It is important to understand proper recovery techniques to ensure long and injury-free running. There are a number of recovery techniques; let’s look at them and examine the science behind each.
Sleep and relaxation
Adequate sleep is crucial for recovery and the only way to destroy the nagging symptoms of fatigue. A study of distance runners has shown that one night of sleep deprivation can reduce energy exertion by 8 percent. Deprivation also upsets sleep cycles and can lead to a reduction in hormone production including melatonin, growth hormone, testosterone, and estrogen – essentials for general health and adaptation to training. It is recommended that runners get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. This is especially important for those working fulltime and fitting training around their work schedule.
Nutrition and hydration
After an endurance run, glycogen stores are significantly depleted and runners need to consume carbohydrates to rebuild stores. With adequate carbohydrate intake, glycogen stores can be restored within 24 hours. However, for those training multiple times a day, stores can be rebuilt more efficiently by ensuring carbohydrates are consumed immediately after a running session. It recommended that large amounts of carbohydrates (1.2g/kg/hour) are consumed at regular intervals up to five hours after exercise to optimize glycogen stores. Dehydration leads to impaired performance and therefore rehydrating after training is essential for recovery. It is important to hydrate before each session, during the session and aggressively after exercise. But hydration involves more than replacing lost fluid: electrolytes also need to be replaced. Sports drinks (containing salt and sugar) provide a more complete form of hydration than water. They restore beneficial salts, while the sugar assists the body to maximize water absorption.
Cold water therapy
Cold water therapy is immersion in cold water and reduces muscle inflammation, limiting pain, and reversing muscle damage. It has been demonstrated that immediate cold water immersion after intense exercise (14 minutes at 15°C) can help to maintain performance for five days. Another group demonstrated that 5 x 1-minute water immersion at 10°C eased leg pain and reduced fatigue. The most effective water immersion technique is not clearly defined, but research suggests somewhere between 5-15 minutes at a water temperature between 10-15°C. However, note that cold water immersion below recommended temperatures or for excessive periods may be harmful.
Massage, stretching, foam rolling
Massage: Scientific evidence to support massage as a recovery technique is limited, but anecdotal evidence is plenty – with numerous personal accounts of massage playing a vital role in the recovery process. Deep tissue massage may be beneficial to some extent.
Stretching: Stretching is a useful recovery technique and can be undertaken before, after, or in the absence of exercise to improve muscle motion and the functioning of joints. Improved hip flexibility, muscle balance, and pelvic symmetry are linked to neuromuscular balance and coordinated muscle contraction – which elicits a lower oxygen cost at sub-maximal workloads. Aside from the injury prevention benefits, a certain amount of flexibility is also required for optimal stride length at high running speeds. Dynamic stretching, running drills, and plyometric exercises in addition to static stretching after a proper warm-up are recommended.
Foam rolling: Foam Rolling is a myofascial technique that is gaining popularity for a good reason- it can soften, stretch and re-align muscles in problem areas in order to relieve tension, promote recovery and prepare the body for additional training. This is a useful technique for all runners to have in their tool kit for long and happy running.
This article has summarised some of the popular recovery methods that can be used by runners to reduce fatigue and prevent injury. Runners should follow a well-structured training schedule that includes adequate recovery runs.
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