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Recovery after running

Added: 09 April 2014

Recovery after running

Recovery is a fashionable topic in sport at the moment. Everyone has heard of it, most people feel they should do it but not everyone knows how. But before we get to the how, the first and biggest question is why ...

The easiest answer is that the more effectively you recover from your session the more successful, enjoyable and beneficial the following session should be. Successful recovery programs not only help you maintain your performance and training intensity but also help to prevent injuries.

There are many concepts out there that claim to be the one to help you recover the fastest. However, instead of a magic bullet, what seems to work best is to fashion all the differenct concepts into a stratergy that contiues over two-three days.

With Marathon season approaching most people are out on Sundays undertaking their longer runs. Assuming that most runners will then train again on Tuesday, this gives you 48 hours to turn yourself round and get ready for your next session. This is not a long turn around period if you're training at high intensity.

Physiologically muscle recovery needs at least 48 hours to take place efficiently after heavy loading. As discussed in a previous edition, bone, joint and tendon recovery takes even longer. The problem is if you don't let this process take place properly you run the risk of negative training effect.

The challnge is to get enough work done consistently through the week to get fitness gains without making life miserable and losing quality sessions due to exhaustion. In order to do this you need to recover effectively.

There are hundreds of adjuncts out there that promise you the world and make you feel 100% fresh after you've trained. Unfortunately there is no one thing that is actually proven to do so. Instead there are a number of things that combined will accumulate to get you to as close as to 100% as possible. These will form your recovery stratergy.

Hydration is probably a sensible place to start. This is unfortunately very diffuclt to monitor and measure. A suggestion is to weigh yourself before you head out. Admittedly this is not an exact science but for those of you running for well over 90 minutes at decent effort, the amount of body wegith you lose during your run can be linked to how much fluid you need to replace afterwards.

The relationship is something close to 1kg of body weight lost equates to 1L of fluid you need to consume afterwards. So assuming you weighed 70kg before  you left and weight 67kg when you get back you would need to drink at least 3L of fluid.

However please don't think that once you've downed 3L of water that you're done. Much like filling a bucket, if you drink this too quickly it's going to overflow and pour over the sides. Drink this volume slowly and consistently over the next hour to regain your body weight and then continue to drink regularly over the next 24 hours. As for what to drink; there are hundreds of products out there which claim to be the best recovery drink and I think which one you go with is a personal choice. There are too many things to discuss individually but I personally think whatever you find palatable that has some nutritrional value should do the trick.

Above and beyond the usual isotonic and "shake" based suspects, Cherry-Active and beetroot juice are some of the most scientifically supported products of recent years and theres loads of anecdotal evidence for good old semi skimmed milk too.

Following on closely from hydration is the topic of food and nutrition. What you eat specifically is far too vast for me to bang on about and with everyone on either high fat or low sugar diets these days I'd probably upset too many people if we discussed specific receipes.

However I would say that when you eat is very important. There is a 20 minute window post-excercise when your body is going nutrient crazy. This is the window when your body is looking to absorb as much as it can. So using our example, assuming you run at 9am for 2 hours, you need to be consuming somthing by 11:10am. When I say something I mean anything with low Gl carbs and protein in.

Food and well prepared meals will always be the best option but unfortunatley this isn't always possible which is where the craze for recovery shakes has come in. They give you a dose of carbs, protein and whatever else they have in them quickly after you stop. But it reiterates, these will never be as nutritious as a decent home cooked meal.

This takes us to about 11:20am and you're home, off your feet, weighed and consuming things left right and centre. Next we need to start thinking specifically about your legs. Postural draining is a good idea at this point. The principle behind this is to drain anything fluid based away from your legs back towards your organs to be dealt with. You can do this by spending the next 5-10 minutes laying on your back with your legs propped against a wall or side of the sofa.

After you've drained some of the pooled blood and lactate from your muscles, we can shut them down to minimise the tissue microbleeds and cytoskeletal damage incurred whilst breaking your PB. Most people will have heard of this in the form of ice baths. I make this point fairly strongly; ice baths do not work amazingly well for everyone.

The evidence behing it is very variable. Some studies say they worl better when combined with warmth as well (contrast bathing), others indicate cold on it's own is sufficient. However it seems to be a very personal thing in that some people find them effective, others don't. If you wanted to find whether they work for you, get in your bath and fill it up with cold water to submerge your legs. It's not fun but you're aiming at 10 minutes immersion at 10 degrees Centrigrade. Obviously during this time it's a good idea to keep drinking and eating to continue your refuelling and also take your mind off the cold!

Once you're done with shutting down your legs, now is the time to get your compression clothing on. Again, there is no good evidence to support compression garments to aid your recovery but plenty of people feel that they are beneficial. There are lots of brands to choose from but I personally like the Skins recovery clothing. These are the black tights and tops with blue stitching which are designed to be tighter for post excercise compression, as apposed to other brans which are worn during excercise. The idea is to keep these on for as ling as 24 hours after excercise so get comfy!

Another gadget you can use longer term is the firefly recovery device. This is a small electrode applied to your calf to help flush the leg muscles through and prevent muscle soreness. Consistent with the theme, there are no studies which prove they work but the principles behind them make sence. They have been increasingly popular since London 2012 with growing popularity in triathlon, rugby and football. The athletes I have spoken to who use them report good effects and we have recently started stocking them. They are another interesting added extra if you are into gadgets and have a spare £30.

So far we have discussed things that you can apply within the relatively short period after you've finished running. However all the best evidence for recovery says that what you do over the next 24 hours is the really important bit.

The concept of active recovery is not a new one to most runners. Most people have heard or even do a recovery session of some kind. I am always amazed by how many people chose to use running for this. The goal which is supported by loads of good science and evidence over the last few years is to spend 20-30 minutes performing low to moderate intensity excercise within 24 hours of your training session.

This is ideally done in a swimming pool as the joints are unloaded and the hydrostatic pressue of water increases the return of fluids to the centre of the body. If a swimming pool isn't an option then a bike is the next best option. If we are talking about an ideal way to recover from a heavy impacting, strenuous running session, doing another running session wouldn't be high on the list.

Once you've had your swim, and in this example let's say that mid Sunday afternoon would be a fairly good time to do it, seeing a good sports masseuse would be your next point of call. Again, the timing of this is variable, but I would suggest a slight 'flush through' in the first 24 hours and after this period a slight increase in pressue to persuade any lingering muscle knots to relax. 24 hours after strenuous excercise when soft tissues are still vunerable, inflamed and even possibly micro-bleeding is probably not the time to have a deep tissue pummelling.

Finally, the number one most effectice recovery modality there is to go to bed early. Sleep ideally in excess of 8 hours, is the number one priority to get you flying again. This may be a nap the afternoon after you session or turning the TV off an hour earlier but the phases of your recovery will be somewhat in vein if you don't sleep enough.

So to give yourself the best chance of keeping your legs fresh and injury free when you're in heavy training unfortunately there isn't one magic device. The corner stones are to get plenty of sleep, eat and drink as much as you can and get yourself in a pool, after that it's whatever makes you feel good. Happy training.

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