This column first appeared in the October issue of Competitor Magazine.
We have all been there before: You finish a tough workout or race and you’re dehydrated, hungry and fatigued, and the first reaction is to melt into the couch. Not so fast! Training doesn’t finish at the end of a workout or race. Recovery is just as important as logging hard, long miles and, when properly implemented, the body will bounce back to reach higher levels of fitness and performance.
Over years of stressing my body with hard, long workouts, I’ve implemented the following recovery methods to restore balance and get ready for the next hard training session. Use these recovery techniques following sessions lasting longer than 90 minutes, interval or threshold-tempo training, half-marathon or marathon race pace runs and strength-power workouts.
20 to 30 Minutes Post Workout
1. Glycogen Re-stocking: Consume carbohydrates and protein within 20 to 30 minutes after a hard session to avoid insufficient glycogen stores for the next workout. For the correct proportion of carbs to protein, aim for 1 to 1.25 x body weight in kilograms = grams of carbohydrate; 0.3-0.5 x body weight in kilograms = grams of protein.
2. Ice bath: After or while consuming carbs and protein, sit waist-deep in an ice bath for 10 to 15 minutes. A bathtub of cold water and two to three handfuls of ice will do the trick.
0.5 to 2 Hours Post Workout
1. Active Isolated Stretching: Once the muscles warm back up after the ice bath, stretch the hamstrings, calves, quads, IT band and hip flexors using the Wharton Active Isolated Stretching method: Hold a stretch for two seconds, relax and repeat 10 times.
2. Recovery meal: An hour or two after your workout eat a regular meal. I like to eat a salad, steamed veggies, whole grains and legumes, tempeh or tofu and a good dose of healthy oils—olive, Udo’s oil, seeds, nuts or avocado. If it’s late morning, I’ll have a calorie-dense smoothie, sprouted whole grain bread or whole grain porridge.
1 to 2 Days Post Workout
1. Days off: I’m a believer in almost always taking one day off per week and sometimes two if it’s a low-volume recovery week that follows three hard weeks. I might do a 10- to 15-minute core strengthening routine, light yoga, foam rolling, or get a deep tissue massage. Even though I do very little or no exercise on these days, I still pack in the calories to make up for the long hard weekend days that may have left me calorie deficient—don’t be afraid to add a few more calories on off days if you think you might be depleted.
2. Cross training and recovery runs: The day or two after a race, I spin on a stationary bike at a very easy intensity for 15 to 30 minutes. Doing so speeds recovery and allows me to resume running with less soreness. When my body feels ready to run, I’ll complete a recovery run of 45 to 70 minutes—no more—at 50-60 percent of maximum effort. During regular training, I like to complete two or three recovery runs a week barefoot on grass or turf. Complete two or three recovery runs per week, alternating them with hard days, unless doing doubles (two workouts per day).
Take recovery seriously and you’ll bounce back quicker after races and train with fewer injuries and hit your goals more consistently.