How to Recover Properly from an Intense Running Workout?

Running is one of the best exercises and an integral part of a holistic health approach, allowing beginners and professional athletes to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. Running burns calories, helps you lose weight, and improves your cognitive ability and cardiovascular health. Simply put, running can: 

• Strengthen your heart 

• Build healthy joints 

• Streamline metabolism and homeostasis 

• Develop muscles with resistance to fatigue 

A 2015 research study published by Mayo Clinic highlights that runners have a 30% reduced mortality risk than non-runners. Another study published by Science Direct concludes that running as little as 10 minutes per day can decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and stroke. 

According to the Journal of Effective Disorders, running is an effective way to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. It improves your mood by increasing blood flow to the brain, causing it to release “feeling good” hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine. 

Running intensity is the level of stamina, power, and effort during a run. A high intensity run is about ten minutes per mile. Intense or prolonged running can take a massive toll on your musculoskeletal structures, leading to complications.

What Does Intense Running Do To Your Body?

Although intense running workout offers numerous health benefits, it also has several downsides. For instance, a 2020 study shows that injury incidence among intense runners is between 30% and 40%.

Not recovering appropriately from an intense running workout makes you more vulnerable to acute injuries, such as a rolled ankle. On the other hand, it can also cause chronic injuries, such as shin splints or stress fractures.

According to the National Library of Medicine, novice runners experience more injuries than experienced runners or athletes. Moreover, too much running can limit hormone production, particularly mood-regulating chemicals.

As a result, you will feel more stressed and irritable than usual. Intense running can negatively affect your immune system, allowing external pathogens, including viruses, and bacteria, to attack your body.

Hormonal changes elevate stress levels, leading to fatigue, restlessness, difficulty sleeping or insomnia, irritability, depression, and anxiety. Intense or prolonged running, especially in the evening, can disrupt your circadian rhythms and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Most beginners also feel severe heaviness in their legs. For instance, lack of sleep prevents your musculoskeletal system from recovering adequately. Not giving your muscles and tissues enough time to recover can lead to soreness, swelling, and inflammation.

Are Running Injuries Common?

Mild aches and pains are common for people who incorporate running into their exercise regimen. While these symptoms show that your musculoskeletal system is improving, they may also indicate a more severe health complication.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) classifies runners into four categories, depending on their exercise frequency and prevalence. AAFP highlights that professional marathon athletes are the most intense runners, and about 50% experience injuries yearly.

Similarly, 32% of long-distance and 27% of novice runners face injuries annually. Bear in mind that novice runners are two times more likely to sustain musculoskeletal injuries than recreational runners. So, you will sustain muscle soreness and other injuries from intense running.

How To Recover From an Intense Workout?

Intense running depletes your glycogen or energy and speeds up the breakdown of muscle tissues. The good news is that you can give sufficient time for your muscles to recover and restore energy levels.

On the other hand, not allowing sufficient time can cause problems, meaning you won’t replenish your glycogen levels, your muscle will experience damage, and you will compromise your performance.

According to ACE Fitness, focusing on post-workout hours is essential to streamline the recovery process. It includes performing low-intensity exercises and cooling down your body. So, how to recover properly from an intense running workout? Here are a few evidence-based strategies to optimize the process and achieve your goal.

Eat Carbs and Protein

The American Council on Exercise highlights that proteins and carbs can prevent muscle soreness after an intense running workout. Carbohydrates combined with protein-rich foods can repair and rebuild muscles. The Council recommends aiming for 3:1 non-sugary or complex carbs to protein to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Preventing soreness and restoring glycogen levels require runners to consume carbs and proteins within a half-hour of exercise. A 2017 study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) concludes that protein powder, such as whey protein, is highly effective for building muscles after an intense running workout. 

Remember, your body digests or absorbs whey protein quickly. Unlike other protein powders, such as soy or casein, whey protein contains nine amino acids that can streamline your body’s muscle-building process. According to Food Data Central, chicken is another rich source of protein to optimize the muscle recovery process.

For instance, a 112-gram or 4-ounce chicken breast contains 27 grams of proteins to repair or rebuild muscles. In addition, you can consume carbohydrates to restock glycogen and ensure your body is ready for the next workout. We recommend consuming 1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of your body weight. The following table categories the best carbohydrates sources:

Hydrate Yourself

Rehydrating your body after an intense workout is essential for your wellbeing and performance. According to USGC, the human body contains 60% of water and performs various functions, such as: 

• Regulation of body temperature 

• Toxins and waste products removal 

• Transportation of energy to tissues/cells

• Providing support to muscles and joints

So, rehydrating yourself after an intense workout can improve the recovery process, reduce the likelihood of injuries and cramping, and boost your performance. Your body generates 20 times more heat during a run and cools down through perspiration (sweating). 

However, perspiration is the leading cause of dehydration, causing your body to lose water, potassium, sodium, and other electrolytes. Dehydration occurs when you lose 2% to 3% of your body weight through fluids. In other words, if you weigh 150 pounds and lose 3-5 pounds of body weight through sweat, you will experience dehydration. 

Although you won’t find a standard hydration recommendation for intense runners because each individual has a different body size, heart rate, and speed, we suggest drinking 0.4 to 0.8 liters of water in the first hour after exercise. People with high running intensity lasting longer than an hour must drink at least one liter of water or sports drinks to replace lost fluids, carbs, and salt. 

Stretch Your Body

You may feel soreness in your body after an intense running workout. It indicates your body needs proper rest and recovery. Stretching is integral to recovery because it improves your range of motion and speeds up recovery.

Remember, your muscles are more flexible when they are warm. Therefore, you must stretch your muscles after an intense running workout to reduce stiffness and decrease the risk of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). We suggest starting your post-run recovery with a cooldown. 

For instance, decrease the running intensity for five to ten minutes through light jogs or walks. You can also perform other light aerobics based on your stamina and preferences. Always listen to your body! 

The primary objective of a cooldown is to slow your heart rate in a more balanced manner, especially when your muscles are warm. So this enables you to hold stretches for a prolonged period and catch your breath. Begin static stretches after completing your cooldown. Some of the best stretches to perform after an intense running workout are: 

• Hamstring Stretch 

• Standing Quad Stretch 

• Pigeon Stretch 

• Seated Single-Leg Calf Stretch 

• Figure-Four Hip Flexor Stretch 

• Downward-Facing Dog 

Take an Ice Bath

Ice bath, also known as cold hydrotherapy or cold-water immersion, is an excellent way to streamline recovery after running. It improves your physical and mental wellbeing after an intense workout. 

A 2018 study shows that an ice bath can stimulate the vagus nerve in the neck region, lowering the heart rate and reducing stress. Another meta-review study highlights that ice baths or cold compress optimize brain functions, allowing athletes to feel better and sleep more adequately. 

So, take an ice bath 10-15 minutes after your intense running workout. The purpose is to target muscle groups that require repairing, rebuilding, or healing. Remember, you must follow the protocol and measure the temperature to prevent complications. 

Keep your ice bath to a temperature between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius or 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. It is an appropriate temperature level to avoid too much cold and still feel the chill. Stay in the cool water for about 10 to 15 minutes to make the most of hydrotherapy. 

An ice bath after an intense workout can reduce the risk of soreness and inflammation by relaxing your muscles. However, you must not undergo hydrotherapy if you have high blood pressure or a cardiovascular condition. 

Otherwise, the cold temperature will constrict your blood vessels and decrease blood flow between your heart and other organs. So this increases the risk of cardiac arrest and stroke. 

Submerging in the ice bath for more than 20 minutes can lead to a condition called hypothermia, leading to: 

• Body shivering 

• Extreme fatigue 

• Confusion 

• Memory loss 

• Dizziness 

• Fumbling hands 

• Slurred speech 

A 2016 study published by PubMed Central highlights that people with type-1 or type-2 diabetes should avoid taking an ice bath after an intense running workout. Cold exposure can reduce blood sugar levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and restore mitochondrial function; an ice bath after an intense workout prevents people with diabetes from maintaining their body’s core temperature. 

Get a Massage

Massage increases circulation and streamlines the recovery process. Getting a sports massage after an intense running workout can shorten recovery. It stretches muscles and fascia, improving flexibility and range of motion. 

A 2020 study shows that massage is an excellent way to reduce stiffness, improve muscle function, and reduce the risk of injuries. Improved range of motion and flexibility make your muscles less likely to experience strains. 

Post-run massage stretches tight muscles, optimizes metabolic processes, and maintains homeostasis, allowing your body to relax and remove toxins/waste products. Undergoing a sports massage 1-2 days after an intense running workout is more effective. We suggest consulting your trainer or physician for a customized post-run recovery plan. 

Try Foam Rolling

Practicing foam roller exercises is an excellent way to keep your spinal and leg muscles relaxed, flexible, and healthy. Foam rollers are equally beneficial for beginners/novice runners and experienced athletes. 

As the name indicates, a foam roller is a piece of cylindrical foam used after an intense workout. You can use it to target muscle soreness through self-massage or self-myofascial release. 

The primary advantage of using a foam roller is to reduce soreness, discomfort, and pain caused by muscle tightness and adhesions. It releases tension in the muscle tissues and joints, preventing injuries, improving performance, and strengthening soft tissues. 

Likewise, a foam rolling exercise can increase blood flow to your muscles, tissues, and joints, increasing elasticity, flexibility, and strength. So, investing in a foam roller is an excellent way to streamline recovery. 

The best thing about a foam roller is that you can target any muscle in your body, including: 

• Upper back 

• Lower back 

• IT bands 

• Calf muscles 

• Quadriceps 

• Hip flexors 

• Hamstrings 

• Glutes 

• Etc. 

Therefore, foam rolling exercises can speed up recovery and repair/strengthen your muscles. For instance, a foam roller can release tension and stiffness in your hamstrings. Follow the steps below to make the most of it! 

• Sit on the floor and relax 

• Place the roller under the back of your upper legs 

• Now, place your hands behind your legs 

• Lift your hips off the mat/floor by pushing onto your hands 

• Roll up and down slowly to put pressure on your hamstrings 

• Continue rolling up and down until you identify a tender spot between your knees and the glutes 

• Press the foam roller into the tender spot for 30 seconds to reduce discomfort.

A Good Night of Sleep Is Critical

Numerous factors determine your energy levels after an intense running workout. These include your fitness levels, diet, hydration, underlying medical condition, exercise frequency and duration, and how much you sleep the night before. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, people in the U.S. sleep for six hours at night. On the other hand, the recommended sleep duration is between seven and eight hours. 

Although sleep requirements vary from person to person, people who perform intense running workouts require more sleep than the normal range. In addition to a good night’s sleep for 7-8 hours, you must also take a nap after a run to support muscle recovery. 

Sleeping allows your pituitary gland to release growth hormones necessary for tissue/muscle repair. Besides, a good night’s sleep relaxes your body, restores energy levels, and allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated in the morning. 

According to the Telegraph, an intense workout in the evening can take a massive toll on your circadian rhythms and prevent you from falling asleep quickly. Although intense running releases serotonin, norepinephrine, and endorphins to improve your mood, increased blood flow to the brain boosts cortisol levels, a hormone that causes stress. 

The Sleep Foundation recommends getting into a proper routine, even if you run with high intensity or for a prolonged period. For instance, running in the morning is much better than in the evening because it balances your hormones and optimizes your biological clock. 

A morning routine and sticking to it is essential to speed up melatonin production and promote a good night’s sleep. Therefore, you must not work out at later times of the day to experience deeper sleep cycles. 

A Final Recap

Running strengthens muscles, improves heart health, burns plenty of kilojoules, maintains a healthy weight, and optimizes mental wellbeing. However, intense running can cause muscle imbalances because it strengthens your lower body, not the upper body. 

In addition, it can lead to muscle soreness, swelling, inflammation, and other injuries, especially when you fail to focus on recovery. Follow the evidence-based strategies above to streamline recovery and prepare your body for the next workout session. 

Scroll to Top