How to recover on the trail

How to back up day after day on the trail, without debilitating muscle soreness is a huge worry amongst my clients.  If they can’t get through a week without muscle soreness in their normal day-to-day lives, then how can they survive whilst trekking to Everest Base Camp, or Mount Kilimanjaro?

There are various names for muscle soreness including muscle fatigue, delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS), muscle fever, the list goes on.

Most people will experience some form of muscle soreness in their lifetime, especially after they’ve used their muscles in a greater intensity workout than what they are used to, or using muscles in ways they’ve never been used before, in the case of long distance trekking. As much as a vigorous training program designed specifically for your trekking preparation will help reduce muscle fatigue, it’s not just what you do for your body before your trek that can enhance your enjoyment of the mountains.

How you treat your body during and immediately after a long day on the trail is a very important factor to consider when trying to prevent and treat muscle soreness.  

I can’t emphasise how important it is to take some time to look after your body, particularly your legs and feet, during any climb or trek. Of course, your physical training in the lead up to the trek will condition your muscles to the stress they will encounter, but nothing really compares to doing the real thing – out there, in the altitude, in the weather, in the gear, wearing the pack and seeing the scenery.

You can try to simulate these things as much as possible in your training, which is what we recommend and offer through our programs. However, just as we’d recommend you stretch your muscles daily and enable recovery to avoid muscle soreness (especially DOMS for those of you who are not that physically active or aren’t used to the kind of training), we definitely encourage you to continue to treat your muscles on-trek, so that you can get the maximum enjoyment out of it.

Following these 8 tips will go a long way to preventing muscular soreness and aid recovery whilst on a trek.

Stretching is one of the most common things you can do to relieve muscle soreness.  Some days, after a long afternoon on trail with 15-20kms under your belt, the only thing you feel like doing is collapsing next to the fire in a tea house. However, making the effort to give some key muscles a good stretching  is essential. A short stretch of your most fatigued muscles such as the calves, hamstring, glutes, quads and lower back will pay dividends the next day. We guarantee it.


Rehydrate and replace minerals
Hydration is essential if you want to ensure there is enough blood flow going to and from your muscles You lose a lot of fluid in the mountains, not just from urination (you pee a lot at altitude) but from sweating and even breathing the dry air. So make sure you drink regularly during the day while moving and at rest. Your muscles will be tight, sore and more than likely pumped full of lactic acid, so at the end of the day drink even more water to flush out any waste products.

This will keep your muscles refreshed, and they’re more likely to recover faster, and you know what that means? Your muscle fatigue will be reduced! Keep in mind you will have also lost essential minerals. A little salt and honey mixed with your water replace a lot of these, as will any store bought electrolyte powder.

Wash and Repair
Do your best to wash your feet in a river or with a bucket provided by a the tea house or trekking company. Take a moment to pay some attention to your feet, notice any hot spots, treat any blisters, apply pressure under the soles of your feet. Don’t pop blisters as this may invite infection. Instead, clean it and cover with compede or a similar second skin.

Empty your boots of any dirt or rocks from the day and air them out over night by taking out the inner soles and opening up the laces.  Treating your feet in this way draws your attention to the most used joints and muscles, the muscles under the most pressure. By gently applying pressure under the soles of your feet, you are releasing any tension that may otherwise build up and cause cramping and muscles soreness. Feet are one of the most important elements of trek enjoyment. Make them this important during your trek and you will be well on your way to reducing any soreness you may experience.

Massage is an excellent form of recovery as it decreases inflammation and increases blood flow to tired overworked muscles.  This is an extremely easy and cost-effective way to reduce and prevent muscle soreness and DOMS. Get in the habit of massaging your most fatigued muscles daily.  As little as 5 minutes of gentle massage can help relieve tension and fatigue in your muscles. If you’re skilled in the art of persuasion, convince your closest trekking buddy that them giving you a massage is an excellent idea. Better yet make it a mutually beneficial arrangement and share the love.

“Foam” Rolling
Self myofacial release, or  foam rolling, is an easy way to drastically reduce muscle soreness in your training. The benefits of foam rolling over time are well documented.  We want immediate results when it comes to muscle soreness, and foam rolling delivers. Preventing and reducing muscle soreness, joint stress and restoring normal functional muscular length are just a few benefits of foam rolling.  Before you ridicule me for suggesting you should carry a foam roller to Everest and back, think about what’s in your pack that could be used as a replacement.

For instance a 1L Nalgene water bottle is the perfect size for rolling. I’ve used this method on back country ski and hiking trips with excellent results. Use this method sparingly as it can do more harm than good if you aren’t well in tune with your body’s needs. Learn more and watch an instructional video in this post before your trek.

Rehydrate again
Yes, keeping drinking water! Water supports ever metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body so again, this is essential. The muscles will need plenty of water after a massage or a foam rolling to flush out any accumulated materials that were released during the massage.  This is extremely important when you’re trying to prevent and reduce muscle soreness. Because massage promotes circulation in the body it will release waste materials generated by the cells, water is necessary to pick up this waste and help eliminate it, so drink up, again.

Eat! Fuel your body
Food provides the body with vital nutrients.  What you eat is what your body uses to recover.  Good quality protein is super important when it comes to muscle recovery.  This is because muscles are made up of proteins, and if they’ve been used constantly for 8-10 hours, they are obviously going to need replenishing and nourishment.  Obviously your choices may be pretty limited to what’s in your backpack or what is on the tea house menu, but it’s no excuse to make bad choices. Whole foods that are absorbed easily by the body are, as always, the smart choice. If you’re lucky enough to have access to fruit and vegetables, tuck in! Try to eat within 60 minutes of finishing your hike for the day, and make sure it includes plenty of complex carbohydrates and a good quality protein source.

Sleep like a log
There’s nothing better than good quality sleep when it comes to preventing and treating muscle soreness. If you’ve had a rough day and you want to give yourself the best chance of recovery, make the most of your rest time by sleeping it off.  Whilst in deep REM sleep, the blood pressure drops and breathing becomes deeper and slower. With the brain resting, the blood supply available to your muscles will increase, thus increasing the availability of blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients, which in turn, facilitate healing for those tired muscles. Take an early night and sleep sound in the knowledge that new cells are being regenerated whilst you sleep.

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