Five Steps for Recovery: Post Training . . . and Post Race

By Paula Burchat, BA, RMT, SMT(C)

With many runners taking on the most intense part of their training plans for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, it’s important to be thinking about recovery, both to increase performance and to prevent injury.

Many people think of training as simply going out and doing their sport, but an important aspect of training is recovery. Recovery is the downtime your body needs to adapt to the training stimulus; and it’s a process that, like training, must be learned and repeated so that your body understands what it is you are doing.

Recovery has the following components, which I’ve listed here in their order of importance, according to the peer-reviewed literature:

1. Sleep

Sleep is the number one way to recover from hard effort. We all know that lack of sleep leads to reduced performance. However, research shows that even for athletes getting proper sleep and achieving good performances, more sleep rather than more training is sometimes the key to more improvement.

2. Hydration

Hydration is one of my pet topics and my clients have gotten used to me asking them how much they are hydrating. Breaking down the numbers is often more effective than saying “you should drink more,” so here is a daily fluid intake equation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that I find useful:

  • 0.3 x weight in lbs = oz of daily fluid (8oz = 250ml)
  • E.g. 0.3 x 150lbs = 50oz or ~1.5 litres

Another rule of thumb is that you need to drink 250ml for every 20 minutes of running or 750ml/hour. In very hot weather, this goes up to 1 litre/hour. And for activities lasting over 1 hour, your hydration plan should also include electrolyte drinks.

3. Nutrition

Nutrition and diet vary from person to person, but no matter how active you are, eating normal food is the best way to get in your carbs, protein, fat and nutrients. Specially designed products are not necessary. Generally speaking you have a 4-hour window after your workout to refuel your muscle and liver glycogen stores. This is particularly important after hard and long workouts.

4. Self care

Self-care, or maintenance of your body, takes some work, but it’s worth the effort. A few simple maintenance activities include:

  • Active recovery: using another activity to move your muscles in a different way, such as easy bike ride after a hard run.
  • Hydrotherapy: for example, a cool bath for 5-10 minutes after a hard effort. A cool bath of ~15-20 degrees below body temperature (98.7F) is sufficient.
  • Dynamic movement: or warming up your muscles before a hard effort or cool them down following a workout, such as legs swings for about 30 seconds in each direction.
  • Static stretching: the more readily known form of stretching where you hold your leg in a position of stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times. Always make sure you are well warmed up before doing static stretching.

5. Therapy

Finally, therapy, such as massage therapy or ART, provides a great many recovery benefits, but most people can’t afford a daily or weekly treatment. Periodic treatment, however, especially when used in conjunction with other forms of recovery, will help you improve your performance, avoid injury and speed recovery.

So, if you’re working on training hard, you should also be working on recovering well, which means sleep, hydration, nutrition, self-care and therapy—all things you’ll also want to practice to recover after race day.

Paula Burchat is a Registered Massage Therapist and Certified Sports Massage Therapist at Balance and Motion Massage Therapy in Ottawa. Paula works with athletes of all levels, from recreational to elite runners, and recently travelled to the 2013 Cross-Country World Championships as part of Athletics Canada’s Health Care Team. Paula is also an avid runner and has completed over 30 ultra-marathons including competing for Canada at the World Championships for 100k in 2007 and 2008. She won the Canadian 100K Championships in 2003 and Haliburton 100 Miler in 2006. She is also a Level 2 trained distance running coach.