In the previous post, I discussed a variety of external methods one can utilize to boost recovery after an intense training session or race. Proper nutrition and supplements in conjunction with these aids can be especially helpful in refueling carbohydrate stores, reducing inflammation, and speeding up muscle recovery. Consumption of a recovery snack is important if your workout lasts 90 minutes or longer. Strive to get the recovery snack or meal within 30 minutes to 2 hours after the workout. Both the quality and timing of this snack is crucial in setting you up properly for the next workout. Aim for .5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight, i.e. 100 lbs = 50 grams of CHO and maybe add some protein and/or sodium. After consuming the snack, continue to eat and restore carbohydrates throughout the day.
So, what to eat and drink? A variety of foods can be consumed to combat inflammation and increase muscle recovery. The antioxidants found in cherry and pomegranate juice have been shown in studies to improve muscle recovery. In 2010, Kristal et al. presented findings to the American Society of Nephrology that detailed the benefits of drinking pomegranate juice in a group of dialysis patients. They found that patients who drank pomegranate juice showed reduced inflammation, less oxidative stress caused by free radicals, and fewer incidents of infections. The results continue to support the wide belief that pomegranates contain potent antioxidant properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to reduce inflammation. These can be found in a variety of seeds, nuts, and fish. Fish oil capsules are a great Omega-3 supplement. Therefore, while it may be tempting to treat yourself to a beer and burger after a hard workout, try choosing foods that will be conducive to recovery and which will enable you to build upon fitness gains. The exception is of course, when you finish that big race, then I say go for it – you deserve it!
Rehydrating and staying hydrated is also a must in recovery. Drink to thirst throughout the day; urine should be a light yellow color. Also, try to avoid ingesting pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol even if you feel stiff, in pain, and uncomfortable. They can be irritating and even harmful to your digestive system if taken habitually.
In addition to proper nutrition, getting adequate rest and sleep is another important – maybe the most important component in the recovery process. Recovery will suffer if you do not allow your body to rest and repair. Adults should aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night period. But if you’re an athlete in training you will need more! If you’re a runner you should add extra minutes to your sleep. Here is a simple formula: take the amount of miles you run and convert that to minutes. For example, if you run 30 miles per week that is 30 extra minutes to sleep. So, if you normally sleep 7 hours of sleep, add 30 more minutes and you should get about 7.5 hours of sleep. For triathletes, the formula is: hours of weekly training plus one decimal point = extra hours to sleep. For example: 15 hours of training per week = 1.5 hours more of sleep.
Enhancing Recovery - USA Triathlon Webinar given by Sage Roundtree, USAT Level II Coach on July 22, 2010
Recovery is the most important yet often the most neglected component of training. Yes i said it - THE most important component. Why? Because it is actually during the recovery period when fitness gains are made. After an intense training bout, you have applied an overload to your body. Immediately following this training overload, you will feel fatigued, weak, and even less fit than you were prior to the workout. But approximately, 24-48 hours following this your body recovers, compensates, and rebounds in anticipation of a repeated stimulus. It is during this period called supercompensation that fitness skyrockets, peaks, and you are stronger and faster than your fitness level prior to the original overload. (You know, that invincible feeling, right)? And, it is also during supercompensation when you can capitalize on the fitness gains made from the prior training session and springboard to the next workout to continue to push fitness even higher. Otherwise, if not capitalized upon, the increased fitness achieved starts to taper and fade away 3-7 days later. This is why the elements of proper recovery are crucial to training and to improve performance.
There are a variety of internal and external aids to recovery as well as different methods of measuring recovery be it qualititatively or qualitatively. Some familiar external aids may be cold water and ice. These function as vasoconstrictors (restricting blood flow) and help to reduce inflammation that is brought on by impact sports such as running. After a strenuous workout, try 10-15 cool bath at 50-60 degrees F. There is no need for an ice bath. You can apply ice locally; try an ice slurry which is 3:1 ratio of ice to alcohol. The alcohol reduces the freezing point. You can alternate between hot and cold to get a good pump going of moving waste products/inflammation out and moving blood into tissue. Heat functions as the vasodilator. Try sitting in a sauna, hot tub, or take a warm shower. I recommend cold first then heat then back to cold. I know from experience that a hot shower immediately after a long, hard workout could make your legs cramp pretty badly.
Another type of popular aid to recovery these days is compression sleeves, socks, and garments. They can be used both during the workout and after. They are touted as providing benefits like reducing inflammation, speeding up recovery, and enhancing performance. The jury may still be out on its true benefits but there is a lot to be said about the power of what you believe they will do for you. In the end, if you believe they help you and recover faster then by all means use it. They won't hurt you in anyway except for maybe your wallet. If you do buy compression, buy the socks with graduated compression. Graduated means tighter at the ankle and less as it moves up the calf. You want the sock because it will cover the whole foot and the compression will help pump the waste products out over the ankle. The recommended length of time to wear the socks is twice the length of the workout, i.e. 2 hour run = 4 hour wear time. The socks are good for approximately 40-50 washings and need to be replaced; they'll become loose and stretched out after all the washings.
If you have lots of money to throw around, you can also try the Normatec which costs about $5,000. It's worn as a boot that inflates around your foot and provides peristaltic pressure to pump out byproducts. You can also try self-massage with tools like The Stick, Trigger Point, or foam roller or treat yourself to one from a professional. Just make sure not to get a deep, aggressive massage too close to key workouts or races.