If you had to guess which component of training was most overlooked, which would you choose? Some athletes may guess strength exercise, while others may say mental toughness training is under-utilized. In reality, the answer is even simpler (and easier): rest and recovery. Without proper recovery, muscles are not able to adequately repair themselves after hard or long workouts, leading to excessive muscle soreness and increased risk of injury. In addition, athletes need to give their bodies a chance to “absorb” training by taking down time and striving for adequate sleep. Tips for better recovery are described below.
Plan Meals in Advance
The food that you put into your body immediately after a run is arguably the most important aspect of recovery. In the first 30 minutes following exercise muscles are most primed for recovery, efficiently converting protein and carbohydrates into restorative fuel. The best way to replenish your body with high quality foods is to to plan your post-workout snacks and meals in advance. This step helps you avoid snacking on junk food immediately after your run or mindlessly going for the potato chips while planning your meal. By reducing your post-workout options you can ensure success in your fitness goals.
Focus on Hydration
Our bodies are composed of approximately 75% water, which is why hydration is especially important. When we exercise we lose vital lubrication from our muscles and cells, leading to cramping, muscle soreness, and fatigue. By making hydration a priority (athletes should aim to have clear-to-pale urine throughout the day), many of these negative effects can be avoided. Athletes should also be mindful of consuming plenty of electrolytes such as sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, which are found in sports drinks and fruit juices, such as coconut water.
Create a Recovery Station
Sometimes, finding the motivation to sit down on a yoga mat and stretch or to use your foam roller can be difficult. However, many athletes report that they spend more time performing recovery activities if an area in the house, such as a spare bedroom or office, is already dedicated to recovery activities. Find a quiet area and place all of the recovery implements you regularly use (or should be using…) out in the open for easy access. As insignificant as it may seem, simply having an area already prepared can go a long way in providing motivation to give yourself the post-run care that you need.
Get Better Sleep
During a regular sleep cycle our bodies naturally produce growth hormones that stimulate cellular repair. In addition, sleep helps the body reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and impaired athletic performance. Many athletes do not receive adequate rest, often due to busy lifestyles. Tips for better sleep include limiting caffeine consumption after 2 PM, avoiding the use of electronics an hour before bedtime, using natural sleep supplements, and creating an environment that is conducive to sleep with darkened shades, a cool temperature, and white noise (i.e. a fan). For athletes that struggle to get enough sleep every night, supplementary naps are also beneficial and as little as 20 minutes can provide your body with a boost of recovery hormones.
Finally, one of the best tips for improving recovery after exercise is to fight inflammation. There are a number of ways to do so, both from a nutritional and physical stand point. One tip is to eliminate inflammation-causing foods after hard workouts, such as alcohol and wheat. There are also a number of foods that help to fight inflammation, like tart cherry juice, pickle juice, berries, and green tea. Non-nutritional ways to fight inflammation include compression gear, such as wearing compression socks or sleeves, and soaking in an ice bath.