When you're not training or racing, you’re recovering. Optimizing your recovery is just as important as how hard you push yourself in training and competition. Described below are some of the best ways athletes can enhance their recovery.
If spandex weren't demeaning enough we subject ourselves to becoming a running and cycling LiteBrite when dawning compression socks. I’m still waiting for a 80’s style tube-sock version (hint hint 2XU!). Compression socks have been around for a long time in the medical community where they are used for treating venous insufficiency and preventing blood clots.
More recently the athletic community started using compression garments to improve recovery. It is thought that they improve oxygen delivery to the muscle tissues. Studies have shown effects on perceived leg soreness and muscle function as well as blood lactate clearance. However, the ideal strength of compression is not clear (ie, pressure - mmHg) nor how long an athlete needs to wear them for the most benefit. In the meantime, rock on with your glow stick self!
Nutrition & Hydration
Of all the methods of improving recovery on this list, nutrition is the most important. Thankfully it is pretty straight forward because it’s done by the numbers:
For a 70kg athlete running 1.5- 2hrs or cycling 2.5-3hrs at moderate intensity:
Within 30min of completing your workout consume 1.0 g of carbohydrates per kg body weight and 0.3 of protein per kg of body weight. However, the amount will vary depending upon intensity and duration (0.5-1.5g for carbs and 0.3-0.4 g for protein).
Eat a meal (ie, real food!) with a similar ratio of carbohydrates and proteins within the next 1-1.5 hours.
Keep your water intake up, especially after an intense workout. The easiest way to determine how much water you need to drink is to weigh yourself before and after a workout (16oz = 1lb).
Unfortunately, alcohol is not good for muscle recovery, so save the Pappy Van Winkle for celebrating your podium placement.
You may not have a personal saugnier to give you a massage after every ride or run, but I've found that scheduling a massage after my especially intense rides and races works well – my muscles get a massage when it’s most needed.
Once upon a time I could work a 30 hour shift (ie, medical residency, ie, forced labor) and then go ride 60 miles, but that was neither sustainable nor ideal for recovery. If I hoped to still function at my job as well as perform well as an athlete I needed to sleep first.
Every person has a specific amount of time they need to sleep. For most people it’s about 8 hours. Research has shown that when you don’t get enough sleep athletic performance decreases and immunity is impaired.
Pro tip! Better quality sleep occurs with cooler ambient temperatures as well. So make sure to get your 8hrs and keep the A/C on or the window open.
Who doesn't love the foam roller!? Sure, it hurts, but as John Mellencamp said “make it hurt so good.” Foam rolling is thought to work by repairing the myofascial tissue as well as improving circulation. Make using it a routine – after making yourself a recovery drink, spend 10-15 minutes hurting a bit more on the foam roller.
Electric Muscle Stimulation
Though the research remains equivocal, many athletes swear by it. I’ve tried it myself and found it helped some significant muscle cramping I was having in my right hamstring. However, the stim units are not cheap! But they make for a fun party trick at the very least. If you've exhausted every other means of improving your recovery they are certainly worth a try.
Athletes have a masochistic streak, but plunging yourself into ice water after a hard workout takes it to the next level. It sure as hell isn't as fun as Lebron James and Dwyane Wade make it look standing in an ice bath tweeting to their fans. Like, electric stimulation the jury is still on its efficacy, but cryotherapy has been used for years in athletes and again most swear by it.
I don’t fill the bathtub up with ice often, but I do find it beneficial after a hard workout on hot days. An ice bath cools my engine down quicker, which is especially helpful for those late in the day workouts when you, in turn have trouble sleeping.
Probiotics improve immunity. Improved immunity means better recovery and less sick days. The effects of probiotics are strain specific so you’re not going to get any benefit as an athlete consuming a container of yogurt or taking a probiotic designed for the general population. Probiotics exemplify the understanding that what goes on off the track, out of the pool, and off the bike is just as important – you're an athlete 24/7.
Improving how you recover is not an optional activity. If you want to perform at your best you must take advantage of every opportunity to optimize recovery.