A Dirtbag Runner’s Guide to Recovery: Part 1

This article is part 1 of a two-part series. Written by DBR Ambassador Jenny Dalimata We’ve all been there.  You finish with a run, a…


This article is part 1 of a two-part series. Written by DBR Ambassador Jenny Dalimata

We’ve all been there.  You finish with a run, a race or a workout and can feel that you have pushed yourself a bit too far – or a lot too far.

You’re exhausted, you’re dehydrated, you may even be experiencing an upset stomach, cramping, a headache, confusion, or be so overworked that the smallest movement is torture because of how stiff you become.  You don’t want to do anything but lie down in the shade with a bottle of tequila and some limes next to a cooler full of ice cold beer.  Maybe you haven’t gone that far, but maybe you have.

No matter what state you find yourself in after a run, there are some things you can do to help your body recover from what it has just done BEFORE you start taking shots.  We should all be taking great care to listen to our bodies and to be aware of what we are doing before we even start a run, like being hydrated, eating right, and getting enough sleep.

“Hydration, nutrition and sleep have been reported in the literature as important components of the recovery process” (Crowther et. al., 2017).  Oftentimes, however, life doesn’t allow for perfect conditions, or a perfect schedule, for being a habitual running addict.  So it’s important to start preparing yourself for your next run as soon as you finish your last.  Make sure you have allowed yourself enough time after running to start the recovery process; try to avoid moving right into the next activity you have going that day.  Your body just did something for you!  Give it some love and it will thank you with a better experience the next time you set out.

Recovery Hack #1: COOL DOWN

When you finish out your run, keep running! It’s common to want to stop short and call it a day, but its important to keep moving, even just for a little bit. Jog slowly, then slow it down to a walk until your heart rate returns to normal. You’re still not quite done yet: now walk for a few minutes and reflect on what your body is telling you.

How did you feel during the run?  Do you have any problem areas you can feel now?  Take some time to connect with your body and actively think about the steps you are going to take to recover.  Do you need to give some extra stretch time to certain muscle groups that are acting up today?  Are your muscles imbalanced?  Are you sunburned?  Bloodied?  Toenails falling off?

Take it all in, and while you’re at it, thank your body for what it just did for you.  Studies have shown that positive, grateful thoughts have a positive effect on your body’s ability to heal itself (Levleva, 1991).  Maybe you didn’t do as well as you would have liked.  So what??  Everyone has hard days.  You still gave it an effort, and your body carried you through.  Rather than beat yourself up, thank yourself, honor your effort and your body’s capabilities that day,  be grateful that you can do what you do, and look forward to your next attempt.

Recovery Hack #2: REHYDRATE

While you’re walking and cooling down, take in some water. In humans, unlike other animals, water is best absorbed by frequently taking in small amounts (small sips are better than guzzling large amounts).

Water loss is dependent on many factors, like effort, heat, humidity, body size, fitness level, etc.  Water loss of as little as 1 percent starts the dehydration process, and starts to impair body function and performance.  A little test you can do to see how much water you’re losing during workouts is to weigh yourself with no clothes on immediately before and after a run.  This is best done on your longest runs.  Take the amount of weight you have lost – that’s the amount of water you lost during your workout – and calculate what percentage of your body weight that is.  Water loss of just 2 percent of body weight has been shown to result in significant performance loss (Maffetone, 2010). Knowing how much water you’re losing during workouts can help you stay hydrated during the workout, which keeps your body functioning like it should, and also lets you know how much water you need to replace after the workout.

We also lose sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium (electrolytes!) through sweat. Drinking water alone isn’t the most efficient way to rehydrate.   “Rehydration after exercise can only be achieved if sweat electrolyte losses, as well as water, are replaced” (Maughan, Leiper, and Shirreffs, 1997).  Sweat causes a significant loss of sodium – for each liter of water lost in sweat, there is a loss of between 1 and 5 grams of sodium per hour of hard training and competition (Maffetone, 2010).  Supplementing plain water with electrolytes during and after runs helps your body stay hydrated, and helps with rehydration.

I like to put sea salt into a water bottle for a run, and I keep some miso soup in a thermos in my car for post-run hydration. It’s one of my favorite post-run pick-me-ups for a reason:  “Miso (fermented soy bean paste), a traditional ingredient of the Japanese diet, is fermented from a mixture of soybeans with rice, wheat or oats and contains vitamins, microorganisms, salts, minerals, plant proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. Saponin inhibiting lipid peroxides, trypsin inhibitor, isoflavones, lecithin, colin, prostaglandin E and others are additional substances.  It is considered to exert health-promoting benefits, relieving fatigue, regulating intestinal functions, aiding digestion, protecting against gastric ulcer, decreasing cholesterol and blood pressure, and preventing diseases associated with the lifestyles, like cancers” (Watanabe, 2013).  A note on miso:  it does contain soy, so would not be suitable for those with a soy allergy, but it is full of electrolytes and is a wonderful source of trace minerals.  Kombucha also has electrolytes and probiotics, and the fizz helps when your stomach is upset.  Keep drinking fluids (think about 10 ounces every 20 minutes) after your cooldown until you are urinating normally. Try to avoid gulping in air as you drink, so don’t tilt your head back when you drink, as this is the most common reason people swallow air while drinking.  Swallowing air is hard on your system and causes bloating (Maffetone, 2010).

Drink clean water!  Chlorine can be toxic, fluoride impairs energy production, and much of what is considered “clean” drinking water in cities and elsewhere contains heavy metals, environmental chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, even radiological pollution.  Filter your water!  Also, avoid plastic water bottles like you get at the store as the water in some of these products has been sitting in plastic for months or years and has a high risk of plastic chemicals leaching into the water.  It’s best to put fresh water in your bottles every day to use for training and hydration.

Staying properly hydrated during your run, and rehydrating quickly afterward, is the best remedy for cramps and heat illness as well. If you’re really hot during or after your run (think headaches, confusion, dizziness, nausea, feeling like everything is way harder than it should be on a hot day), immerse yourself in cool water or apply some cool towels to help your body cool itself off.

Replace water and sodium, but do it slowly.  Some athletes like to drink pickle juice or eat mustard to replace electrolytes and treat cramping.  However, one study showed that “consuming small volumes of pickle juice or mustard did not fully replenish electrolytes and fluid loss,” and clinicians warn against this because they are concerned it will exacerbate exercise-induced hypertonicity (relates to muscles, when they are in a state of abnormally high tension and/or spastic) or cause hyperkalemia (when potassium levels in the blood are too high) (Miller, 2014). Sea salt is great because it has sodium chloride and other minerals like calcium and magnesium in small amounts.  I make water with freshly squeezed lemon juice, a couple drops of stevia, and sea salt to drink after hard runs and it is wonderful.

Side stitch cramps while running are a pain and can be caused by several things other than dehydration. Eating too much and/or drinking too much water before a run can cause side stitches because the weight of the content in your stomach combined with the impact of running is pulling on the peritoneum, the connective tissue that holds your organs inside of your abdominal cavity. Try to eat and drink only small amounts in the hour before a run.  A quick fix for side stitches while out running is to bend at the waist to about 90 degrees or further,  keeping your spine straight, and breathe through pursed lips. Leaning over takes the pressure off of your diaphragm and breathing through pursed lips causes you to focus on your breath, which will help the body to ‘reset’ the nerves telling the muscles to spasm.

Once you’ve rehydrated, continue to stay hydrated for the rest of the day.  Have a nice, nutritious meal and if you don’t have any inflammation, a hot epsom salt bath or hot/cold baths are lovely post run and help to move metabolic waste out of the body. Epsom salts help sore muscles and your body absorbs the magnesium from the salts through the skin.



Stay tuned next week for more of Jenny’s recovery tips!


Maffetone, 2010. The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, NY.

Dreyer, 2004. Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running. Fireside: New York, NY.

Crowther et. al., 2017. Team sport athletes’ perceptions and use of recovery strategies: a mixed-methods survey study. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. doi:  10.1186/s13102-017-0071-3.

Levleva and Orlick, 1991.  Mental Links to Enhanced Healing: An Exploratory Study.  The Sport Psychologist.  Doi: https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.5.1.25

Maughan, Leiper and Shirreffs, 1997.  Factors Influencing the Restoration of Fluid and Electrolyte Balance After Exercise in the Heat.  Br J Sports Med.  mcbi.nlm.nih.gov

Watanabe, 2013. Beneficial Biological Effects of Miso with Reference to Radiation Injury, Cancer and Hypertension. J Toxicol Pathol. Doi: 10.1293/tox.26.91

Miller, 2014. Electrolyte and Plasma Responses After Pickle Juice, Mustard, and Deionized Water Ingestion in Dehydrated Humans. J Athl Train. Doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-49.2.23

Guo et. al., 2017. Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol. Doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00747

Kennedy, Patil, and Trilk, 2018. Recover quicker, train harder, and increase flexibility: massage therapy for elite paracyclists, a mixed-methods study. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. Doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000319


Recommended Reading:

Dreyer, 2004. Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running. Fireside: New York, NY.

Maffetone, 2010. The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, NY.

Gundry, 2017.  The Plant Paradox.  Harper Wave Publishing.

Lee et. al., 2017. Biomarkers in Sports and Exercise: Tracking Health, Performance, and Recovery in Athletes. J Strength Cond Res. Doi:  10.1519/JSC.0000000000002122

Clark and Mach, 2016. Exercise-induced stress behavior, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. Doi: 10.1186/s12970-016-0155-6

Fokkema et. al., 2017. Preventing running-related injuries using evidence-based online advice: the design of a randomised-controlled trial. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. Doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000265

Khowailed et. al., 2015. Six Weeks Habituation of Simulated Barefoot Running Induces Neuromuscular Adaptations and Changes in Foot Strike Patterns in Female Runners. Med Sci Monit. Doi: 10.12659/MSM.893518

Assumpção et. al., 2013. Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage and Running Economy in Humans. ScientificWorldJournal. Doi: 10.1155/2013/189149