How to Optimize Post-Run Recovery
Post-race fun: You have raced. Hopefully you have had a wonderful race and wonderful experience, but now you want to bounce back and recover as quickly as you can. After all, the quicker you recover, the quicker you are back to feeling energetic again, and ready to head onto your next adventure and race. Recovery is one of my favorite words I utilize in coaching. It has become a very trendy word for many to throw around, but true recovery is one of your best tools to facilitate great performances. I want you to bounce back from your races quickly and be ready for the next, so let's investigate how you can speed up the recovery process.
Post-race fuel up: The most immediate impact you can have on your recovery is in your post-race fueling. As soon as you finish your race, your goal should be to lower your stress hormones flooding your body and begin the muscle repair. The optimal method to do this is by consuming some easily ingestible protein. Often taken in fluid form, such as a recovery drink or chocolate milk, the protein begins that repair process for your hard working muscles.
Rehydration: While you may have done a great job of hydration during the race, it is impossible to maintain a neutral hydration status in racing. You will finish your races a little dehydrated; so post-race hydration is a positive addition to facilitating recovery and diminishing stress. While water is the great elixir of life, I would avoid simply ingesting water alone for the initial couple of hours post-racing. Instead, either add a pinch of salt to your water or drink a specially formulated hydration beverage. For athletes who complete longer events, more than 2 hours in duration, then rehydration can take multiple hours. Maintain frequent consumption of fluids throughout the day following the event.
Rebuilding the reserves: Your post-race protein fix did a great job of suppressing the stress hormones, as well as beginning repair. You now need to restock your depleted reserves. High quality meals of protein and quality carbohydrates begin restocking your depleted reserves, and facilitate further repair. Parallel to this meal is continued focus on rehydration, which helps absorption of the ingested calories and a return to normal hydration status.
Move lightly: While the evidence to this is ambiguous, it is not a bad idea to include some light activity following the race. This might be light jogging, or even an afternoon walk to loosen the legs. While the muscle damage that occurred in the race cannot be undone, light activity that facilitates blood flow may lessen the negative effects of that damage.
Return gradually: The final tip? Return to your training very gradually. Following a race you have managed to create both muscular damage that dissipates after a couple of days, as well as hormonal stress, which can take longer to recover. I like to prescribe very light activity for the couple of days following, then a very flexible and gentle progression into normal training routine. This obviously varies relative to the demands of the race, but I always encourage full emotional and physical recovery before diving back into heavy training.
I hope these little recovery tips help. As ever, drink your water, as there is never a benefit to becoming dehydrated!