Monday, April 2, 2018


One truism I have found about running and training in general is that the harder you work, the harder you need to focus on recovery. This isn't just about putting your feet up and binging Netflix while eating tons of candy and drinking a beer after a long run (probably the worst combination of things you can do). Optimizing your recovery means paying attention to your nutrition, your hydration, and taking care of your hard-working muscles.

Working out for a sustained period of time places your body in a catabolic state; that is to say, your body is breaking down its own stores of fat and muscle to fuel itself. While the act of burning fat is ideal, breaking down your own muscle is less preferred. As well as being used for fuel, muscles also sustain "micro-tears" or microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. This action is necessary for improving fitness and building muscle mass, if addressed properly. There have been a number of studies done questioning whether post-workout protein is necessary. A few studies seem to find that as long as pre-workout protein intake is adequate (at least 20 grams), then post-workout protein doesn't do anything to improve the anabolic state (building and rebuilding damaged muscle). I have trouble eating before workouts, and so I definitely don't fit into that category. As such, I make sure that I consume at least 25 grams of protein within a half hour of finishing my workouts. The recommended range I have found suggests protein intake in the range of 20-40 grams, dependent on lean body mass of the athlete in question.
Carbohydrate intake for recovery is, I have found, a little more controversial. I have adapted a low-sugar diet (I am now at the point in which I do not consume anything with added sugar) and am feeling and performing far better than I ever did as a sugar-fueled athlete. Previous recommendations I had lived by were to consume a meal or beverage with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio post-workout. On further research, I have been finding that glycogen replenishment (your body's stored glucose, present in the liver and muscles) is not necessarily a big focus for post-workout recovery. In fact, what I have seen are data suggesting that glycogen stores can be replenished by consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet, with a sufficient amount of carbohydrates throughout the day.

My favorite recovery drink: use a blender to mix 1 ripe banana, 12 ounces whole milk, 4 tablespoons peanut protein powder, and 1 tablespoon unsweetened cacao powder. Delicious, and more than 25 grams of protein.

An old recommendation for judging water replacement was to weigh yourself (clothing-free) pre and post workout, and that for every pound of water lost a person would need to consume one liter of water to restore adequate hydration. As an RN, this isn't the best recommendation I have found. Ideally, a person should be drinking adequately throughout their period of exercise, so as to break even with their weight. For me, hydration starts even before I head out the door. I drink at least 16 ounces of fluid before starting my workout, and also monitor the color of my urine (it should be clear to pale yellow) -- I won't start a workout unless I know I am optimally hydrated before I even begin. I have found that using a no-sugar-added sports drink with added electrolytes (I use and swear by Nuun) and drinking when I feel thirsty during my workouts has kept me very well hydrated without making me need to stop for a bathroom break mid-run. After my workout, I again drink as I feel thirsty, and monitor urine color to determine my hydration status. Staying optimally hydrated ensures proper circulation, and will help your body to more quickly and efficiently flush lactic acid (a by-product of muscle breakdown) through. 

Muscle Care
Your legs have worked hard, so you probably think the best way to reward them is to let them rest for the rest of the day, right? Unfortunately, that's probably going to make you even more stiff and sore for the next day. What I've described above falls under the category of "passive recovery" while I prefer the school of thought promoting "active recovery". After a run, I will drop my pace from workout pace to a slow jog to a walk, the entire period of which lasts anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. This promotes circulation through the tired muscles while also allowing my heart rate to slowly return to normal. When I finish my walk, I'll do a short series of slow static stretches, with the emphasis on relaxing. If I need to fit in another run the next day, I will do a 10 minute ice bath. Though my legs always feel amazing after an ice bath, newer data have showed that ice baths can inhibit training gains, and should only really be used in situations in which prompt recovery is more important than long-term gain. As such, I will only use it in back-to-back workouts or after races. Once I've done all that, then I'll put on a pair of compression socks and put my feet up. This combination again promotes circulation through my lower legs and helps to prevent swelling. I try not to sit for too long, and make sure to move around frequently. If time allows, I'll hop on my bike trainer for a few miles at the end of the day to again promote increased circulation through my legs and allow them to stretch out without the stress of weight-bearing exercise.

Hello ice bath, my old friend 🎶
I've come to suffer here again 🎵

This past week, I ran a cumulative total of 23 miles, biked 20 miles, and swam 1750 yards (about 1 mile). For me, triathlon is really comprised of four stages -- swimming, biking, running, and recovering!

I have some exciting news -- I have secured this blog's first interview! Within the next week or two, I will be publishing an interview with a registered dietician and running coach. I talked a little bit about nutrition for recovery in this post, and hope to go into a lot more detail with that soon. If you have any burning nutrition questions, send them to me and I will feature your question in the upcoming interview.

Aragon, A., & Schoenfeld, B. (2013). Nutrient Timing Revisited. Functional Foods, 65-89. doi:10.1201/b16307-5

Peake, J. M., Roberts, L. A., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I., Krog, S., Aas, S. N., . . . Raastad, T. (2016). The effects of cold water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. The Journal of Physiology,595(3), 695-711. doi:10.1113/jp272881

Shirreffs, S.M., Casa, D.J., & Carter, R. (2007). Fluid needs for training and competition in athletics. Journal of Sports Sciences,25:sup1, S83-S91, doi: 10.1080/02640410701607353

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