Road to Recovery


There are several remedies you can try to quicken your recovery after a long run or race, so that you can focus on your next goal sooner – especially if you’re not used to high-impact mileage. We look at some tried-and-tested tips, and debunk some others. – BY SSISA’S ANDREW BOSCH & LAUREN VAN DER VYVER

There is little evidence that stretching helps speed up recovery. Stretching before an event can actually reduce muscle power, and long-term stretching reduces running economy, as the muscle-tendon loses springiness. A low running economy, in turn, means that more oxygen is needed to run at a given speed. Nevertheless, there is a point when a runner becomes so inflexible that some stretching is needed.

Many runners use it because there is a perception of reduced soreness, but this does not translate to improved strength, power or endurance. Light massage will loosen the muscles, but don’t book that deep tissue massage just yet!

There have been many studies on whether compression garments aid performance and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, but there’s little effect. However, there is some improvement on enhancing lactate removal (reducing stiffness) and reducing muscle oscillation (the slight vibration you feel in your legs after high-impact running).

Research focuses on water temperature, length of immersion, depth of immersion, etc. While it may have some benefit in contact sports, evidence of a positive effect in running is minimal. The theory behind the ‘hot/cold’ baths for recovery is that warm water causes vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels), which lowers blood pressure, while the cold causes vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels, increasing local blood flow. The contraction and relaxation of the lymph vessels improves inflammation, too.

One’s glycogen stores are depleted after a long run and should be restored quickly. There is potential improvement when athletes use whey protein or protein hydrolysate ingested together with carbohydrate post-training, and the amount of protein ingested should be around 20g.

The stiffness felt after a long race is due to muscle damage, and it is best to wait until post-race stiffness has disappeared before training again. The first run should be an easy 20 to 30-minute run, gradually rebuilding to normal training. Don’t go in too quickly! If you’ve been building up mileage for a while, three to four rest days are important.