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Recovery for runners: building muscle and maximising results

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As humans, we started running for survival: to hunt for food, and escape becoming the hunted. Now, however, running is something we do for our fitness, to challenge ourselves, and most importantly for pleasure. As a runner, you may find a sense of catharsis from running: a head-clearing activity which keeps your fitness in check too.

When we run our body is put under a lot of different types of stress. Running involves a combination of movements, across a variety of different muscle groups, becoming a full body workout. As you push off the ground your ankle will extend and flex, this uses your gastrocnemius and soleus the muscles located on the back and side of your lower leg. In sync with this your knee will also go through flexion and extension, engaging your hamstrings and quadriceps: the muscles located on the front and back of your thigh.

These will be used when driving your leg behind you to generate power, and when your lead leg absorbs the impact of your next stride. In addition your hips will be working your glutes and psoas (the muscles in the buttocks and the hip). Your glutes will be used at the same time as the hamstrings when driving forward, and your psoas when swinging your leg to the next stride. Finally we have hip and spinal stability, with the acting muscles being abductors, adductors located on the inside and outside of your upper thigh and your core being your abdominals and obliques. The abductors and adductors are working to keep your hips stable with each stride while your core is keeping you balanced.

So as you can see, you really are putting stress across the whole of your body every time you run. It's for this reason that a good recovery programme is vital. Without proper recovery you are at high risk of injury, and stagnating your performance. Want to hit a new distance PB or fastest lap? Here's our guide to the best to recover as a runner, to maximize results and retain good muscular tone.

How do I recover from a run?

Foam Rolling

Ever invested in a foam roller? If the answer is no, than maybe it's time to make a change. Like a massage, foam rolling eases and soothes sore muscles and allows you to target troubled muscles specifically. For optimal results try and foam roll everyday or as often as you can. Why? Your muscles will build up a lot of metabolic waste when running, as well as the fascia on your muscles becoming constricted and inflamed.

Fascia is the soft tissue portion of the connective tissue, which provides the muscle with support and protection. Foam rolling will help to promote blood circulation, which will help remove waste products and release any tension.


Sleep is another essential part of recovery that you, and your running performance, will massively benefit from. Adequate levels of sleep help to stimulate mental health, promote hormonal balance, and provide time for muscular recovery. Studies have shown that athletes that have higher amounts of sleep have improved performance, compared to those who get less shuteye. The optimal amount would be between 7 to 10 hours. This amount of sleep may seem unrealistic for some, but simply heading to bed a bit earlier can make all the difference when it comes to your recovery.


As you'd expect nutrition is another vital tool for recovery, especially when it comes to retaining muscle. Try to fill your diet with as many minimally processed foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals as possible, as these will help to speed up your body's recovery. Everyone processes dairy and wheat differently, self-trial and error will be key here to find if they work for you. Try to opt for a 80/20 approach with your food 80% minimally processed, 20% more processed foods. When it comes to recovery right after a run (especially a long distance run) you need to replenish your energy stores as quickly as possible.

You should include a combination of protein to restore your muscles, and carbohydrates to restore glycogen burnt during your run. Great combinations include a banana with a protein packed natural nut butter, whole grain bread with a lean meat, or even something as simple as a naturally flavoured chocolate milk.


Staying hydrated is not only important for recovery as a runner, but for your overall health and performance too. Good hydration will also aid your nutrition protocol, as it encourages your body to uptake nutrients more efficiently: making the fuel you eat directly benefit the muscles under stress. So how much should you drink? Try to aim for 1 litre of water per 23kgs of body weight. A good way to start drinking more if you find it difficult, is to make sure you have a large glass of water before each of your meals. This will also help with satiety, reducing any chance of overeating.

Making time for recovery is key to improving your running performance, and will no doubt pay off in the long run. Don't let all the hard work you put into your running training go to waste because of inadequate recovery. This will lead to injury, burnout, or worse- simply take care of your body and it will take care of you.

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