Ask most athletes when they think they are getting faster and they'll probably tell you it's during the interval session they ran on the track or the long run they did on Sunday. In actual fact, the training you do in these sessions breaks your body down so you can get faster while you sleep and recover. Recovery is one of the most important aspects of your training and racing but is often neglected. My masters' degree in exercise physiology focussed on recovery during endurance sports and led me to some interesting findings. Use these tips to ensure your body is fully recovered so you can perform at your best day in, day out.
1. Active recovery. By promoting blood flow in order to aid in the removal of toxins, active recovery is consistently shown to be the most effective recovery tool. Ensure you always warm down well and try to avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time after a hard session to reap the rewards of active recovery.
2. Nutrition. After breaking your body down during a hard session, nutrition is required to start building it back up. The best time to take in nutrition is within 60 minutes post exercise when your body is depleted of glycogen and readily able to uptake the nutrition you take a board. Good post exercise nutrition should have a carbohydrate to protein ratio of around 3:1. Some good post exercise foods include low fat chocolate milk, a peanut butter sandwich or a yogurt parfait.
3. Stretch. After working hard your muscles shorten. Use stretching to reduce muscle tension, enhance flexibility and promote the repair of your muscles. Be wary of stretching immediately following an extremely hard session or race, however as your muscle fibres are often so damaged stretching immediately can do more harm than good.
4. Massage/Roll. Self massage and rolling is also an important tool for ensuring a decrease in muscle tension and an increase in flexibility. On top of this, massage and rolling promotes muscle fibre regeneration and aids in the removal of toxins. Ensure you keep well hydrated while massaging to help this process.
5. Ice bath. Ice baths have been shown to aid in the recovery process by decreasing swelling and slowing down metabolic activity as well as constricting blood vessels to help flush waste products out of your system. Ice baths should be taken between 12C and 15C for roughly 10minutes.
6. Compression. The popularity of compression gear continues to grow. While there has been some mixed findings on compression gear in the literature, graduated compression gear has been found to give the most benefit to athletes. Graduated compression refers to garments that are tighter towards your ankles and apply gradually less pressure as they move up the leg. These garments aid in recovery by helping the muscle pump system in returning blood to the heart to promote circulation. Wear calf sleeves or tights post exercise to get the most benefit out of your compression gear.
If you have questions on how to get the most out of post exercise recovery or have some of your own tips please share them! For now, it's off to do some stretching!