The Truth About 8 Recovery Methods

The lowdown on recovery remedies

January 25, 2013
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The Truth About 8 Recovery Methods- Intro

Runners often have their own "miracle cures" they swear by to relieve leg soreness that can crop up after a difficult or long run. But what really works to cure those aches--and what doesn't? (Search: Prevent running injuries) We asked experts for their take on popular methods so you can feel fresh-footed in a flash.

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The Cure: Refueling

The Verdict: Do it

Hydrating postrun is critical. Dehydration slows down all recovery body functions. Drinking H2O replenishes both cell and blood volume and helps regulate body temperature, which can enhance recovery, says Allan Goldfarb, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You must eat, too. "A 4-to-1 ratio of carbs and protein eaten within two hours of exercise is ideal for recovery," he says. (Or, try one of these 10 Best Post-Workout Recovery Bars.)

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Ice Bath
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The Cure: Ice bath

The Verdict: Try it--maybe

Research on whether sitting in a chilly tub reduces postrun achiness is mixed--some studies report it helps; others say it makes no difference. Jason Karp, Ph.D., author of Running a Marathon for Dummies, says there is some evidence that cold water can lessen exercise-related muscle damage and inflammation, so it could benefit you after a particularly intense or long run (like a marathon) where your muscles have experienced the most damage. But if you're not up for the teeth-chattering treatment, don't feel compelled. However, "spot icing" to reduce pain and inflammation in an acute injury, like a twisted ankle, is smart. Read more about the latest study on the effectiveness of ice baths to decide if it's for you.

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The Cure: Stretching

The Verdict: Try it

Postrun stretching has its merits--it can improve range of motion and flexibility. But just don't expect it to ease your pain, says Stacy Sims, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine. A Cochrane Summaries review of 12 studies reported that postworkout stretching reduced soreness by one point on a 100-point scale. For some great examples, watch our video on Quick 30-Second Post-Workout Stretches.

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The Cure: Compression

The Verdict: Try it

While they're not noticeably effective if worn immediately after exercise, one study in the Journal of Sports Sciences shows that compression socks can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness if worn during a run. "They're especially effective for hill runs because the extra tightness reduces muscle load, decreasing postworkout soreness," says Sims. (Plus: Make sure to follow these 10 Golden Rules of Injury Prevention to avoid bumps in your training.)

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Pain Reliever
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The Cure: NSAIDS

The Verdict: Skip it

Following a tough run that makes walking down stairs uncomfortable, you may take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, because they relieve painful inflammation quickly. But this actually impairs muscle growth, says Sims. Plus, NSAIDs can make you ignore cues that your body is fatigued. And if you push through soreness, you could further delay your recovery. Instead, try one of these Five Potions for Pain Relief if you need a more immediate solution.

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Massage
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The Cure: Massage

The Verdict: Do it

A study in Science Translational Medicine found that massage boosts recovery because it helps decrease the activity of pro-inflammatory proteins in muscle cells and stimulates production of mitochondria, the power generators within cells. Try these Self-Massage Techniques for Athletes for your post-workout aches.

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The Cure: Active Rest

The Verdict: Try it

A light workout the day after a hard workout or race will enhance bloodflow to muscles and speed repair. Sims recommends yoga, aqua jogging, swimming, and cycling because these exercises don't use the same motion as running. A slow "shakeout" run is fine, but hoof it on a soft surface and take it slow and easy. Learn how to tell when need time off in 10 Signs You Need a Rest Day.

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The Cure: Sleep

The Verdict: Do it

"This is the best recovery!" says Sims. The body releases a growth hormone during sleep, shifting repair processes into overdrive. Also, consider having a protein snack (a glass of low-fat milk, a handful of almonds) before bed. A recent study revealed that protein digestion and absorption is effective during sleep, helping stimulate overnight muscle repair. Now that's multitasking--your PR will thank you.

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