Whether it’s a 5K, triathlon or marathon, participating in an athletic event that’s longer or more intense than your usual workout can leave you feeling stiff, sore and exhausted.
Race recovery is just as important as training, said Jennifer Sobotta, a Marshfield Clinic athletic trainer. It can make the difference between getting back to workouts you enjoy and not feeling your best.
Follow these eight race recovery steps to reduce aches, pains and fatigue after intense exercise.
1. Keep moving.
Don’t give into the temptation to sit down right after you cross the finish line. Walk around for about 30 minutes after your event to reduce stiffness and soreness the next day.
“Water is usually your best option to rehydrate after a race,” Sobotta said. “If it’s a prolonged event where you’re out for several hours, you may want a sports drink to replace electrolytes you lost while exercising.”
Checking your weight before and after the race is a good way to know how much fluid you’ve lost. Hydrate after you race so your weight is about the same as when you started.
Some events offer one or two post-race beers to participants. Sobotta said it’s okay to partake as long as you don’t try to rehydrate with alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates you, so you’ll want to drink extra water if you have a beer.
Focus on prolonged stretches once you stop moving to keep your muscles loose after hard physical activity.
4. Eat carbs and protein.
“Get a good mix of protein and carbohydrates in your system as soon as possible after your race,” Sobotta said. “A sandwich is a good option because it’s light.”
Get a full meal that has protein and carbs as soon as your stomach can handle it, within a few hours of the race.
5. Take an ice bath.
Spending 10-15 minutes in an ice bath from the hips down decreases inflammation, muscle soreness and stiffness.
6. Try compression.
Some people like to wear compression leggings, shorts, shirts or socks the night after a competition. Research hasn’t clearly established the benefits, but wearing compression garments may be worth a try to reduce post-event swelling.
Sleep helps your body recover from hard physical activity. Listen to your body about how much extra sleep you need.
8. Take rest days.
Seasoned athletes may need less recovery time than beginners, but everyone should take some time off from exercising after a competition. Ease back into exercising with shorter or easier workouts when you feel ready.