How we recover is paramount to overall performance. Just as important as that Sunday long run and Tuesday track session. The reality is, if we recover better we train harder. It is this that makes a huge impact on performance not just by getting us back to previous form but can make us even stronger. When a session is done or race completed, many of us switch off too early. Understanding a little more about how we can help our bodies recover better after hard training sessions and races will make you a better runner.
Nutrition plays a pivotal role in this process. Providing the body with the correct nutrients at the correct time can affect the rate we recover at. Dehydration, glycogen depletion (when our carb stores have been used) and muscle soreness can all be tackled by a consistent nutrition strategy.
What do we need?
Carbohydrate and protein are the main nutrients we need to get the recovery process going. Although both play equally important roles, protein is always the main nutrient that is associated with recovery. Indeed it is the main driver for muscle protein synthesis, the process that instigates muscle repair and adaptation. However for runners, carbohydrate is just as important. We run, we use up our fuel (muscle glycogen) and when we finish, especially over longer distances, the tank can be close to empty. If we don’t replenish these stores, our next training session may be hampered. Rehydrating is also a focus point. Dark coloured wee post training or racing is to be expected but the aim is to get it nice a clear again within a few hours. Once you have achieved this, you know your body is rehydrated and back in balance.
A certain amount of inflammation and stress occurs when you train as well and it is part of the
training and adaptation process that helps us get fitter. Along side ensuring you meet your
carbohydrate, protein and hydration needs, foods with antioxidants and anti inflammatory
properties will help recovery. Look for brightly coloured fruit and vegetables and ensure you have at least 5 portions a day (more is ideal). Good fats found in fish oils can also regulate some of
the stress and inflammation that we get from hard exercise. Regular intake of oily fish, olive oil
and nuts for example is a goof habit to get into.
How do you do this?
If you follow the rule "3 R’s of recovery" after every hard session and race, you can be sure recovery will be training harder with more consistency.
1 Rehydrate with water or / and electrolyte drink. You need to take on fluid at a rate that you are not peeing it straight out! As soon as you have finished training / racing drink 500mls fluid. After that, drink little and often until urine is clear or you have reached your pre run weight. If you have sweated a lot or it is a particularly hot day you may want some added electrolytes to help the hydration process. If you want to be more exact drink 1.5L of fluid for every 1 kg lost in weight (1).
2. Refuel with carbohydrate but no need to over compensate! Everyone likes to indulge post race but after most training sessions you don’t have to go crazy! Here are some guidelines:
If you have 24 hours between sessions, your strategy can be a little more relaxed. Follow your daily carb needs appropriate for your level of activity and ensure a well balanced meal within an hour of finishing exercise. Simple but effective!
If you have less than 8 hrs between sessions, or you have done a gruelling fasted sessions this is where you need to be more exact. Take approximately 1g carbs / kg of body weight each hour for 3-4 hrs to maximise glycogen synthesis (2). This way you will ensure your glycogen stores are as restored as much as possible for the next session.
3. Rebuild with protein. Protein is not essential for the immediate post session recovery (i.e: it won’t make any difference to performance in a second session a few hours later) but plays a large part in long term recovery and adaptation to training. As mentioned previously it is the main driver for muscle protein synthesis but this process occurs over many hours and days. Therefore getting into the habit of having approx 20 g protein post session and then regularly at each meal and snack for remainder of the day will ensure adequate adaptation to training sessions and ensure an improvement in performance.
Example of how to get 10g protein
40g Chicken breast
200g low fat yogurt
50g nut butter
In essence you need to think ahead. A prepared athlete is a successful athlete. Simply by ensuring
you don’t go hours without eating after training or racing and eat a snack or meal with adequate
carbohydrate and protein you will ensure recovery will be efficient. More careful planning is needed
if you are training twice a day as the recovery window is much smaller.
1. M, Sawka MN, Burke LM, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2007;39(2):377–390.
2. Burke LM, Kiens B, Ivy JL. Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2004;22(1):15–30.