From race to recovery

By Falon Sweeney IMG_8376I could say I’m sore, but that would be a complete understatement. I’m counting the days until I stop hobbling across the street like I’m actually injured. This past weekend I ran my first Tough Mudder – 10 miles of sweat, a little bit of blood, but thankfully no tears – over, under, down, and around 20+ obstacles. Oh yeah, and a whole lot of mud. I was a little nervous going into the race, seeing as I hadn’t trained much for the event itself (tisk, tisk, I know…). I registered in early September, so that gave me just shy of a month to prepare. But with my busy college schedule, juggling my part-time job at lululemon with my internship and my class schedule – oh yeah, and that thing called my social life – I really only had time to get in the workouts that work for me – cycling classes, barre classes, and early morning runs. Even though I lacked a little on the training side of things, I was confident in my athleticism and my “toughness” (it is a Tough Mudder, after all isn’t it?) and was determined to complete the race. Fast forward to Monday – two days post race and I am still aching and groaning every time I go up or down the stairs. I want to get back into my fitness routine, but want to avoid injury and focus on my recovery more than I did my training, so that I am better prepared for my next race, whether it be a half marathon or a 10k. So, I turned to Lena Rakijian, The HB’s own Registered Dietician for some guidance during the recovery process. So Lena, What are the most important parts of post-race recovery?

  1. Hydration
  2. Recovery nutrition
  3. Active rest

What is the best way to refuel the body after a long race? Water and/or electrolyte enhanced beverage, complex carbohydrate + Lean High Biologic Value Protein Is it OK to down that victory beer? You just CRUSHED a race. Obviously, celebrating is a wonderful light at the end of the tunnel after IMG_3341pounding 13.2 miles of pavement. Before racing to the beer tent after crossing the finish line, it is important to hydrate with water or an electrolyte beverage to replenish fluids lost during the race.  As an athlete, it is important to understand your body’s hydration needs pre-, during, and post exercise. One hour prior to your race, drink about 16 ounces of water, during the race rehydrate every 15-20 minute intervals to minimize loss of water. To know exactly how much fluid you will need, use the hydration protocol formula below. Here is an example to guide you through it to reach your hydration goals!  Hydration Protocol Example: (1 kg = 2.2. lbs) An athlete exercises for 2 hours. His weight before exercise is 80.5 kg and his weight after exercise is 77 kg. He consumes 500 mL of fluid during exercise and urinates 200 mL of fluid before post exercise weighing.

  • Sweat loss: 80 kg – 77.5 kg = 2.5 kg = 2,500 g + 500 mL – 200 mL = 2,800 mL/2 hr
  • Sweat rate: 2800 mL/120 min = 23.3 mL/min x 60 min/hr = 1,400 mL/hr
  • Fluid replacement schedule (60 min = 6 intervals of 10 min): 1400 mL/6 intervals = 233 mL/10 min

To replace sweat losses during exercise, this athlete would be advised to consume ~235 mL of fluid every 10 minutes during his 2-hour training. This is equivalent to about ~1 cup of water every 10 minutes. After the race, once you’ve hydrated, stretched, and had something to eat to refuel the body – you can reach for that celebratory beer if you choose; however, it is important to note that alcohol inhibits the muscles ability to synthesize protein. Thus, it will delay muscle recovery and you may be feeling sore for longer. So it really is up to you whether the benefit outweighs the cost. Although I agree a cold microbrew sounds tempting after a long race, from a nutrition and sport performance standpoint there is no benefit. But hey, sometimes you just gotta live a little 😉  Recovery means rest which means lie in my bed for 2 days straight, right? …right? Wrong. Recovery starts the minute you finish the race and continues for about 2-3 days after. Right after you cross the finish line with your hands up in the air and the crowd cheering you on, the best thing you can do is KEEP MOVING. Do a light jog or walk up and down the corral after the finish line to give your legs time to cool down to prevent cramping. Continue walking off those legs until you find a source of hydration! Water is great or you could go for something like coconut water or a sports drink to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. After you’ve cooled down and rehydrated with fluids, get a good stretch in! Stretch the quads, gluteals, hamstrings, calves, and shoulders and focus on a minimum stretch of 30 seconds per muscle group. Within one hour of the race, EAT SOMETHING. Ideally, fuel within 45 minutes to actively recover the muscle. Muscles need carbohydrate and protein together for reloading muscle glycogen, your muscles’ stored form of energy, and optimal tissue repair and muscle recovery. Most races will have foods for you at the finish line. Grab carbohydrate and protein sources, like sports bars, protein shakes, bananas, or bagels. A protein sports bar coupled with a banana or a protein shake combined with a bagel would be excellent recovery food combos as they contain carbohydrates and protein to fuel up.  One or two days after the race, continue hydrating throughout the day and definitely continue stretching. Stretching is so important to help alleviate muscle soreness and lengthen muscle fibers that will likely be tight following a race. Your muscles will need time to recover. A phenomenon known as “DOMS” stands for “delayed onset of muscle soreness”. After your race, it may take 48-72 hours before you feel relief from sore muscles.  With hydration and stretching this process will move right along. Foam rolling provides self myofascial release, essentially acting as a massage to your muscles.  I highly recommend foam rolling major muscle groups in the lower extremities, like gluteals, hamstrings, quads, and IT band for at least 10 minutes every day for 3 days following the race. As a runner, foam rolling should be built into your training. Another excellent recovery technique, is through massage. A sports massage a few days after your race for a deeper release would work wonders. Now that race day is over and I’ve completely crushed my goals, how do you recommend I ease back into my nutrition plan? ..cause I’m not gonna lie, I definitely ate my weight in pizza, pasta, and any carb I could get my hands on post-race. Fueling up post race is encouraged! Your body needs the recovery fuel. Enjoy and celebrate on race day! You earned it! After a race, the key things to remember are moderation, balance, and variety. Eat real foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, heart healthy plant based oils and fats, like olive oil and avocados, lean sources of protein like chicken, fish, tofu, eggs and low-fat dairy/cheeses. Limit processed foods high in added sugar, fat, and salt which slow down our metabolism. Instead, aim to eat whole sources of foods. At the end of the day, all foods can fit into a healthy and balanced diet. Restricting food groups and/or foods from your diet, will only leave you craving more. It’s okay to enjoy a piece of chocolate or a scoop of your favorite ice cream. Just be mindful of your portion sizes and practice moderation of these indulgence foods. Eating a plant based diet coupled with lean protein and heart healthy fats will optimally fuel your body for not only a race, but for LIFE!  Is cross-training an important part of the recovery process? Cross-training is not only an important part of recovery, but it is excellent training for your next race. Functional and balance training is essential for runners to strengthen the musculature supporting the joints which take significant impact during training. So often, runners undergo injury during marathon training due to lack of conditioning, cross-training, and stretching. Cross-training and stretching should be built into your training plan to prevent injury. Not only will it prevent injury before your race, it will also increase your level of performance on race day. Interval training, like in an indoor cycling class at The Handle Bar combines speed work at varying resistance levels to increase cardiovascular fitness and improve your VO2 max, otherwise known as your maximal rate of oxygen consumption during incremental exercise. Maximal oxygen consumption reflects your aerobic physical fitness level and is an important determinant of endurance capacity during prolonged exercise. Yoga, pilates, and strength training, are other examples of cross-training techniques that can fit into a marathon training program to enhance performance and prevent injury.  Well, HBer’s, there you have it! Turns out, recovery is as important, if not more important than proper training. Cause what’s the point of running a race if you set yourself up for harm or injury afterwards? So I’m not totally in the dog house – as long as I take Lena’s recommendations to heart. So, keep up your training and make sure you focus on your post-race recovery just as much as you did your training. 

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 5.48.01 PMLena Rakijian, Master Instructor at The Handle Bar, is a Registered Dietician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. If you have any questions about the information provided above, please do not hesitate to reach out at her next class. See you in the saddle!

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