You’ve pounded the pavement, pushed your limits, sweated buckets, and now, after many miles on the road, you’ve finally finished your run. But if that’s where your commitment to training ends, you’re short-changing your results.
That’s because what you do after a workout is just as important as what you do during it.
Indeed, the decisions you make in the minutes and hours following a tough training session can mean the difference between nailing a new PR and just crossing the finish line in your next race—or in the case of the post-run habits below, even getting that far.
Break these bad post-run habits, and watch your mile splits and overall performance soar.
Bad Post-Run Habit No. 1: You don’t cool down
Squeezing a run into a packed schedule can feel like a major victory, making it all too easy to skip supplemental work like dynamic stretching and foam rolling.
But here’s the thing: Those post-run habits are essential for jumpstarting the repair process and preventing injuries.
“I’m a huge proponent of foam roller work,” says Carl Leivers, a USA Track and Field-certified coach based in Atlanta. “Using a roller helps break up muscle adhesions that that are a natural consequence of training.”
It also enhances blood flow and relieves tension and tightness in muscles and connective tissues. The results: Less soreness and a faster recovery, both of which reduce the amount of time required between tough workouts.
Start with your calves and work your way up your body, giving each muscle group at least five rolls. Also adding some dynamic stretching—high knees, butt kicks, skips—to your post-run routine will help flush metabolic byproducts from muscles and boost your mobility and range of motion.
Bad Post-Run No. 2: You eat whatever you want
Training hard doesn’t give you a license to fill your belly with junk—not if you want to optimize recovery, maximize your gains, and boost performance in subsequent workouts and races.
So skip the burger and soft serve for food that will actually fuel athletic success.
“It’s important to get a mix of high quality carbs and protein into your body within 30 to 45 minutes of finishing a workout,” says Leivers.
Related: How to Eat for Recovery
If your next meal is an hour or two off, grab a post-run meal ore shake with about 20g of protein to optimize muscle repair and just enough carbs to start refilling your energy stores.
When you do sit down for a proper meal, try to eat half your bodyweight in grams of carbohydrates, and 1/3 to ¼ of that number in grams of protein, says Leivers.
Quinoa and chicken or whole wheat pasta with broiled shrimp are excellent options.
What you eat before your work out is just as important as what you fuel your body with after. Here, our expert explains what and when you should eat before you start your training.
Bad Post-Run No. 3: You skimp on sleep
If you log tons of hard miles but don’t catch enough Z’s, you’ll exceed your body’s ability to repair itself.
“That’s because the majority of the body’s repairs take place while you’re asleep,” explains Leivers. “The more repair work that needs to be done, the more important sleep becomes.”
Put simply, if you’re in the midst of an intense training cycle—or even if you’ve simply decided to bump up your weekly mileage—you’ll need more sleep than usual.
Be sure to schedule in an extra hour or two of sleep each night in the same way you’d carve out extra time for an especially tough track workout or extra-long long run.
Related: 7 tips to help you get more Z’s
“It’s a myth that runners get better just by working hard,” says Leivers. “They actually get better by working hard and then allowing the body the time it needs to recover.”