Why and How to Recover From a Long Run

Through most of my marathon career, I have been very careless about proper recovery after long training runs and races. In fact, back in my Boston days, we finished our long runs at a pub in Boston and rehydrated with beer. The closer I creep towards my fifties, however, I’m willing to seek anything to make me feel better! And though I used to view recovery or nutrition beverages with a sarcastic marketer’s eye, I’ve now become a believer. While training for the Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon, I religiously drank recovery beverages after long training runs, and tried to eat something within the hour – usually a mix of carbs and protein. My energy level after these runs has been noticeably higher. And in all cases except race day, I was less sore as well. But I am getting ahead of myself.

What does recovery mean? There’s more to recovery than a drink, that’s for certain. Your body needs adequate rest to stay healthy, avoid injuries and maintain energy to carry forward with a training schedule. Proper rest and cross-training between high-stress workouts are good ways to ensure your energy level remains high and body parts function optimally. During your training program, if you’re feeling unusually tired, check your pulse for 60 seconds before getting out of bed in the mornings. If it’s 20 percent higher than normal, you should take a day off. Adequate sleep is another important non-nutritional aspect of recovery. Especially if you are training rigorously, you will likely need more sleep than you might normally get on average. Your body needs this sleep to process glucose and produce energy.

Recovery Meals There’s no replacement for good, old fashioned food after an intense workout – and specifically, a mix of carbohydrates, protein and sodium. Carbs refuel your energy, protein helps repair and protect sore muscles and sodium helps to replace salt and retain water lost from sweating. And sadly, carbs shouldn’t come in the form of beer! This post on Compeitor.com includes staff favorites, if you need a few new ideas on what to eat. And as gold medalist Mark Plaatjes suggests, “It’s important to get something in your system as soon as you stop running. There’s a 15-minute window when the body absorbs maximally, when it’s storing more glycogen in the muscles.”

Recovery Drinks Nutrition or training beverages help re-build glycogen stores and repairing damaged muscle fibers. They are convenient, work fast and are ideal for folks like me who have no appetite after a long, intense workout. According to Road Runner Sports, if you eat a proper meal within an hour of exercise, a recovery beverage may be overkill. Not to mention that  runs less than 60 minutes generally do not result in any sort of nutritional depletion; thus, nutrition beverages aren’t necessary. Unlike sports drinks which are comprised of carbohydrates, electrolytes and lots of water, nutrition beverages are made of protein and carbohydrates, plus fat and other extras including vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, amino acids and herbs. Nutrition beverages are not meant to be consumed during exercise because they are too difficult to digest and absorb. The two recovery beverages with which I have experimented are Hammer Recoverite and GU Brew Recovery Drink. In his book, Recovery Nutrition for Runners, Matt Fitzgerald recommends a number of brands, including Countdown, Endurox R4 and Ultragen. Runner’s World also evaluates and recommends a variety of recovery supplements.

Warning: I think these beverages taste terrible, but that’s a small price to pay for something that works. Unless, of course, you want to try good, old-fashioned chocolate milk.

Got chocolate milk? Chocolate milk has gotten a lot of hype lately for being ideal post-workout beverage. A recent study at the University of Texas did, in fact, show that participants showed improved performance by drinking chocolate milk immediately after completing a rigorous 3-hour workout, when compared to a carb-only beverage or nothing at all. Chocolate milk is advantageous to consume because it has a great carb to protein ratio. Soy milk and regular cow’s milk, on the other hand, are not as effective because they lack the carbs found in chocolate milk.

Melinda Hinson