June 25, 2024

How to recover effectively from your first running race

By Sun Life Staff

Mission accomplished: You’ve just run your first 5K or 10K – that’s quite a feat. Few people are able to run that far. Now, how do you recover effectively to stay in top shape?

You’ve just risen to the challenge of finishing your first race. Bravo! Now it’s time to recover. Remember: race recovery begins as soon as you cross the finish line.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to helping your body recover after a race.

What should you do as soon as you cross the finish line?

Ève Crépeau is a sports nutritionist and Assistant Clinical Professor at Université de Montréal. In her view, the important thing is to rehydrate. This is especially true in hot, humid weather.

In a 5K or 10K race, many runners drink very little or not at all. That means they finish their race dehydrated. “After a race, you can drink whatever you like. Drinks with sodium (energy drinks) and even milk have been shown to rehydrate better than water,” says Crépeau.

Until quite recently, sports nutrition experts recommended eating quickly after sustained physical exertion, to maximize recovery. But not anymore. “There’s no rush to eat. You can wait until your next meal. Especially because exercise can temporarily suppress your appetite. So, live in the moment and eat whenever you’re hungry again,” says Ève Crépeau.

What should you eat for proper recovery?

If you’re hungry, Crépeau suggests the following:

  • Chocolate milk
  • An apple
  • A banana
  • A snack bar

The organizers often provide snacks at races. “But don’t force yourself to eat,” Crépeau says.

Is rewarding yourself with a beer a bad thing? No. You can enjoy one with peace of mind. “The effects of a beer on your recovery will not be very noticeable,” says Crépeau. “Light beer is preferable. In fact, beer with an alcohol content of 2–3% hydrates you almost as well as water. If that’s what you’re craving most, treat yourself. You can even add salt to it, or pair it with salty foods to promote fluid retention.”

How can you help your muscles recover?

In the hours following a race, it’s recommended that you stay active. “Exercise increases blood flow, which aids muscle recovery,” says physiotherapist Marie-Ève Pelland. She’s also the co-founder of Tout.Trail, an advice platform dedicated to running. Walking, cycling or swimming will do the trick. If you’re feeling too tired, rest is important. A little nap won’t hurt.

Did you sweat heavily during the race? Then it’s a good idea to choose saltier foods or add more salt to your next meal. “The goal is to recover the sodium lost through sweating,” says Ève Crépeau.

How can you promote recovery in the days following a race?

Depending on how you’re feeling after the race, you can quickly resume your regular activities. “You can even start running again gradually, alternating between running and walking,” Pelland says. Active recovery is preferable to full rest. So moving is (almost!) always the best solution.

How can you reduce muscle soreness?

Apart from being active, there’s no miracle cure for muscle aches and pains. It’s all about prevention. The best way to keep muscle pain at bay is to train appropriately before the big day. Without proper preparation, your muscles could get sore and remind you of it.

Unfortunately, stretching, compression socks and hot baths don’t speed healing. “But if it feels good, why not? There’s no harm in taking a hot bath, for example,” reassures Marie-Ève Pelland.

If your muscles are sore, Pelland discourages using ice or taking anti-inflammatories. “Ice or medication can even delay the injury healing process,” she explains. If you experience persistent pain, you can see a healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist.

Looking for a well-rated physiotherapist in your neighbourhood?

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In a nutshell, you’ll be more likely to have good memories of your race if you do the following:

  • Train properly
  • Rehydrate quickly after the final sprint
  • Stay active in the hours and days after the race

Pretty soon, you should feel like running again.

Why not start thinking about your next challenge now? After a 5K, how about a 10K? A faster time? Remember, an active lifestyle is the best way to stay fit and reduce the risk of health problems. Long live running!

Looking for a challenge? Find the right race for you, no matter your level.

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