You've trained for weeks, maybe even months. You know exactly what to eat on the morning of your race or event, and how to stay fueled and hydrated along the course. From great shoes to a grooving playlist, you've got all the details covered to ensure that you finish strong and smiling.|
But what happens next? Have you considered what you'll do in those first minutes, hours and days after the event? Oft forgotten, but just as crucial, planning for your recovery after a race or
Who Needs Recovery?
If you're "just" running a short-distance race or playing in a recreational sports league, the idea of recovery may not even be on your radar. Isn't that just something only elite athletes and Olympians have to worry about?
Matthew Reicher says no. As the former athletic trainer for the Brooklyn Nets and the MLS New York Red Bulls, he's helped dozens of professional athletes build optimal recovery techniques. According to Reicher, though, it may be even more important for beginners to have a post-game plan. "Those who are new to training or competing shouldn't overexert themselves, assuming they can do a few quick recovery techniques and then feel fine the next day," he says.
And one recovery technique does not fit all. Yours should be customized to your preferences, intensity level and choice of sport. "Although the basic recovery principles will be similar for all sports, an athlete should focus on the most appropriate soft tissue," says Reicher. "For example, a soccer player should focus on the lower half of his or her body. Each modality has proven physiological benefits, so one is not necessarily better than the other. And if one technique seems to help more than another, stick with it."
Sarah Piampiano, an Ironman champion, mixes several recovery modalities to rebound after a grueling race or training session, including proper nutrition, the right amount of sleep, functional movement and other tools and mechanisms. "The key is understanding your body, and what you need to recover
Let's Get Physical
After a race or training session, your body may need some extra TLC. Depending on the length and intensity of your workout, plus any specific pains or problems you're experiencing, experts recommend trying some (or all) of these strategies.
Roll away the pain.
If you're feeling stiff or sore after a workout, self-myofascial release with a foam roller can help alleviate muscle and joint pain, improve circulation and increase flexibility.
Stretch it out.
A regular stretching routine helps to reduce muscle tension and soreness, increase range of motion and improve circulation, all of which aid in recovery. After a hard workout, Reicher does an intense session of static stretching. "Make sure to hold each stretch for one to two minutes," he recommends. "Most people only hold stretches for 20 or 30 seconds, which is not enough time to gain any soft tissue elongation."
Catch some shut-eye.
This may seem like an easy one, but busy schedules mean that many of us operate on a sleep deficit. When you're ramping up your exercise frequency and intensity, it's even more important to get plenty of shut-eye. "There is no better form of recovery than sleep, and most people don’t get enough of it," says Piampiano. "I make it a point to take 20 to 40 minute naps several times per week, and always shoot for eight to 10 hours of sleep per night."
And when it comes to sleep, quality is just as important as quantity.
You've earned some rest after that challenging race or tough workout, but opt for the active variety.
To speed recovery, Reicher often soaks in an ice tub, or even a whole-body
Use compression and elevation.
Elevating the legs after a workout helps to improve circulation and flushes lactic acid from the muscles, while wearing compression gear can help speed up muscle recovery. "When I'm not training, my legs are typically elevated, and I have on compression socks as well as either NormaTec recovery boots or my Marc Pro—both excellent recovery machines," says Piampiano.
Treat yourself to a massage.
Beyond relaxation, massage therapy accelerates muscle repair and recovery, increases joint flexibility and improves blood circulation. "Massage is a key part of my recovery routine and critical to getting my muscles flushed out and working properly," says Piampiano, who has bodywork sessions once or twice a week. Want to get the benefits without busting your budget? Ask a spouse or partner to work out some kinks or look for a Groupon to significantly knock down the cost
Refueling the Tank
"Every time you exercise and train—whether you're going out for an easy training ride, run or swim, or you've had an intense session or competitive event—your body sustains some muscle fiber breakdown," says Piampiano. To combat that breakdown and to help rebuild those fibers faster and stronger, being smart about your nutrition intake is key. In the minutes or days following your training session or race, reward your muscles for all their hard work by
Focus on fluids.
The experts are unanimous on the importance of hydration. On any given day, Piampiano drinks around four liters of fluid per day, and then another one to one and a half bottles per hour during training sessions. For beginners, she recommends drinking one ounce of water for every one pound of
Power up with a healthy snack.
Even if you're not feeling particularly hungry right after a workout, it's important to refuel as soon as possible. "After training, the body has about a 20-minute window in which consumption of protein can help mitigate muscle breakdown and aid in repair," Reicher says. He encourages his athlete clients to drink a shake with at least 20 grams of protein at the end of each training session, and to follow proper nutrition guidelines throughout the day and into the night. "One strategy that I use is to have the athletes consume 20 grams of protein immediately before bed, which allows the body to build and repair muscle during the overnight hours," he says.
Goss’ preferred post-event snack is a smoothie with First Endurance Ultragen blended with frozen bananas, Beet Performer and almond milk. Another favorite is a sweet potato with almond butter and avocado, or a hard-boiled egg with toast. Whatever your preference, many trainers recommend that a post-race snack should include roughly a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.
Follow a consistent eating schedule.
In addition to refueling immediately after an event, Piampiano stresses the importance of following a regular eating schedule. Every day, she eats breakfast as soon as she wakes up, a mid-morning snack, lunch, two afternoon snacks, dinner and a snack before bed—all of which are high in lean protein with plenty of healthy fats.
"Under-eating and inconsistent eating patterns put a tremendous amount of stress on the body and hamper the recovery process," says Piampiano. "As an example, today I did a three-hour bike ride followed immediately by a 30-minute run. As soon as I finished, I ate a rice cake with almond butter and a sliced banana. After my afternoon swim, I ate
Recovery Mistakes to Avoid
Don't skip it.
Don't try to convince yourself that you don’t need to recover or take a rest day, says Reicher. "
Don't not eat.
If you're trying to lose or maintain weight, it may be tempting to skip the post-workout snack, especially if you're not feeling hungry—but you could pay for it later. "Post-workout calories are vital both to your recovery and staving off huge
Don't run in old sneakers.
For runners, worn-down shoes can cause injury and delay the recovery process. Goss recommends investing in a fresh pair every six months or so, while other experts recommend replacing sneakers every 300 to 500 miles.
Don't train through an injury.
When you've already come so far, your first instinct may be to power through the pain, but that could set you up for an unwanted hiatus. "Don't keep training when your body is telling you to stop," Goss says. "Fix the injury and then start back up." Instead, focus on RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) so you can come back faster and stronger.
By following these physical and nutritional recovery tips, you'll help to prevent injury, improve performance and stay motivated for your next training session or event.