Fall is around the corner, and, for some of you, that means marathon or half-marathon time. This message will be of extra help for those with a big star or circle on their calendars, marking race day, but it will also be of use for anyone who exercises.
I’ll be running this one on the first Sunday of October. So excited!
Part of what being a healthy runner is being able to continue to run. This means reducing your risk of injuries and keeping your body healthy. If I left the topic of this post to just “proper recovery,” you’d have just begun reading a book and will likely not return to my blog. Let’s be real: Who wants to read a book, so pulls up a blog site? So the scope, then, is boosting muscle recovery so that you can go out the next day or the day after without feeling as sore and with confidence that you put in a little extra effort to keep your muscles healthy. These tips aren’t ways to completely heal your slightly torn muscle tissue within one day. Plus, running on slightly stressed muscles is good for building fitness and stamina, but these tips will help ensure you are reducing your risk of injury.
So below are some top ways I speed up my recovery. I think they’re easy to remember and simple to achieve as well. I’d love to hear how you recover or maybe how certain efforts you’ve put forth didn’t bear any effects that you noticed. Let’s talk via Comments!
5 WAYS TO SPEED UP YOUR RECOVERY (in no particular order)
The body needs energy to do work. That’s just science. And while vitamins are not a source of energy, they do assist in energy production. By making sure you are taking in the vitamins your body needs is going to allow you to not just recover well, but to get out and exercise in the first place. Specifically though, B vitamins need to be on this list.
The vitamin B complex (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12) are especially important for breaking down your body’s carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to be used as energy. Vitamins B12, B6 and B2 (aka riboflavin), are especially helpful in the production of red blood cells which are vitally important for oxygen transportation (something your muscles can’t do without).
Val and I take supplements due to our plant-based diet.
If you eat a whole foods, well-varied diet then your levels of B vitamins should be fine. Whole grains, nuts, dark, leafy greens are all great sources of these vitamins. B6 is found in beans, some vegetables and fruits, such as dark leafy greens, bananas, oranges, and cantaloupe. B12 is found mostly in animal products so it is difficult for people who eat a plant-based diet to get an adequate amount of. For B12, nutritional yeast, miso, seaweed, and fortified nondairy milks are your best food sources, but a B12 supplement is likely necessary for optimal health.
If you just finished a hard run or workout, even if it was cool outside and didn’t sweat much, you should begin re-hydrating as soon as you are done the activity. A prolonged workout means you lost a good amount of water and essential electrolytes that your body and muscles need. I like re-hydrating with an ice cold coconut water for the potassium, sodium, and natural sugar for added carbohydrates, but drinking 12-16 ounces once you are stretched, rolled, and settled is fine too. Remember to keep hydrating throughout the day if you want to avoid those leg cramps the next day!
THE 30–MINUTE WINDOW
Restoring your glycogen (what stores carbohydrates) is important after a run…like, immediately after. Okay, not quite immediately. But there is more-than sufficient evidence out there that confirm a 30 minute window that exists after arduous activity. This window is ideal for your body to take and absorb most of the nutrients you feed it. So while you should be eating well all the time anyway, the post-run food will be what your body immediately starts to use to replace what you’ve lost/used up during your workout. Another window does exist 1-3 hours after you complete your prolonged run or workout, but who knows what you have planned during that time or if you are a napper, you may even sleep through it.
Certain foods are certainly better than others during this window. Eating leftover french fries or pizza after your run probably isn’t the best route, despite the plenty of carbohydrates in each of those options. Ideally, your small meal has a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrates to protein. The carbohydrates are to replenish what you burned up and the protein is both for muscle recovery and for better absorption of the carbohydrate.
What does a 3:1 or 4:1 look like?
A banana and peanut butter (1-2 tbs) is a good option and my favorite. An apple would be good, too!
Oatmeal or nondairy yogurt (pictures above with raw granola) are also common choices, but what about the protein?
As you can see, the ratio of carbs (22g) to protein (2g) in this 6oz coconut milk yogurt is 11:1. Not nearly enough protein by itself. So I add protein from some of the sources as seen above, or peanut butter for a more tasty option.
If you can afford a massage after your really hard runs and races, go for it. But for those of you who can’t spend the time or the money, a rolling tool is a great investment. It doesn’t always feel great. But then again, “No pain, no gain,” right?
Foam rolling or any other method of applying pressure to key stressed parts of your body is a great way to break up muscle knots that stretching can’t help. This knot-breaking allows for normal blood flow which is essential in recovery and exercise.
If you don’t own a foam roller or a stick roller (the skinny one above) that’s okay. I tell my track athletes that an aluminum/glass water bottle, a lacrosse/tennis ball, or something similar will usually do the trick, especially for smaller areas such as your feet or areas of your back.
FIGHT THE INFLAMMATION
A bit of inflammation is fine; it actually helps to let the body reduce the inflammation naturally. So that means you may want to put down that ibuprofen next time you have a bit of aching in your legs, arms, or back.
Instead, introduce more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet that will reduce the swelling caused by the tiny injuries (this is what inflammation is/comes from) from working out and damaging muscle tissue. Great foods and spices to target inflammation (and have tons of other benefits) are garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric, berries (antioxidants), dark leafy greens, and whole grains. Another way to reduce inflammation is to cut back on your intake of sugar, and not just cookies and chocolate. A diet of excess simple carbohydrates (pizza, pasta, white rice, cereal, etc.) slows the body’s ability to handle inflammation as the excess simple carbs (sugars) messes with you glucose-insulin process.