How to Recover from a Hard Race or Run

6 Tips to Prevent Muscle Soreness, Injury, and More

When it comes to a long or intense run or cardio workout, how you wind down afterward is just as important as how you warm up beforehand. The vigorous paces you (literally) put your body through will take a toll, by depleting your glycogen (which is stored in muscles for quick energy), breaking down muscle fibers, and simply making you tired all over. Here are six ways to treat your post-run body to some well-deserved TLC. 


Fill your belly with carbs and proteins.

Apple and peanut butter
Lew Robertson

Certain foods in combination can help prevent soreness after a run—namely complex carbohydrates plus protein to help repair and rebuild muscles. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) advises aiming for a ratio of 3:1 complex (non-sugary) carbs to protein, and snacking within a half hour of exercise when your muscles are most receptive to rebuilding glycogen stores. It's also important, according to ACE, to drink lots of water to "help regulate body temperature and blood pressure, and transport energy and nutrients throughout the body." Examples of good post-run snacks include six whole-grain crackers, a couple of slices of cheese, and an apple or a quarter cup of nonfat yogurt topped with a half-cup each whole-grain cereal and fresh berries.


Stretch after you run.

Calf Stretch for Runners
Mike Harrington/Getty Images

Whether stretching is necessary for runners is somewhat controversial among fitness experts, but there's no question the ideal time to do it is after a run, while muscles are warm and pliable. Stretching while muscles are cold and stiff can put them at risk of tears. Spend about 30 seconds per side doing each of these runners' stretches—but be gentle, especially if you ran for 90 minutes or longer: Your muscles will be tired and depleted, so treat them with extra TLC.


Take an ice bath.

man in bath tub
Dylan Ellis

This can be an efficient way to reduce inflammation and soreness throughout the entire body. If the idea of submerging yourself into an icy tub is less than appealing, leave your clothes on and bring a hot beverage (in an unbreakable cup) to sip on while you soak. If you can't tolerate an ice bath, use ice packs on areas that are most prone to getting sore, such as your quads and knees.


Mix up your activities.

women on exercise bikes
Blend Images/Dave and Les Jacobs

Cross-training is a great way to protect muscles from being overworked without taking a total break from exercise. On days you need to give yourself time to recover from running, do a low-impact activity—bike, swim, use the elliptical trainer at your gym. Even going for a short walk will give your running muscles and joints a break while allowing you to maintain your fitness level. 


Get a massage.

Runner getting massage
Pinnacle Pictures

Massage is more than a feel-good indulgence after exercise: It's also an effective way to help reduce muscle tension and soreness, prevent injury, increase range of motion, and more, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Look for a massage therapist who's certified through the AMTA or Associated Bodywork Massage Professionals. If you prefer to work out the kinks yourself, try using a foam roller or other massage tool.


Clock plenty of sleep.

Man sleeping
Jose Luis Pelaez

After a long hard run or race, a good night's sleep is critical. Your body needs the extensive downtime to recover and repair itself. In fact, you should be sure to sleep at least eight hours a night in general for your overall health, according to the National Sleep Foundation. This means that even on nights after you haven't exercised you're in the habit of going to bed and getting up at times that will allow you to log your eight hours. 

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