What you do after your workout is often times even more important than what you did for you workout. Whoa. That is a big deal! If you aren't taking care of your body after you run, your body is not going to take care of you during your runs. If you want to lessen your fatigue and soreness and decrease your recovery time, you need to be doing the right things within fifteen to twenty minutes of finishing your workout.
The mistake most runners, including myself, often make is to stop as soon as you are done running. You are going at a good pace and then suddenly come to a dead stop?! Your muscles are bound to tighten up immediately! When you finish a run, don't stop and just stand there. Walk around until your heart rate lowers and your breathing returns to normal. By normal I mean you can carry on a conversation without gulping for air and you aren't panting like a dog anymore.
First off after your heart rate and breathing return to normal, you need to get some calories in you quick. A "rule" I heard somewhere was get in about 100 calories as soon as you can, especially on your harder workout days. The BEST recovery drink is chocolate milk. I know it sounds like it would be disgusting when you are panting at the finish wondering if you are going to be seeing your breakfast again....but it is so good for your body. To read about why check out this website http://www.refuelwithchocolatemilk.com/science/. It has all your chocolate milk science questions. Also, you can read this study if you are an exercise physiology nerd like me http://oakbrooksc.com/docs/stager_chocmilk_study.pdf
I've found it hard to stomach anything right after a run, but you can train your body to accept certain things. Lately I've been bringing a fruit leather or some fruit snacks to eat immediately after I finish. I can't even tell you how much of a difference I've noticed in reduced soreness and how I seem to not be tired the next day when I should be. It has also gotten a lot easier for me to eat after I finish because my body is used to it.
Another easy, quick calorie thing you can consume after a workout is Powerade or Gatorade. It's easy to stomach, refreshing, and it's got the calories you need. However, keep in mind you have to drink almost a whole Gatorade bottle to get 100 calories.
The next important thing to do within 15 minutes is stretch. I've talked about stretching before, you can find that post HERE. For a quick reminder, hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat it two to three times. Try and target each of these muscle groups: calves, shins (anterior tibialis), hamstrings, quadriceps, IT band (iliotibial tract), hips, and butt (all your gluteal muscles...minimus, medialis and maximus). You can be creative in stretching; if you have a sore muscle, experiment until you find a position that causes it to stretch. Don't do quick bouncy movements. With post-workout stretching everything should be nice, slow and relaxed.
I like include my ab workout as part of my post workout routine. It keeps me motivated to do it because I am getting it done as part of my time set aside for running; I don't have to find other time throughout the day to do it. For a good ab workout, check out my How to Get Sexy Abs post :) A few crunches in between your stretches can keep you from getting bored of stretching and not doing the quality your muscles need.
Next time you finish your workout, remember to take care of your body. Ask yourself how you want to be feeling tomorrow, instead of how you are feeling at the moment. Take care of your body and it will take care of you
Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.