Getting the right recovery tools in line is important to help you rebuild after exercise. But do we need sports specific practices in place?
As a regular gym-goer, I have my recovery tools nailed. The specific stretching, sleeping, eating and de-stressing lifestyle habits are so ingrained in me that they’re done without thought, and I can go from session to session without much discomfort.
That was until I started adding a few runs into my workout routine. They were gentle 5ks, so it was a shock when my usual recovery protocols didn’t stop my hips from aching, my appetite and energy levels from rollercoastering and my performance in the sessions that followed to feel a little off.
Aside from the fact that running is a new stress on the body that would, ultimately, take some new adjusting to, it left me wondering whether I need to implement different recovery strategies when running than I do after strength training.
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There are basic recovery principles that we need to implement regardless of the exercise we’re doing, says personal trainer Dottie Fildes. The most crucial? Sleep.
“Optimal sleep for everyone is seven to nine hours and that’s something we should be striving for. But the added stress of working out absolutely requires sleep in order for your muscles to essentially fix themselves, regardless of what type of exercise you’re doing,” she says.
“Unfortunately, sleep is always the first thing that we give up when they have busy lives, but it’s the most crucial.”
However, there are other parts of recovery that may need to be a little more sports specific.
Nutrition for running v strength training
Your post-workout nutrition is a good place to start. Both need enough calories, protein and carbohydrates to rebuild the muscle and replenish glycogen stores. But endurance work such as running and other cardio forms may require more caloric intake straight after training due to the energy burn, says Fildes.
“The immediate energy demand of running, particularly endurance running, is something to bear in mind when refuelling,” she says. That’s important to bear in mind as, after running, our appetites are often reduced – eating simple carbohydrates that are easy to digest is the best way to go.
Speaking of carbs, you may need to eat more of them after running than after strength training. “Any post-workout meal should involve protein and carbohydrates, but runners probably need to be more conscious of restoring their glycogen levels,” says Fildes.
Both running and strength training rely on glucose for muscle contractions, so topping up the used reserves is important. But a 2015 paper, published in the Nutrition And Metabolism journal, reported that carbohydrate intake doesn’t necessarily impact the overall muscle-recovery aspect of resistance training.
But, endurance running depletes your glycogen stores, eating carbs that are turned into glucose and stored in the body can help you better adapt to the demand of exercise and have the stores ready for your next run.
How much protein and carbs you need is individual, but if you are struggling to recover post-run you might want to try adding a banana to your usual protein smoothie or an extra spoonful of pats to post-workout porridge.
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Most importantly for Fildes is the hydration aspect of training. “If I don’t hydrate effectively post-run, I noticed the biggest difference in DOMS or soreness, alongside fatigue. I think a lot more about hydration when it comes to running recovery versus strength recovery,” she says.
If you sweat a lot during strength training, then you absolutely need to recover the lost fluids. But most people notice they sweat more when sustaining a higher heart rate during endurance training. A 2021 study found that just 30 minutes of low-to-medium-intensity endurance exercise had a moderate-to-large turnover in electrolytes and body fluid levels.
Again, there are no robust guidelines for how much you need to drink. It will depend on you, how much you sweat, how hot the weather is and how far you run – but if you are struggling with post-workout hydration then an electrolyte drink can be useful.
How to stretch after running and strength training
We need our stretching to be sports-specific. When it comes to strength training, a focus on releasing the individual muscles you used in your session may help lengthen shortened muscles to reduce discomfort.
However, there’s no evidence it actually helps with recovery. One of the latest reviews into the subject concluded that recommendations on post-resistance training stretching for the purposes of recovery should be avoided. But Fildes does recommend spending a little bit of time stretching out the muscles after a gym session to de-stress the body and mind.
“We can also use it as a time to work on any postural imbalances that might be influencing our day-to-day life or our workouts. For example, if you’ve done a chest workout that has shortened the muscles at the front of the body, then lengthening those muscles can help with overall alignment,” she says.
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“After running, we do want our stretches to focus on undoing all the damage that you’ve done on the run. A lot of the stretches want to be focused around the quads, hamstrings and hips that can become compressed or overworked,” she says.
She recommends that post-run stretches be held for 60 seconds or more. “That’s more developmental focused, helping to release tightness, lactic acid build-up and improve flexibility, rather than just maintaining current muscle lengths,” Fildes says.
Post-workout stretches for strength training
Post-workout stretches for running
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