What do we really need to do to recover?
Every so often, I like to revisit some old blogs, reassess, and offer some new advice on old topics. This week, I am going to revisit recovery.
In November 2015, I urged everyone to take adequate time to recover from your running. Purposeful recovery allows the body to adapt to the training stimulus. Without adequate recovery, you can find yourself feeling ground down. You might even experience overtraining syndrome or the dreaded “running blahs.”
Professionals follow their workouts with extensive recovery measures ranging from a warm-down run, protein and carbohydrate balanced snack, static stretching, ice bath, meal, massage, and a nap. As I previously pointed out, unless you are a professional runner, it might be impossible to devote this amount of time to an ideal recovery routine.
However, it’s clear that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Everyone has time for some kind of intentional recovery effort. If you have managed to just barely squeeze in your run, here’s a simple three-point plan for your busy life: Drink! Eat! Sleep!
What to do: Drink water or an electrolyte replacement drink within several minutes of completing your run. Ideally, try to fully replace the fluids lost during your run. Most experts recommend drinking 16-24 ounces of water for every pound lost.
Why: As you lose fluids and dehydrate during your run, your blood plasma volume decreases and your blood becomes thicker. With less blood to pump around your body, your heart rate will increase. Additionally, after an intense workout, your body’s ability to regulate its heart rate is suppressed. This can increase the risk of arrhythmias. A recent study undertaken at Brazil’s Federal University of Juiz de Fora reveals that drinking a few glasses of water after a high-intensity workout can slow your heart back to a normal tempo in less time. Immediate hydration, then, will speed up your recovery by making sure that your heart is not stressed for an unnecessary amount of time.
What to do: Within 30 minutes of completing your workout, have a snack –– such as an energy bar, chocolate milk, or half a peanut butter sandwich –– that is 1/4 protein, 3/4 carbs.
Why: It is important to replace the liver’s glycogen fuel stores and kick-start the growth and repair of muscle tissue by having something to eat soon after workouts. The carbs will replenish glycogen, while the protein will repair damaged muscles and provide the necessary amino acids for ongoing muscle growth. Twenty grams of protein after training is the ideal amount for the average-sized runner –– more if you are larger, less if smaller. A quick protein-rich snack after you work out will also help you curb the urge to eat too much later.
What to do: Get a good night’s sleep.
Why: Experts are unanimous: a lot of good stuff happens while you sleep. The kidneys balance water, sodium, and electrolytes within your body so you can feel refreshed and “balanced” when you wake up the next morning. Your pituitary gland also releases human growth hormone (HGH) into your bloodstream when you reach a deeper sleep stage. HGH is a critical factor in rebuilding damaged tissues, creating stronger muscles, converting fat to fuel, and keeping our bones strong. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be producing enough HGH. In essence, the positive effects of the training stimulus –– stressing your body to make it stronger –– rely on the deep sleep process. Without necessary sleep –– more than you probably think you need –– you are merely stressing your body.
Sleep just might be the most important part of your training. Elite athletes strive for 8-10 hours per night –– and you should, too. I know from experience that this will require some discipline and planning. Keep your sleep environment dark and quiet and remember to stop using electronic devices at least thirty minutes before you plan to go to sleep. Even if you feel that they don’t affect the quality of your sleep, research indicates that they do.
The keys to recovery are simple: drink, eat, sleep. Carve out some time to recover and your running experience will improve.