The benefits of training are only partially down to the physical workload. Another huge aspect of training that directly impacts any future success is recovery. Training your body to recover in the most natural time-efficient way before your next workout is key to being consistent, successful, injury and illness-free.
I wholeheartedly believe that recovery is the key to improving your running career. I’ll admit I didn’t look after my body as well as I should have in college, and I have really paid for it since with injury. With the right recovery, refuel, and adaption you have higher chances of staying injury-free or rebounding from an injury faster, not getting sick, and having better mental health. Here are some basics that I think are really important to add to your training plan. Also, go ahead and check out Gen Lacaze’s recovery plan when you’re done here.
Just like how fast you can recover between repeats, adaption is about how you recover between workouts and racing. Helping your body to adapt is key to aiding the recovery process. There are ways to go about adapting. It starts with listening to your body…oh, and eating breakfast.
The 20 minute window after training is the most important for refueling. Make sure you pack something to recharge your body like a protein shake or a bar and a hydration drink. Don’t wait until you have deprived and depleted your body, it can greatly slow down the recovery process causing a slower adaption rate.
Take in food, hydration, protein shakes (NCAA/USDA certified), smoothies, nuts, bars, chocolate milk.
Drink water and electrolytes throughout the day to stay fully hydrated. Limited hydration for hours at a time followed by downing a high sugar hydration drink right before you go and run is a great way to feel like ass mixed with spells of dizziness.
Take rest days when needed, if it’s not on your schedule and you think you need one then go directly to your coach and discuss. Conversely, if your coach sets you one, then please take it.
Ice and heat contrast baths are a good way to flush sluggish legs.
Soft tissue massage, foam rolling and pre/rehab exercises are great for keeping weaknesses at bay.
If you have the resources, a Chiropractor or experienced athletic trainer is great for realigning your hips when they feel a little off or your stride is feeling restricted. This can be caused from continuous training and travel (Running many miles with unaligned hips can possibly lead to sacrum issues).
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of recovery for staying injury and illness free. We put our bodies through a lot of stress during training, then there’s the stress of work/school, and your personal life. Your body needs to switch off and reboot and by the end of the day it’s usually begging for some shut eye. 8 hours should be the minimum amount of sleep you get each day. If your schedule allows for any kind of nap, even if it’s 20 mins, then try to fit that in.
Wholesome diet: Make sure you are being kind to your body and fueling it with a healthy and balanced diet so that your body has enough energy to fuel your workouts, training, work schedule, and lifestyle.
Iron: Being low in iron can directly affect your performance and prematurely fatigue you. Many female distance runners have to be very cautious of developing an iron deficiency due to menstrual cycles, an inadequate diet, and the constant pounding that damages red blood cells.
You can add in many iron-rich food sources into your diet, here are several examples.
Raisin Bran (enriched)
Pumpkin + sesame seeds
Soybeans + Lentils
Spinach + Swiss Chard
Dark chocolate/ cocoa
If you feel like that may have an iron deficiency then consult with your doctor about getting a blood test and iron supplementation.
Vitamin D: If you live somewhere that lacks sunshine then you could be low in Vitamin D. This can directly affect your energy levels, talk with your doctor and discuss options for testing and supplementing.
Calcium: Bone health is very important for distance runners to keep stress fractures and bone injuries at bay. Make sure your diet is full of calcium rich food and be careful consuming calcium and iron at the same time as it may affect absorption.
Remember that every athlete is different. This is key for every aspect of being a runner, but always remember what works for one person may not work for you. I was one of our top scorer’s on my college XC team but I was always at the back of the pack on a Monday morning workout. My body naturally adapts slower than most of my teammates so I have to really listen to it and run off feel the days following a race.
If you try your best to get the optimal amount of recovery then you’re on the right track. Take care of the things that you can control and don’t stress about what you can’t.
Recovery and adaption have many scientific layers and I would recommend checking out The Science of Running for a more in depth look at things.
Which recovery tools have you found that really help with adaption?
Disclaimer: I am not a professional in the field of nutrition or dietetics. These are my own personal opinions that I have discovered from my past experience.