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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How to Make the Jump from Marathons to Ultras

Marathons to UltrasAndrew Simmons – Lifelong Endurance

With more and more people signing up for ultra-marathons—are you starting to get the itch too? These guidelines will show you how to make the jump from marathons to ultras and give you some key tips for having the best race possible.

It All Starts With a Plan

Longer distances will require more time in many aspects. Make sure you have the time to commit to training. Starting with a good training plan or a coach and an idea of how many hours you can train each week is key. Take some time to find the right plan and the right coach to suit your needs and your training availability.

Know Your Time Frame

If you’re currently in good shape you can prepare for a 50Km in roughly 12 weeks. However, if you’re starting from scratch give yourself plenty of time, up to 24 weeks to prepare for your event. Add an additional eight to 10 weeks of training for events that are between 50Km and 100 miles in length.

5 Tips for Your Best Race

Run Where You Race – Or As Close As You Can

It can be hard to find trail access in urban areas, however it’s a pretty safe bet most ultras will take you off road and onto a trail. For some, finding a trail or technical section can require some creativity, but it is worth the extra effort and possible drive time.

Getting onto a trail and off the roads can beneficial in multiple ways; it helps break up training by taking you out of your comfort zone, gets you into new training situations and will require you to think on your feet. Thinking on your feet and even getting a little lost is a crucial part of long-distance run training and developing a strong sense of direction and the ability to cope in the event of a mistake is a necessary skill.

Take to trails in small doses if you’re not a regular trail runner. If you’re totally lost, remember that trail running offers the bonus of less impact on you and your body. Less impact and more time on feet will help increase your durability both mentally and physically. It won’t always be easy!

Throw Away Your Ego

The first thing you’ll notice is that kilometre splits and hitting very specific times go out of the window at first. If you think you’re going to run a consistent pace front to back in an ultra, you will come to a harsh realization at your first hill or technical section.

Ultra-marathons require a “manage it as it happens” approach. While a road marathon requires supreme fitness, an ultra requires similar fitness with the added challenge of solving problems as you run. Running down a steep technical hill with rocks and roots and then quickly back up a wet culvert requires good fitness and the ability to control yourself so you can get to the finish line in one piece.

Time on Your Feet Is King

This doesn’t mean you can’t use fitness markers to your advantage in a race. A majority of ultra-marathon plans are based on heart rate (HR) and require you to find a comfortable zone that you can run in and then endure for four to seven hours to complete the course.

Keeping yourself in an aerobic zone allows you to utilize onboard energy more efficiently and will keep you feeling fresh longer. Tip over your HR threshold a few too many times and you may find your race a lot tougher during those last 10 miles.

Mileage is not always the best marker when going off road; time on your feet matters more than the weekly mileage totals. You’ll find that if a majority of your work is truly aerobic, you’ll be running slower than you may have been in previous training build ups. This will require you to reframe what’s important in your ultra training. Looking at your total weekly hours and building up to more consecutive hours will be key to building yourself into an ultra-marathon runner.

Pressure Test The System

Ultra-marathon training on the surface simply requires you to run longer, pushing you out of your comfort zone mentally and physically. One of the biggest roadblocks for a successful first ultra is not having tested yourself at your race effort. You may find that you need to adjust for electrolytes after two to three hours, that you do better with solid food the first half of a race, or that you need to change shoes because your feet swell in warm temperatures. These small nuances can have a huge impact on your race—especially once you start looking at 50km and above races

Hydration and fuelling strategies should be tested on your long runs and you should start to note what it feels like when you’re dehydrated or low on fuel. Your long runs are your chance to try out new fuels. Learning how to work through a bad stretch in a long run is a vital learning experience in many ways!

A key component to your success is getting in the training but also replicating what you’re going to expect to see on race day; think about the terrain, major elements like long hills, extended descents or race day conditions like extreme heat or cold.

You’re Stronger and More Capable than You Think

It’s hard to imagine what running 50kms or more will feel like and I can’t even tell you what you will personally experience. To some that extra five miles is an eternity and to others it’s a natural and more comfortable progression.  Pacing yourself and taking the race aid station to aid station is going to help you break the race into manageable chunks. Give yourself a boost at each aid station as a reward, or imbibe in an aid station treat (believe me they have some amazing things at these trail races!).

An ultra requires mental persistence, self-affirmation and a belief that you can complete it. Many professionals utilize mantras to keep them focused and “in the zone.” Others like to use music, podcasts or other tactics to push the little monster out from inside their head. Using a motivational tool or pacer can be a huge help  toward ensuring your success on race day.

Recovery

First and foremost, ultras are longer than you’ve ever gone before. In both training and racing, you’ll be pushing your body into new territories.  This can come with its own aches and pains; post-race you’ll want to give yourself an extra seven to 10 days of low mileage on top of your normal marathon recovery protocol.

Following your first ultra you should allow yourself five days of low impact activity directly following and roughly 10 to 14 days before you return to your normal training or start to focus on your next event. Remember, the first one always takes the longest to recover from! In rare cases there can be minimal soreness; don’t let this fool you. Long distance racing takes a larger and more impactful metabolic, mental and physiological toll that can put you down for longer than you think.

Take this time to enjoy activities you missed out on during peak training and maybe sleep in a little and slowly introduce yourself back to training. After all, recovery is the second best part after the race itself!

Top 5 Fitness Myths

top5FitnessMyths

 

There are a handful of fitness myths that have been around forever, regardless of how much scientific research there is to refute them. I believe that human nature is partly to blame – people tend to believe that which supports their own personal biases. The unfortunate downside to subscribing to these myths is that they can prevent you from being the getting the most from your fitness routine. Here are five of the top offenders:

 

Myth 1: People Who Exercise Frequently Can Eat Whatever They Want

Oh, if this were only true. One need to simply take a look around the gym to realize this is not the case. Fitness clubs are filled with people who exercise almost every day, yet they just can’t seem to lose weight. It comes down to simple math: It can be easier to keep 500 calories out of your mouth than it is to burn it off. Sure, exercise is a big part of the equation, but it is by no means a license to eat whatever you want.

 

Myth 2: If I Stop Working Out, My Muscle Will Turn to Fat

This myth, often the result of people witnessing professional athletes lose their physiques and gain weight after retiring from their respective sports, is easily refuted by basic physiology. A fat cell is a fat cell and a muscle cell is a muscle cell. One cannot turn into the other. The reason these athletes gain weight is the same as for everyone else: decreased activity and increased caloric intake

This is what it takes a 68 Kg person to burn approximately 100 calories :

Workouts:

Biking: 23 minutes of casual cycling

Cardio dance class: 15 minutes

Elliptical: 8 minutes

Jumping rope: 9 minutes at a moderate intensity

Lifting weights, vigorously: 15 minutes

Pilates: 24 minutes

Rowing machine: 13 minutes

Running stairs: 6 minutes

Running: 9 minutes of running at a 6 mph pace

Swimming: 15 minutes moderate intensity

Walking stairs: 11 minutes

Walking: 20 minutes of walking at a 3 mph pace

Water aerobics: 23 minutes

Yoga: 20 minutes

Zumba: 11 minutes

 

Sports and Leisure Activities:

Basketball, shooting hoops: 20 minutes

Bowling: 30 minutes

Dancing around living room: 20 minutes

Darts: 35 minutes

Golfing, carrying clubs: 15 minutes

Ice skating, moderate: 18 minutes

Kickball: 13 minutes

Mini golf or driving range: 30 minutes

Playing catch with a football: 35 minutes

Playing Frisbee: 30 minutes

Playing soccer, casual: 13 minutes

Skiing,downhill: 10 minutes

Softball or baseball: 18 minutes

Tennis (doubles): 21 minutes

Tennis (singles): 15 minutes

Treading water, moderate effort: 23 minutes

Volleyball, recreational: 26 minutes

Water skiing: 15 minutes

 

Yard Work:

Mowing the lawn: 20 minutes

Painting house: 18 minutes

Raking leaves: 23 minutes

Shovelling snow: 15 minutes

Washing the car: 20 minutes

Weeding the garden: 18 minutes

Everyday Activities:

Carrying an infant: 24 minutes

Cleaning, moderate effort: 26 minutes

Cooking: 34 minutes

Doing dishes: 40 minutes

Mopping the floor: 20 minutes

Playing with children: 23 minutes

Pushing a stroller: 35 minutes

Rearranging furniture: 14 minutes

Shopping: 38 minutes

Sweeping: 23 minutes

Walking the dog, 26 minutes

 

Myth 3: To See Results You Must Exercise Continuously For an Hour

Out of these 5 myths, this one is probably the most detrimental to the masses. The number one reason people cite for failing to exercise is lack of time. Many believe that, if you don’t allocate thirty to sixty minutes to work out, then it’s not worth doing at all.  Research suggests that three ten-minute bouts of exercise have the same benefits as one thirty-minute session. There is even some new research into the value of “micro-workouts,” bouts of exercise as short as sixty seconds, may help to support cardiovascular health.

 

Myth 4: Lifting Weights Will Make You Too Bulky

Many athletes avoided strength training for decades, believing that increased muscle size would inhibit movement and lead to decreased performance. The conventional wisdom was that lifting weights would be detrimental and building muscle was to be avoided. Many people still believe this to be the case. Today professional athletes in many different sports engage in some form of strength training to both support performance as well as help decrease the chance of injury. Many also add stretching into their routines to help maintain flexibility.

 

Myth 5: Women Should Lift Light Weights to Avoid Getting “Bulky”

It has been my experience that the fear of building “bulk” is one of the primary reasons far too many women either avoid lifting weights completely, or, if they do strength train, choose weights that are too light. Both need to change. The “overload principle” of strength training posits that to “change” a muscle you must adequately challenge it. Thus, choosing weights that are too light will not elicit meaningful adaptations. Lifting appropriately challenging weights, however, may confer a number of benefits including increased bone density, increased functional strength and an increase in muscle.

 

So, seek out information from reputable sources, ones who support their positions with peer-reviewed scientific studies.