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Taking time to recover is absolutely essential if you want to get stronger and improve your fitness. During your speed work or long run (or even weight training session) you’re adding stress to your body systems which results in depleting energy levels, broken down muscle tissue, and stressed bones, tendons, and ligaments.
In the period post-workout (the recovery period), the body starts repairing itself so that you can come back stronger during your next run or workout if you do these seven things . . .
After you workout, your body starts to repair or replace damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process. Muscle growth occurs when the rate of muscle protein creation is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. And this happens during the resting period, not during the actual workout.
So if you’re doing the same workouts day after day without rest your body isn’t going to be able to keep up with the recovery process. You may start to notice overall fatigue, that your legs feel flat, that you aren’t making gains in speed, strength or endurance. If this goes on long enough it’s considered overtraining syndrome which comes with a host of problems that you don’t want to have.
When it comes to your need of recovery there is not a one-size fits all formula. Each runner’s need for recovery will be influenced by genetics, age, gender, overall health, additional life stressors, nutrition, sleep, etc. So you shouldn’t compare yourself to someone like Dean Karnazes or Mike Wardian and follow the same training or racing formula that they do. It’s not a weakness to admit that you need more recovery.
I’ve said it multiple times on the podcast through the years, that I consider myself to be an injury prone runner. Maybe it would be more accurate to state that I have a greater need for recovery than many people. Yes, I’ve pushed my limits over the years and have sometimes not gotten the best results. For me, and many other runners, increased quantity does not equal higher quality runs and races. And now with 44 marathons and 4 ultras under my belt I’ve noticed that my body needs more recovery time. In fact, like we talked about earlier I made the decision for the first time to withdraw from a marathon. I don’t know when my next marathon will be but I’m trying to prioritize my health first.
The key thing is not to see the need for recovery as some kind of weakness. It’s an essential part of being a strong and healthy runner for life and reaching your fitness goals. The more you can listen to your body and tune into its needs the better you’ll be able to guard against overtraining and injury.
Let’s get into some principles of recovery and start with the post-run period.
After a run it’s important that you take time to properly cool down. That’s why I recommend that during the last 5 minutes of your run it’s wise to drop to an easy pace and after finishing your run to walk for at least 5 minutes. The purpose of the cool-down is to help return your body to pre-exercise conditions. This includes reducing your heart rate, breathing rate, and core body temperature.
Gently stretching your muscles while they are warm is another way many runners stay injury free and flexible. There is also a growing body of research into the benefits of yoga, which is good both for recovery and injury prevention. There’s no need for a runner to have the flexibility of a gymnast, but many runners have tight hips and quads which can lead to problems down the road. Doing a post-run stretching session of 5-10 minutes that targets your tight or problem areas can be very beneficial.
3. Body Temperature:
After you stop moving your core temperature is going to start dropping and wet clothes will cause further chilling. One of the first things you should do to protect your core temperature is get out of any wet clothes, especially if you won’t be taking a shower right away. Many of you have probably had the uncomfortable experience of having uncontrollable shivering after a race due to dropping body temperature. Two instances stand out in my mind- the Boston Marathon 2015 where it was wet and rainy and I had to wait a long time in the finisher’s area to be reunited with Trevor. Then there was the New Jersey Marathon 2016 where I underdressed for the conditions of wind and rain and had barely functioning hands by the end of the race. So get out of those sweaty clothes and into dry gear if you can’t shower right away.
Another way you can speed recovery is through refueling within approximately 30 minutes. The glycogen repletion window is actually open to convert carbs to glycogen at a higher rate for two to four hours immediately following vigorous exercise. In the past when I would walk in the door from my long run I was often immediately bombarded with demands that have built in my absence (kids tend to save all their issues and problems for mom). It’s very hard to find the time to eat something right away. So, my perfect solution is using a recovery drink.
There are a large variety on the market but I like the one from Generation UCAN which provides protein and carbs without simple sugars or a lot of calories. The UCAN bars are also very handy when you can’t get a proper meal right away. Then I can attend to the needs of my kids and do other aspects of recovery.
Even if you use a recovery drink right away it’s still important to eat a balanced meal or snack within 1-2 hours post-workout. If you don’t eat enough in this 2-4 hour window post- intense workout you may notice yourself feeling ravenously hungry during the next 1-2 days. Now obviously if you’re doing a light workout or shorter run that doesn’t get close to depleting your glycogen stores, shoving extra carbs and calories in post-workout may only lead to fat gain so be sure to refuel wisely.
Since fluid makes up approximately 60% of your body weight it’s important to be mindful of staying properly hydrated. Many runners focus on staying hydrated during a run but neglect to drink water the rest of the day. Now I don’t believe in forcing large amounts of fluids down. In general you should drink to thirst and let your body be the guide. Signs of inadequate hydration include headaches, darker colored urine, not having to urinate for longer periods or only passing a small amount, and nausea. After a long run I often like to add an electrolyte solution like UCAN hydrate or Hammer Fizz to my water to help replace any electrolytes that may have been lost while running. I also like to take a reusable water bottle with me so that I’m getting plenty of fluids during the day.
Compression gear can provide more oxygen, improve blood circulation, muscle and joint stabilization, an improve metabolization of lactic acid, and speed recovery. The true benefits of compression garments occur if they’re worn post-race or long run when they stimulate circulation to give a faster lactate recovery rate. Wear them during a long run or race if you like the way they feel, but the ideal time to put them on is during the recovery period. Be sure to read our recent blog post all about the benefits of compression.
7. Cold Therapy:
Submersing your lower body in cold water below 59 F for 10-15 minutes can noticeably reduce muscle soreness in the next few days and reduce performance related decreases from inflammation. Taking an ice bath (or sitting in a cool lake or stream) within the first 2 hours post-run can be of great benefit. If you can’t handle the thought of submersing that much of your body and you have a sore area (knee, ankle) be sure to get an ice pack on the area right away. Ice the area for 15 minutes every 2 hours for the first 24 hours to decrease swelling.
Also Mentioned in This Episode
Academy Membership -Get the full training of How to Recover LIKE A BOSS
Generation Ucan – our preferred source of fuel for entrance runs and recovery. Use the code MTARECOVER to save $15.
Whoop -A scientifically grounded system designed to help athletes get the best out of their bodies and optimize performance. Athletes overtrain, under train, misinterpret fitness peaks and often don’t really understand the importance of sleep and recovery. Visit www.whoop.com to learn more and use code MTA for $50 off of your purchase.
The Resurrected Runner -author of Ice Bath Baby Song
Go! St. Louis Marathon
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