There’s a wealth of information out there that helps you through the preparation period of your race; training programs, race-day tips, your must-do’s and must-don’ts, but what happens after your big day? The post-race recovery phase is just as important as the weeks leading up to your race and here’s why: what you do during this time can help you maximize all of your hard work and get back on your feet (literally!) quicker.
Here are 4 things you should know and do for during your post-race recovery phase from Coach and Competitive Runner Lindsey Scherf.
1) Eat carbs and protein together within 45mins of finishing your run.
Exercise puts your body in a catabolic state (state of muscle breakdown) in order to get stronger you need to get your body into an anabolic state (state of muscle building). A potent muscle building hormone that is often vilified hormone known as insulin. Post exercise your muscles are increasingly sensitive to insulin for roughly a 45 minute time window. When insulin reaches your muscles it facilitates muscle regeneration as well glycogen re-synthesis by transporting glucose and amino acids directly into your muscles. So a post exercise insulin response is a very good thing as it facilitates the repair of muscles fibers and the restocking of your most important running source of fuel; glycogen.
If you don’t fuel during this 45 minute post race time window your ability to refuel your muscles decreases by as much as 50% — a huge lost opportunity! By consuming a simply a small snack of roughly 200 calories post race not only are you taking advantage of this increased muscle insulin sensitivity time window but you are also extending this sensitivity time window several more hours.
To maximize your recovery it is important to consume both carbohydrates and protein together. Studies show consuming carbs and protein together produces much greater recovery effects than consuming protein alone or carbohydrates alone because the consumption of simple carbohydrates (yes, sugar isn’t always a bad thing!) triggers the most potent and rapid insulin response and with this insulin response amino acids and a glucose delivered right to your muscles.
The right ratio between carbs to protein is often debated over by experts, but many including myself have found that sticking to the a magical 4 to 1 ratio is optimal to consume post race. In reality, it’s best to experiment to see what works best for you and tailor your meals to your body’s specific needs.
2) Engage in easy exercise bouts the next day rather than complete rest.
Light exercise helps expedite recovery because it brings increased blood flow delivering increased oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and it also triggers an increase in your body’s natural production of Human Growth Hormone. Increased Growth Hormone levels are desirable GH increase your body’s ability to build and repair muscle fibers. The caveat is that long and hard exercise also increase the levels of Cortisol your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that has a negative impact on recovery and shift the body back to a catabolic state by inhibiting amino acid uptake by the muscles and hampering protein synthesis in the muscles.
The goal is that the post race run should feel relaxed and low intensity (without the sensation that your are straining to maintain a particular pace) so that you trigger your body to be in a hormonal status that optimizes your body’s ability to repair itself. So avoid runs that are too long or too intense as a fatigue producing run will trigger an excessive Cortisol response that will delay recovery more than the Growth Hormone spike and increased blood flow to your muscles enhances recovery.
Studies show that maximum Growth Hormone response occurs at roughly 40 mins into exercise and curtails off significantly after about 75 mins of running. Post race I aim to do 2 easy bouts of exercise the next day of roughly 40-50mins in duration. If I am feeling particularly sore I may opt to skip running and instead choose a low impact exercise like biking or swimming to do the day after a race so I rest my sore muscle a bit more while still doing all I can to expedite the recovery process.
3) Wear compression garments if your legs feel sore prior to starting your post race runs.
Wearing compression garments can reduce the amplitude at which your muscles oscillate (how much your muscles jiggle) upon each foot strike; this prevents further micro-tears in your already sore running muscles so that they can better recover by receiving reduced amounts of jarring in their vulnerable state. Studies have shown that running in compression gear can reduce the oxygen requirements and elastic demands of running muscles at sub-maximal paces; meaning you further reduce the energy and muscular demands of your recovery run which is a good thing.
Remember the goal of the recovery run is to run with as little strain on the running muscles’ and enhance your body’s capacity for regeneration; my coach call’s recovery runs massage runs (called this because the run should feel therapeutic like your are giving you legs a restorative rubdown). For my recovery runs, I run in snug CWX compression half tights (that keep me snug as a bug in a run from my glutes to just above my knee cap) and Nike compression socks (that hug my the full length of my calve and shin muscles). I have data from my runs with Lumo Run that affirms I run with better running form when I have sore muscles and run in compression gear than when I have sore muscles and run without compression gear; meaning compression gear enables me to execute a recovery run that produces less unwanted strain and impact forces on my body.
4) Avoid NSAIDs.
NSAIDs are over the counter pain killers that also have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. NSAID like Advil act to reducing inflammation in the body by inhibit the enzymes that play a role in mediating pain and inflammation. While it’s an effective way to cope with the many sores and pains of post-race recovery, these inhibited enzymes called Prostagladins are actually critical to triggering muscle hypertrophy (increasing muscle mass). So, inhibiting these enzymes in your body will reduce your capacity to rebuild the maximal amount of muscle and will hamper your fitness gains — yikes!
Instead, if you’re experiencing pain after your race, it’s best to stick to Acetaminophens like Tylenol to help manage some of the pain load. Acetaminophen has potent antipyretic (fever reducing effect) and analgesic (pain relieving) actions but has little anti-inflammatory activity, so it won’t interfere with the precious muscle gain enzymes from working its magic. The only words of caution here is that Acetaminophens like Tylenol can be a stressor on your liver and kidneys. Be sure to stay properly hydrated and to help your body process the medication.
That’s it from Coach Lindsey! Learn more about Lindsey at www.lindseyscherf.com
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