Endurance athletes are very good at pushing their bodies to the absolute limit, day in and day out. So, finishing a race or a heavy training block in the build-up to a race feeling pretty sore and achy isn't uncommon but how you recover is important to absorb all your training and reduce the chance of injury occurring.
Everyone’s bodies are different and the rate at which you recover will depend on a multitude of factors, like your age, diet, sleep schedule, and how active your day-to-day life is, to name a few. However, there are few important recovery practices that will benefit everyone, regardless of your physiology and lifestyle.
Understanding your hydration status is key to performing at your best. During intense exercise, you lose a lot of water and body salts like sodium and calcium through sweat. Therefore, it is important to top yourself back up with water and electrolytes. Note – some will sweat more than others, and some may sweat with a ‘saltier’ concentration than others so get to know your own body. Suppose you are one that struggles to stay hydrated when you aren’t training, ensuring your water bottle is always within arm's reach as a helpful reminder. Considering the daily weather, you will need to drink and supplement more in the warm summer and less so in the winter.
- Nutrition – Fuel to Perform
Nutrition is almost as important as hydration. Your muscles will have used up your glycogen and carbohydrate stores so it’s important to re-fill these stores. Combining complex carbohydrates and with a substantial amount of protein, a chicken breast or tofu for example, will support your body in repairing any muscle damage created when training or racing.
Your first full meal after your race is crucial and if possible, should be eaten within 0-2 hours post-exercise. This meal should be a combination of carbohydrates, protein and some fat to give your muscles all that they need to recover from the strain of your race. A glass of cow's milk is a great source of protein, fat and calcium; plus, it hydrates you faster than water in some cases.
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A post-race cooldown and stretching session will help your body recover. This will help to reduce the amount of stiffness and inflammation around your body by circulating the inflammation to be processed. Stretching will ease out any tight and tense muscles and help prevent injuries due to over-worked and tight muscles. It will also help to identify any areas of specific soreness that may need further attention where you may look to source a sports massage.
- Active recovery
Active recovery will have a similar effect to stretching as this will keep your muscles working without adding to the strain. Active recovery can take many forms but is usually as simple as a light workout. Prioritizing swimming and cycling as they are low impact will help reduce the chances of tightening up further. Sitting around because you are sore is all about learning what is sore and what is injured. Remember, often your body is use to moving on a daily basis so some sort of activity, even a walk, can be useful.
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Sleep and rest is the pinnacle of race recovery and without it, your body could be left worse for wear. The golden 8 hours is the often recommended but known what suits you – could be more or could be less. While you’re asleep, your body is working hard to repair your muscles, bones and other structures by sending growth and repair hormones throughout your body. Proper sleep will also help your immune system recover. After strenuous exercise, your immune system will be at a low point so it’s important ensure you’re conscious of germs, bacteria and viruses by washing your hands and, if possible, avoiding people who are unwell.
Napping has been used for years by many a high level athlete. Perfect for speeding up the recovery process and help you refresh for the rest of the day and you next session.
A common theme for all these recovery methods is patience. You may be itching to get back out there as quickly as possible and it’s very easy to over-do it and open yourself up to injury and illness. Above all else, listen to your body and do what your body is telling you. This is a process to be savored and not to be rushed. An effective and efficient recovery will mean that you’ll be back training and performing at your best in no time at all.
Your recovery rate will not only depend on you and your body, but also on the kind of race and distance that you’ve done. The longer or harder the race, the longer you’ll likely need to recover. Above all else, look after yourself and you’ll be back at it before you can say “next stop, Kona!”