is essential for speeding up your recovery process.

So, how can you make the most of it? Consider incorporating foam rolling into your routine a couple of times a week, especially after a challenging run or even just before your workout, as part of your dynamic warm-up. If you’re feeling exceptionally sore, dedicate a good 15 to 20 minutes to roll out those areas of tension and soreness.

6. Drink Coffee

If you’re a coffee enthusiast, here’s some news that’ll perk you up even more! Not only does research highlight caffeine’s positive impact on training and endurance, but it turns out that your beloved brew can also help ease post-workout soreness.

A study conducted at the University of Georgia found that consuming caffeine, equivalent to about two cups of coffee, can be a soreness-soothing elixir after a tough training session. But how does it work its magic?

Let’s thank adenosine, which is a crucial biochemical involved in energy transfer and is released by your body, especially by the central nervous receptors responsible for pain processing.

Now, before you start guzzling down gallons of coffee, keep in mind that moderation is key. Too much coffee can lead to muscle spasms and some serious tummy troubles during your workouts. So, enjoy your coffee responsibly, and let it work its wonders on those sore muscles!

7. Use the Ice

Here’s a cool (pun intended) method to beat post-run soreness: take a refreshing dip in a cool bath after a demanding running session. Why does this work, you ask? Well, the theory behind it is that ice therapy can help minimize the body’s inflammation response.

Now, what’s the inflammation response, you wonder? In simple terms, it’s your body’s natural way of healing itself after an injury, battling infections, and repairing damaged tissue. However, it’s a bit like wearing a cast—often leading to swelling and stiffness in the affected area, immobilizing it as it heals.

So, after a tough workout, consider spending 15 to 20 minutes in a cold tub to cool those hot and troubled areas. If an ice bath isn’t convenient, you can still target strained or overworked areas with an ice pack. It’s a chill way to soothe those sore muscles!.

8. Use Topical Ointments

If all else fails and you’re still grappling with muscle soreness, it might be time to turn to topical ointments for relief. But how do they work? These ointments typically contain ingredients that provide a numbing and cooling effect on your muscles.

These products induce a sensation of cooling and pain relief, helping to boost blood flow and improve circulation in the process. So, don’t hesitate to massage these ointments into your usual sore spots after a tough run or for a few days until the soreness subsides.

You’ll find a variety of popular remedies available in stores or online, such as Ben-Gay, Arnica Rub, Tiger Balm, Traumeel, and magnesium oil. They’re here to help you soothe away that post-run discomfort!

9. Don’t Stop

I get it. The last thing you want to do when you’re sore is more exercise. But hold off on calling me crazy just yet because there’s a method to this madness.

According to science, the best thing you can do is to keep moving. Yes, I know, running might seem like a bad joke when your leg muscles are screaming in agony, but research has shown that light activity can work wonders. It increases blood flow and accelerates the body’s ability to clear out the chemicals and toxic waste associated with muscle soreness.

Now, before you think about repeating that gut-busting hill workout or long trail run from yesterday, hold on! That’s a big mistake and a surefire way to wreck your performance and health.

When I talk about active recovery, I mean engaging in light, easy exercise. This helps boost blood flow to those sore muscles without putting excessive pressure on them. Think of activities like a leisurely walk, a casual bike ride, a yoga session, or perhaps a refreshing swim. These are all excellent examples of active recovery that can help you get back on track without worsening your soreness.

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