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Recover After a Race or Long Run

Keep moving after you finish.
Keep moving and hydrate after you finish.

What you do after a run can be just as important as what you do preparing for a run. There are certain actions you must take so your body is better able to recover. It's especially important after long runs of 5K or more, and whenever you finish a competitive race. In those situations, you tend to push your body harder and proper recovery steps can improve healing dramatically. Here are five things you can do to help your body out and two things you should avoid.

Keep walking after you finish. You want to slow everything down gradually, not stop suddenly. Going from a run to a complete stop can lead to fainting or leg cramps. The easiest way you can wind down is by walking for another 10-15 minutes after your run ends. Consider it an opportunity to talk to other people after a race, or look around and enjoy the scenery if you run alone.

Do light movements a day, or even two days after a big run. Activities like a leisurely bike ride, a relaxing swim or a walk in the park keep the blood flowing and help flush out lactic acid.

Eat something after a race. When you finish a run, your body is in a "catabolic state." That means muscle glycogen is depleted and increased cortisol levels begin to damage muscle tissue. Eating properly can slow muscle breakdown. The ideal window to get that food in and begin healing is no later than 10-30 minutes after you've finished running. 

To calculate what you should eat, researchers suggest between .18 and .36 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight and .18 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you're trying to lose weight or cut up, choose the lower carbohydrate number. Using that scale a 150-pound person should eat between 27 and 54 grams of carbs and 27 grams of protein.

Foods that are often recommended after a run include simple carbohydrates like bananas, berries, rice, bread, bagels or pasta. Some kind of whey protein is ideal for faster absorption into your body. I like drinking a protein shake because it's convenient, you can also try milk (chocolate milk is awesome), protein bars or protein-rich foods like soy, beef, chicken or fish. Avoid fat because it will slow the absorption of nutrients and delay the muscle repair.

Drink plenty of water. Our bodies are made up of about 70% water. Your body sweats to cool you down and it's important to replenish that water. If you don't, you may experience fatigue, lightheadedness, muscle cramps and nausea.

Some people have the mistaken belief that when they finish a race, all that sweat is going to contribute to weight loss. Nope, the weight loss is only temporary. The moment you drink something, the weight goes right back on. It's the fat you burn from the run; and the afterburn when you're finished that leads to long-term weight loss. So drink up.

Make sure to get enough shut-eye. The hormone that regulates inflammation is called cortisol, and it's lowest when you're sleeping. At the same time, rest increases growth hormone, which helps speed healing by increasing protein synthesis. More sleep equals improved muscle growth and recovery. 

Don't try to set a new personal record every time you run. Constantly pushing yourself to the extreme without giving your muscles time to heal, will ultimately end in injury. You don't need to end every run, completely exhausted. A healthy schedule includes short runs, medium-length runs, active recovery days and strength training sessions mixed in-between long runs and races.

Avoid getting a massage immediately after a long run or race. Depending on the level of pressure used, you risk increasing muscle tissue break down and inflammation. A very light rubdown is acceptable, but anything more can hinder recovery. Don't schedule regular massages until at least 24 to 48 hours after the race is over.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.