By Alex McDonald, MD
Recovery is a broad term to describe all the small things we do as endurance athletes that allow us to train in a highly repeatable manner. The difference between “exercise” and “training” lies in the “details” of recovery. Recovery allows an athlete to maximize their workouts day after day which will ultimately lead to improved fitness and reduced risk of injury.
Carbohydrates and calories – are the first step for proper post workout recovery, specifically within 15-30 minutes after strenuous training. The exact numbers are not set in stone, but the athlete should shoot for : 200-300 total calories, with a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. These should be moderate to high glycemic carbohydrates and should include 5g of Glutamine. Some examples are Ultragen, Endurox or Clif Recovery (although the 2nd and 3rd lack signifigant levels of Glutamine). Some more real world food could be Greek yogurt with some granola, or a bagel with almond butter and banana. If the session was particularly hard, another high carbohydrate meal ~2 hours post workout is recommended as well.
Ice bath, or cold shower on the legs can act as a mild anesthetic and may improve blood flow. While not the most fun thing to do post workout, the benefits are huge. This process reduces inflammation and alters blood flow mechanics. The cold water creates blood vessel vasoconstriction followed by compensatory and exaggerated vasodilation, thus aiding metabolic waste removal and delivery of nutrients. Acute and chronic inflammations are killers of repeatability and athletes are highly susceptible to both.
Compression – devices such as wearing of compression tights, socks on the legs or pneumatic dynamic compression such as NormaTec MVP. While there is not a lot of scientific research on the benefits of compression, in the athletic setting, most trainers and athletes agree that it is beneficial. Compression aids in venous and lymphatic return from the legs and again allows for optimal vascular flow.
Diet – a moderate to high carbohydrate, but low glycemic diet along with good lean protein and healthy fat should be the cornerstone of every athletes eating habits. Meals high in Omega 3 and micronutrient density should also makeup the majority of your day to day diet.
Supplements. A daily multivitamin is an important “insurance” plan to make sure you are providing your body with the appropriate micro nutrients and every athlete should take one. Some are designed and formulated specifically for athletes and these are probably better than just a generic multivitamin. If enough Omega 3’s are not obtained in the food, then a fish or algae supplement should be consumed. There are numerous sport specific supplements that claim to boost performance and these should be consumed only if from a reputable company with a proven product based on scientific research. In general if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Additionally, ergonomic aids, such as First Endurance PreRace or caffeine can improve race day performance as well and should be practiced in training prior to use on race day.
Sleep…this one is huge and often overlooked or discounted. Great athletes are lazy…and sleep a lot! I love this rule of thumb. 7 hours base sleep, plus ½ hour for every hour trained. For many folks this is unobtainable…but it should be your goal.
Rejuvenation methods. Massage, stretching, ART and self massage. Professionals have access to steam rooms, ice tanks, hot tanks and a team of staff massage therapists. Unfortunately most of us do not have this type of support. Even a weekly or bi-weekly massage, while great, is not realistic. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself nightly. Massage cream or a product such as Trigger Point Performance Therapy can aid in your own self massage and prevent or ward off injury. When you are watching TV or relaxing each night, sit on the floor in shorts and work from your feet towards your heart with steady, not too hard pressure making sure to work the tendons and soft tissue, along with the belly of the muscle. If you’d like more info on self massage, check out “Self Massage for Athletes” by Rick Poley.
Stress reduction! If you have a job, or kids, or any combo of these…you have “life stressors”. Stress makes our body release a hormone called cortisol. In small batches cortisol is not detrimental, however, training adds another stressor to the. Reducing stress on all other fronts goes a long way towards improved training, improved recovery and improved racing.