KEYS TO FASTER RECOVERY AFTER THOSE LONG ENDURANCE EVENTS
A topic that comes up quite a bit with my athletes is recovery. In my youth, rest days were just another FOUR LETTER word and you certainly did not want to take a day off as how could that possibly make me faster? We lived by the mantra that if you were not training, somewhere someone was and when you met them in a race, they would destroy you. Foolish huh? Now I am not only serious about getting my rest days, I fully embrace them as a means to an end – an end that is a recovered body which is now ready for the next level of training. While most are okay at taking a full rest day each week, where many seem to get tripped up what to do after longer endurance events like an Ironman, marathon or even a multi-stage bike race. I recently completed a 3-stage bike race over 2 days which included a time trial and circuit race on the first day and then long road race on the second. After 2 days of racing, my Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical informed me that I would need 105 hours of recovery. Yes, 105 hours and with 24 hours in each day that meant I was looking at over 4 days of rest! Woo hoo! But does that really mean I need to take 4 days completely off Probably not, but I cannot begin to tell you how many times I see my Ironman athletes going out for a long run or ride 2 days after their IM and certainly not on my advice! While 4 days of rest are not in the cards for me, it does mean I might not be feeling 100% ready to jump back into the thick of training right away unless I do a few things to help the recovery process along.
RECOVERY TOOLS - 1. NUTRITION
While we all know the effects of dehydration on one’s performance, it is equally important to re-hydrate after an extended period of exercise or racing and to do so with more than simple water. After a multi-hour event such as a stage race or ironman, your body not only has depleted its glycogen stores and caused damage to muscle fibers, you will also be low on key electrolyte’s. Choosing a post-workout/race drink that not only contains carbohydrates but also sodium is important. Make sure you get into the habit of weighing yourself BEFORE and AFTER long intense workouts or races to get a better gauge on your net fluid loose and drink 1 to 1.5 cups of fluid for each pound lost. Foods Consuming adequate amounts of macronutrients before/during/after training sessions will ensure proper performance as well as recovery. Post-race nutrition is probably the most important starting place for your recovery and studies show it is optimal to consume carbohydrates and proteins within 30 minutes of exercise and then at 2 hour intervals (so maybe hold off on that post race beer and pancakes).
To reload the depleted glycogen stores it is recommended one consumes 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight (so for a 150lb cyclist this is about 75gm). And while protein requirement varies among individuals, it is generally thought that one should consume 15 to 25gms within an hour of your workout.
Outside Magazine recently ran a great article outlining 10 of their best recovery food ideas. Here is an excerpt from that story and their top 10 list!
“Sports scientists love to disagree over just about everything, but they have come to a consensus about one topic: recovery meals. Namely, that no matter what type of exercise you’re doing, to rebuild your muscles and get ready for another bout of exercise, you need to eat 0.2 to 0.4 grams of protein combined with 0.8 grams of carbohydrates for every 2.2 pounds you weigh, per hour you’ve exercised. The experts are still fighting over when you should eat, but most nutritionists agree that you should eat a recovery meal no longer than 30 to 45 minutes after exercising. Wait longer and it’s too late to stop the body from producing cortisol, a hormone created during exercise that causes muscles to atrophy. That may sound complicated, but it’s not. Even a bottle of Gatorade and a protein bar will get your muscles on the road to recovery. Recovery meals, however, need not be so processed. A slew of fresh options can do a whole lot more for your body. Presenting our list of the ten best recovery foods, with complementary recipes from our favorite athletes, nutritionists, and chefs.” Their top 10: Hot Chocolate, Smoothie, Pasta, Chili, Chicken fried rice, Turley, Tumeric and Ginger, Banana and Coconut, Salmon and Honey. Get full story and list of foods here: http://www.outsideonline.com/1898066/top-10-recovery-foods. I am going to add one more from my own experience – Tart Cheery juice, which has shown in studies to improve recovery times in damaging exercise (like a marathon or Ironman). One brand I prefer is Cheribundi.
We know how sleep can affect one’s race day performance, but after a long endurance event like an Ironman or stage race, rest is just what the body needs to help recover. While a stage race might not contain a 10 to 16 hour event like an Ironman, the fatigue comes from the fact that your day of the weekend likely started on the early side. It is not uncommon for my collegiate cycling teams to leave school before 5am on a Friday and return late Sunday night – with both Saturday and Sunday having early wake up calls and sometimes 2 races each day. All of this adds to the stress and fatigue of a multi-race weekend even before factoring in the actual races.
Former professional triathlete and now endurance coach, Wes Hobson, once wrote that one should not train unless they got a minimum of 6 hours of continuous sleep the night before. Nice idea, but if that were the case, I would have had to skip the last half decade of training!
Living in New York City, one complaint I constantly hear from many of my athletes is their inability to get enough sleep. Work commitments, quality family time, training, recovery, all take their toll on us amateur athletes. A close look at the training regimen for any professional endurance athlete, invariably it will include at least 8 hours of sleep each night PLUS a nap. Now if we could all do that, I think most of us would be able to elevate our performances!
As for how much sleep one needs - that is a very individual thing. Here are some tips to help you sleep or at least find a relaxed state:
· Caffeine - Yes, the lifeblood of endurance athletes - but try to go decaf after 3pm!
· Sugar - Ever see how your kid acts after a post-dinner cupcake? Well - we are the same and some extra sugar in the blood stream will keep you up!
· Alcohol - No, a glass of wine or beer before bed DOES NOT help you sleep!
· Dinner - Avoid eating late and spicy meals and you will find falling asleep a tad easier!
· Environment - Make sure where you sleep is dark and try to avoid reading or watching TV in bed as you want the bed to represent a place to sleep in your mind.
· Relaxation - Can't seem to leave work at the office? Try writing down the exact things weighing on your mind on a pad of paper before bed and get into a routine of relaxation before you sleep - a few minutes of stretching and deep breathing from the diaphragm will help!
· Natural sleep aids - Valerian root and melatonin are both natural sleep aids that do help some (myself not included and be warned that Valerian root has a very distinctive smell!). Also magnesium is said to help open up the capillaries and can help you relax at night. Avoid taking your vitamins at night (better taken in the AM). One of my favorites - a nice hot bath before bed works wonders!
3. ACTIVE RECOVERY Recovery does not have to be a complete day off, even though I stress to all of my athletes to include at least 1 complete day off a week (and for some of my older athletes 2 complete days every other 4-week training cycle). A full day off is a form of ‘passive’ recovery. An active recovery day includes low- or no-impact activities like cycling, swimming, or yoga all which help increasing the flow of blood to sore, aching muscles and thus speed up the recovery process. You will want to avoid strenuous activities and those which include a fair amount of pounding like running on concrete (while a nice hike in the woods would qualify). As both a cyclist and triathlete, I find swimming to be the almost perfect form of active recovery as there is something about the cool water of a pool that helps clear the mind and ease the aching!
4. PASSIVE RECOVERY AIDS
Besides focusing on post-race diet and getting good old fashion rest, there are many other recovery aids that will help speed up one’s recovery and get you back in action sooner and feeling a bit more like yourself.
A. Compression socks Seems everywhere you look, those tall NBA-like socks that stretch almost to the knee can be spotted all over. These compression socks, while new to endurance sports, have been around for some time. Perhaps you have seen their earlier incarnation on a visit to a loved one in the hospital – yes, the same idea has been used for decades in the medical field to help improve circulation and prevent muscle damage. During exercise like running or cycling, the contraction of the working muscles aids the heart in pumping blood to and from the heart. When idle, that natural aid is gone, leading to some slight pooling of blood in the lower extremities. Compression socks provide a bit of pressure on the blood vessels of the legs aiding in the circulation process. According to the numerous studies I have read, the jury is still out on whether compression socks can aid one’s performance during an event, there does seems to be more concrete work on the benefits of compression socks during recovery.
B. Massage Perhaps my favorite recovery tool is the good old-fashioned massage. A staple of a traveling professional cyclist where one cannot help but have visions of a weary rider lying on a massage table recounting the day’s battle with a well-aged soignier (the euro word for massage therapist).
C. Ice Bath Of course another old-fashioned stand by which one sees in many sports, especially among the full contact sports like football is the ice bath. A tub filled with cold water, add in a few trays of ice and you have your own ice bath - the perfect post-race fix for those sore and aching muscles. I find it helpful in reducing the swelling in the muscles after hard workouts like a session at the track or intervals on the bike, or right after a race. The ice bath works redirecting blood to the core to help maintain body heat, while forcing blood out of the muscles and thus reducing inflammation. D. Compression Pants
How about a set of recovery pants that look like they were borrowed from the New York Fire Department? Voted the VeloNews Innovative Beauty of 2009 and dubbed ‘Space Legs’ by the Garmin-Slipstream Team, the NormaTec MVP (Most Valuable Pump) has quickly found a home among many of the world’s best professional cyclists and triathletes. The NormaTec MVP consists of a computer controlled-electric pump and chambered pants increasing circulation via pneumatic compression cycle (like compression pants or socks on steroids!). Several NormaTec authorized recovery centers have opened across the country, allowing athletes to use the high-priced boots for a small fee while sitting in a comfortable Lazy-boy type recliner. Can’t afford the steep price tag on the NormaTec boots? Well, you are in luck as a couple less expensive alternatives have come to market for under $500 (here is one model I have used under a different name - https://www.amazon.com/AIR-RELAX-Sequential-Compression-Circulation/dp/B00YHYMSRS) E. Other tools (which may not be available to all and could be pricey) Altitude training is longer only for the elite athlete and no longer requires a trip to a mountainous region like the Colorado Rockies (like I had to do in the late 80s) to gain the benefit of altitude training. One can now get the benefits of altitude training with their own altitude tent! According to Hypoxico, a leading manufacturer of altitude tents, “When the human body is exposed to hypoxia (oxygen reduced environments), it struggles to produce required amounts of energy with less available oxygen. This struggle triggers the onset of a range of physiological adaptations geared towards enhancing the efficiency of the body's respiratory, cardiovascular and oxygen utilization systems.” By forcing the body to breathe less oxygen than it is accustom to, the body responds by producing more red blood cells, which in turn are rich in hemoglobin. It is this hemoglobin (a protein) that act to absorb oxygen when passing through the lungs as it makes its way to the muscles, where the oxygen is released and is used as energy in working muscles. The more red blood cells one has the greater their ability to transport blood to areas where it is needed, such as the legs for a runner or cyclists. Many elite athletes have utilized altitude training as part of their regimen, and that list is not solely made up of endurance athletes. In fact, a look at the Hypoxico website, one will see testimonials from Irish rugby team, soccer players like David Beckham, swimmers, mixed martial arts fighters, and even football players. Another recovery tools which might be on the bizarre side is a technique called whole-body cryotherapy (WBC). Think of it as an ice bath on steroids in which one stands in a metal chamber the size of a shower stall (called a cyrosauna) while it is filled with nitrogen gas cooled air, dropping the temp of the stall to below -260 Fahrenheit. This technique was developed in Japan in the 70s and has become the rage among celebrities as it claims to burn 800 calories in only 3 minutes. Scientific research has not really weighed in on its recuperative properties and it is a tad pricey at $75 plus for a 3-minute session!
Utilizing the above recovery strategies an athlete can speed up their recovery time and get back to training. In my case, I got 2 solid nights of sleep (making sure I had no early appoints on the following Monday or Tuesday), focused on my re-hydration and diet immediately after the long weekend of racing (held back on the post-race beer and pizza), and spent both Sunday and Monday night in the Lazy Boy recliner while wearing my set of Podium Legs compression pants.
The Suunto Ambit series has a function that allows you to do a quick re-test of your current recovery and after 48 hours of focused relaxation I was able to reduce my total recommended recovery by about a third. This meant I was ready to get back out on Wednesday and able to do a productive work out on Thursday.
(Note: More on the recovery features of the Suunto Ambit 3 can be found here: http://www.suunto.com/en-US/sports/News-Articles-container-page/TutorialTuesday-Recovery-features/)