The Best Recovery Practices for Endurance Athletes

Best Recovery Practices

You know that sensation, when you have bottomless power, breathing is deep, and pushing hard feels so good? When you are strong, motivated, and invincible. These are the days when you slay your training and smash your race goals.

The secret to these training days and hitting race day in peak form is nailing your recovery.  Two recovery practices are foundational and must-not be missed:

 

Nutrition

Sleep

While there are many more accessory recovery techniques that can be used to complement nutrition and sleep, if you are not getting in the right nutrition and enough sleep, the accessory recovery techniques will have minimal advantage. You should focus your efforts on getting those two recovery habits perfected to get the most bang for your buck.

 

Post-Exercise Recovery Nutrition

For weekend warrior athletes training two to three times per week, following a normal daily nutrition plan with no special additions is sufficient for optimal recovery before the next training session.

For athletes training once per day or more often, refuelling for the next workout as quickly as possible is crucial. Refuelling accurately and consistently after workouts will restore muscle and liver glycogen stores, replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, promote muscle repair and bolster the immune system.

Athletes who optimize post-exercise nutrition will perform better in their next training session and accumulate more high quality sessions than athletes skipping post-exercise recovery fuelling.

There are two post-exercise recovery fuelling windows. The first is within 30 minutes of a hard or long training session. The second is in the two to three hours post-exercise.

Short easy training sessions do not require special recovery nutrition. Athletes are best sticking to their daily nutrition plan with a normal whole foods meal after easy training sessions.

 

30 Minute Post-Exercise

Fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein are the foundation of proper recovery nutrition. Immediately on finishing a workout, start replacing fluid and electrolyte losses with a sodium containing drink or water plus sodium containing food.

Estimate fluid losses by weighing yourself before and after training and drinking 500 to 700 ml of fluid for every ½ Kg lost.

To restore muscle glycogen and promote protein synthesis, consume 0.8g per kg of body weight of carbohydrate and 0.2g per kg of body weight of protein within 30 minutes of finishing exercise. For a 70kg athlete this would be 56g of carbohydrate and 14g of protein.

Fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein can be replaced with a commercial recovery drink, a homemade smoothie or with real food plus water.

Additionally, antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin A, probiotics, medium chain triglycerides and L-Glutamine can shorten recovery duration and are good additions to a recovery drink or snack.

 

Two To Three Hours Post-Exercise

Continue your recovery nutrition two to three hours post-exercise by eating a whole foods meal. It is okay to eat earlier than this if you are hungry but do not delay this post-exercise meal more than three hours.

This meal should contain a combination of carbohydrate, about 20g of protein and some fat. Dividing daily protein intake into four or more 20g meals has been shown to have a greater stimulus on protein synthesis than two big meals with 40g protein per meal or 8 smaller meals with 10g per meal.

A 20g helping of protein is the sweet spot to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

After a training session on a hot day, immediately cool your body down if your core temperature feels hot by drinking cool fluids, sitting in cool water or air conditioning and pouring iced water over your head. Cooling off will halt continued dehydration and increase your appetite.

 

The Benefits of Good Sleep

Studies have shown increasing duration asleep leads to increased performance and mental well-being in athletes. We also know chronic sleep debt impairs performance and reduces motivation to excel.

Foundation sleep recommendations for adult athletes are 8 to 10 hours per night plus a 30 minute nap between 2 to 4 PM. I know that is a tough call for most athletes to achieve along with all the other responsibilities of life.

Junior athletes need even more sleep with 9 hours per night plus a 30 minute nap in the afternoon.

 

Increasing Your Sleep Quality and Duration

Along with sleep duration, sleep quality and sleep phase also affect the regenerative qualities of sleep. Sleep quality can be improved by reducing disturbances by wearing earplugs and sleeping in a cool, dark room.

Following a pre-sleep routine of relaxing activities, avoiding light exposure from screens in the hour before bed, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine after noon and alcohol in the evening may increase your sleep quality and duration.

Restless leg syndrome can occur in athletes with low serum iron levels and disrupt normal sleep patterns.

Exercising late in the day can make sleep elusive for some athletes. Summertime evening group training or local races make sleep especially hard to come by. Following up an intense evening session with inadequate sleep is a poor combination. Athletes losing sleep after these evening sessions are advised to switch their intense training sessions to the morning and put their evening hours towards lower intensity activities such as yoga, stretching, and massage.

 

Measuring Your Sleep

If you can measure it, you can improve it!

Use a sleep tracking app to measure your sleep duration and quality then identify factors that improve it. I was able to identify that red wine helps me fall asleep more quickly but it reduces my sleep quality and duration. I confirmed much to my dismay that avoiding screens e.g. laptops, TV, phones etc. in the hour before bed dramatically improves both my sleep quality and duration.

It is easier to sleep in the spring, fall and winter than mid-summer due to long days. Cover your bedroom windows with foil or install light blocking curtains to darken your bedroom and help extend your sleep time.

 

Accessory Recovery Techniques

After you have taken care of the big two, nutrition and sleep, there are many accessory recovery techniques to add to your routine; stress reduction, massage, compression, active recovery, stretching, foam rolling, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, rolfing, cupping, cryotherapy, hydrotherapy, sauna, dry needling, supplements such as tart cherry juice, and more.

Stress reduction is one of the more important accessory recovery techniques. Trying to add too many accessory recovery techniques on top of an already busy schedule may add stress and be counterproductive. Pick a few accessory recovery techniques you enjoy and have easy access to, rather than trying to fit every single one of them into your schedule. For example, dipping your nightly sleep time below 8 hours to log 30 minutes in the sauna is not a good trade off.

 

Take Rest and Recovery Seriously

We are all busy. A common mistake many athletes make is to use their rest days to run endless errands and their recovery weeks to tackle bigger projects. One of my athletes built a deck behind his house in a recovery week! He ended the week sore and exhausted and we had to follow that week up with another recovery week in order for any quality training to get done.

On your rest days and recovery weeks, plan massages and lots of downtime, put your feet up and really unload fatigue. Recover as hard as you train.

 

Example of a Post-exercise Recovery Routine

  • Finish race or hard training bout and grab a recovery drink to sip during your cool down
  • Take a 10 minute ice-bath or cold river soak
  • Clean up and shower
  • 10 minute stretch
  • 20 minute compression legs such as Elevated Legs
  • 30 minute nap
  • Meal with 20g protein and a combination of carbohydrate and fat
  • Go to bed with enough time to get 8 hours of sleep

 

Eat well, sleep well and recover fast because your competitors probably are doing it!

 

References :

 Nutrition to Support Recovery from Endurance Exercise: Optimal Carbohydrate and Protein Replacement. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26166054

Post-exercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signalling for protein synthesis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21522069

Nutritional strategies to promote post-exercise recovery http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21116024

Sleep as a recovery tool for athletes  http://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2014/11/17/6066/

Sleep, recovery and human performance http://canadiansportforlife.ca/sites/default/files/resources/Sleep_Recovery_Jan2013_EN_web.pdf

The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3119836/

Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19883392

 

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Top 5 Dietary Fat Myths Busted

By Kim McDevitt, MPH RD on August 28, 2017

top-5-fat-myths

Top 5 Fat Myths

The discussion around fats and our diet has gone across the spectrum and back again. There was a time when we were told to avoid fats of any form, launching the fat-free dietary craze and then we ran in the complete opposite direction, thanks to Atkins and the low-carb lifestyle, practically maxing out our dietary fat intake.

So where’s the line? How much is too much and what’s not enough? And, if you are going to eat fat, what foods are best? Because, you’ve likely heard, not all fats are equal.

Let’s work through some of beliefs and notions and schools of thought around dietary fat, all while understanding one bottom line. Not all fats are not bad. But, the type of fat and how much fat you eat MATTERS.

Myth 1: No form of dietary fat is okay to eat

Yes, there are dietary fats that you should limit. These include avoiding trans-fats and saturated fats, due to their ability to raise cholesterol and potentially have negative consequences on your health . Avoid these fats by limiting your intake of foods that are high in these fats, including butter, meats, margarine as well as processed and deep fried foods.

However, these are not the only types of dietary fat. There are also “good fats” which include mono-unsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fat that includes Omega-3 fatty acids. When these are eaten in moderation and replace trans-fats and saturated fats, they have the potential to have positive affect on heart health.

Beyond heart health, dietary fat also helps with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, vitamin A,D, E and K.  Foods with this type of fat include olive oil, sesame oil, avocado, peanut butter and many nuts and seeds. Omega-3 ALA is a fatty acid that cannot be made in the body, therefore you must get them from your diet. Omega-3 ALA can convert into different types of fatty acids once in your body, These are known as DHA and EPA with plant based source being ALA. Walnuts, flaxseed oil and ground flax, chia or hemp seed are high in Omega-3s ALA.

Myth 2: Fat-Free Foods are a smart snack choice

There was a time when it seemed every food marketed and manufactured was fat-free or offered a fat-free alternative.  Fat tastes good! And fats are also slower to digest in our body (Mahan, Kathleen. et al (2012). Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. Elsevier/Saunders. 13th edition.  , versus carbohydrates). So, with the removal of fat the addition of other ingredients including sugar, salt or other unhealthy ingredients occurs in order to make up for removed flavour, texture and taste.

Myth 3: Eating too much fat will make you fat

Along with the fat-free craze came the notion that the more fat you eat the more fat you will have on your body. While it is true that per gram fat yields higher calorie than protein or carbohydrate (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram), the type of macronutrient isn’t the root of the problem. Rather, overall total calorie intake and exceeding your daily calorie needs is likely to result in increased weight gain.

Myth 4: Eating fat will increase your risk of heart disease

While it is true that excessive intake of trans fats may increase your risk of heart disease, plant-based sources of unsaturated fat can help support heart health. Monounsaturated fats may positively influence cholesterol in the body  thus supporting heart health. These fats may help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body thus supporting heart health.  Good sources of monounsaturated fats include: avocado, olives, olive oil, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

Myth 5 : So you’ve actually bought into the ‘fat-is-good’ craze but now you’re pushing the other end of the spectrum. How much fat is too much?

Today there are just as many articles out there promoting a high-fat diet as there are shunning it. And, thanks to many people seeing weight changes by restricting carbohydrates and increasing fats, it has become a popular way of eating. However, you can overdo it. As mentioned above, there are some fats you should be avoiding all together, others you should limit and some that you need to make sure you’re including!

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines help us navigate this by recommending the following:

  1. Consume less than 10% of your calories per day from saturated fat
  2. Total fat intake for adults age 19 and older should make up 20% to 35% of your diet. This means if you eat 2 000 calories per day around 500 of those calories should come from fat. Aim to hit this goal from the unsaturated good fats, like :
  • Avocados (monounsaturated fat)
  • Olives (monounsaturated fat)
  • Nuts (walnuts are rich in Omega-3s ALA)
  • Seeds (chia, flax and hemp seeds are rich in Omega-3s ALA; pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are rich in monounsaturated fats)
  • Cold-pressed oils (Such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, hemp seed oil)