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Want To Run Faster? Make Sure You Recover

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Apr. 17, 2013
  • Updated Oct. 1, 2013 at 6:45 AM UTC
The snug, gradient pressure of compression socks can aid recovery by increasing blood flow and reducing swelling. Photo: Scott Draper/Competitor

Day-to-Day Recovery

As soon as you finish a run, the recovery process is under way. Muscle fibers that have been robbed of energy and suffered micro-tears from the rigors of your workouts and long runs (this is normal, not to worry) begin the process of repairing themselves to come back stronger for your next session. Bones stressed by miles of pounding now have the opportunity to rest and recover from the load placed on them. These processes happen naturally, but they will be affected by many of the choices you make from the minute you stop running.

Compression Apparel
Running clothes are about more than just fashion. In fact, what you wear — or don’t wear — can have a significant effect on how well you recover after a race or a challenging workout.

Take a look at the clothing racks inside your local running store, or scan the pages of any running magazine. Many runners are clad head to toe in flashy, tight-fitting apparel called “compression wear.” These garments, which cover the arms, torso, or legs, are a popular choice among runners and other athletes, many of whom swear that compression wear helps them run faster. So what’s the deal with all the spandex? Will it really make you faster in your next race or workout? Probably not, as numerous scientific studies have failed to validate that claim.

What compression wear does do is aid in the all-important recovery process. Made of tight-fitting, elastic materials, compression garments deliver graduated pressure. A compression sock, for example, is tighter around the foot and ankle than it is around the calf. This helps improve circulation in the surrounding muscles and pushes blood back toward the heart. In fact, athletic compression socks were inspired by similar socks made for patients suffering from poor circulation in their lower legs.

So how does this help you recover?

In the most general sense, healing in a muscle begins when there is increased blood flow to the affected area. By wearing compression socks or tights you speed up the healing process by increasing blood flow to your legs. In addition, the increased blood flow helps to flush out metabolic waste that accumulates after a hard race or workout, such as a track session or a long run. As a result, many runners report less soreness in the days following a hard effort and contend that wearing compression products for recovery helps them bounce back more quickly than if they had gone without these garments. Surprisingly, very little lab data exist supporting the exercise recovery benefits of compression products, but the anecdotal evidence from athletes who swear by these garments after a race or a tough workout is significant.

RELATED: How Compression Apparel Works

Recovery Footwear
After a long run, one of the first things I do is get out of my running shoes and socks so that I can give my feet an opportunity to breathe. Whether I decide to walk around barefoot, put on flip-flops, or slide into a pair of casual shoes probably doesn’t make much of a difference, right?

Not so fast! Your feet, perhaps more so than any other part of your body, undergo a lot of duress during a run. Whether you’re running in a boat of a stability shoe, in a minimal racing flat, or even barefoot, the small muscles of the feet and all the surrounding soft tissue take a beating every time you come into contact with the ground, supporting up to eight times your body weight with every stride.

What you decide to put on your feet after your running shoes come off can have a noticeable effect on how well your feet and lower legs recover after a run.

In the hour or so following a run, your feet are in a vulnerable state. They’ve just spent a considerable amount of time at work, and like the rest of your body, they’re tired, swollen, and could use support while recovering from their most recent effort. Unlike standard flip-flops, sandals, or slides, footwear designed specifically for recovery features sturdy, supportive footbeds underneath your arch and heel that allow your fatigued feet to recuperate while you go about your day.

Recovery footwear doesn’t just help your feet, however. Putting on a supportive pair of sandals or shoes after a run can have positive effects on the rest of your body too. Remember, when you are standing, your feet are the foundation that supports everything above it. If your feet are fatigued or weakened, they’re not going to do a good job supporting the rest of your body. Thus, supportive recovery footwear can improve your alignment and lessen stress on the shins, knees, and hips, helping legs feel fresh for your next run.

Recovery Nutrition
What you eat and drink before and during a training session or race is what allows you to finish without bonking, but what you consume afterward is what will allow you to recover well and perform at a high level again the next day.

There’s a short but important recovery window of 30– 60 minutes after a race or workout where you want to start rehydrating and begin the process of restocking glycogen stores and repairing damaged muscle tissue. Many sports nutritionists recommend ingesting 200–300 calories that contain a 3-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein soon after finishing. The carbohydrates are absorbed by the muscles and replenish energy stores, while the protein helps begin the process of repairing damaged muscle tissue.

RELATED: Eat And Drink Away Muscle Soreness

Energy bars are a convenient way to get quick grab-and-go calories after a hard effort. If you cannot stomach solid food immediately after running, try a recovery drink instead.

Even if you were effectively able to replace fluids while running, grab a water bottle or sports drink right away and ensure that you’re rehydrating thoroughly so muscles don’t shut down or cramp. In this way, you’ll start replacing glycogen as well as fluids lost through sweat as soon as possible after finishing.

There are a variety of drinks on the market claiming to contain the ideal blend of carbohydrates and protein, but one accessible (and affordable) option is chocolate milk. Its high carbohydrate and protein content mirrors those of top nutritional supplements, which is why chocolate milk has become the go-to recovery drink for many top endurance athletes.

After getting in a few hundred calories closely following your workout or race, you’ll want to eat a full meal within 2–4 hours to fully replenish what you used to fuel your latest effort. Remember, the sooner you can rehydrate, refuel, and repair damaged muscle fibers, the sooner you can train hard again.

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FILED UNDER: Recovery / Training TAGS: / / / / /

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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