If you’re an athlete, you know how races can deplete you. You give it your all, run a good race but you end up physically and mentally exhausted. If you’re an endurance runner, cyclist or CrossFit athlete, it’s always a race to recovery. How do you nurture your body to ensure a quick and effective route back into training?
What happens when you push your body?
Any exercise that goes beyond what you are used to will take your body and mind to maximum effort. Your effort is sustained. Your endurance, strength and cardiovascular fitness is challenged and you’re taking yourself to the brink of your ability.
This is a physical and mental stress. Exercise, when done correctly, is beneficial for our mind and body. It can improve energy levels, body composition and reduce our risk of illness. On the other hand, we need to be aware of overtraining. When you overtrain, you could cause problems such as hypothyroidism, due to the body’s stress response. Where is the great middle ground? If you’re looking for exercise guidelines, speak to your physiotherapist or biokineticist. Here, we’re talking about ensuring a speedy recovery and reducing your risk of injury.
Steps to Recovery
As a rule of thumb, you burn 100 calories for every 10 minutes of moderate to intense exercise. Add this to your usual calorie requirements, and you’ll find you probably need to eat a lot more than you normally do. This is a time to listen to your body and eat liberally, and healthily. A whole food, nutrient dense diet will help your body to recover. Eat a variety of foods foods such as avo, fatty fish, sweet potatoes, bananas, eggs etc.
I’ve also found that a secret recovery drink helps hugely. I first learnt about it in 2017, at a trail running workshop with Ryan Sandes: Bone Broth. Our modern diets focuses on clean cuts of meat; mostly protein. We prize fillets, sirloin and leaner meats. Without realizing it, we’ve cut out nutrient-dense parts of the animal when we don’t eat nose-to-tail like our ancestors did. There are many benefits to it, and for athletes these are important. Our muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments are recovering. We want the abundance of amino acids and minerals found in bones. Check out my recipe here.
If you think you’re nutrient deficient, it might be impacting your performance. Often just eating nutrient-dense food is not enough to replenish our mineral and nutrient storages. If you’re experiencing fatigue, muscle cramps and headaches, you might be deficient in magnesium. Think about seeing a dietician to investigate this. An easy remedy is to soak in an Epsom Salts bath after heavy exertion: a cup of magnesium-rich Epsom Salts in the bath helps to restore magnesium in the body. Magnesium is absorbed well through the skin.
Move, but Slowly
The next day after your race, take it easy on your body. It’s best to be intentional with your movement. Take 30 minutes to do a yoga class. I love Yoga with Adriene on youtube and here is my favourite yoga for runners sequence she has put together. Your body will enjoy the poses. The focus is on stretching your running muscles; specifically the ones that are repetitively in a shortened position on a run. For example, your hip flexors. If this is too intense, or if you’re new to yoga, try another one of hers. Alternatively, go to a yoga class. They’re social and create a relaxing space.
Two days after your intense race or sporting event, go for a short, slow jog. It should be at a conversational pace, for about 30 minutes. This will help to relieve sore muscles, increase circulation and help your body process waste products. You’ll feel a bit sore initially, but after a quick warm-up you’ll easily get into it.
To help with muscle recovery, consider doing a foam rolling session and/ or seeing your local physiotherapist. They will often have a special rate for a 30 minute sports massage and it can do a world of good getting you back onto your training schedule.
Get Good Sleep
Your body will be tired after a race. Listen to it and sleep. Even if it’s a10am nap, or a 4pm nap. Resist that second cup of coffee and get some shut-eye. Make sure you’re getting your 7-9 hours of sleep a night, for a few days before and after your race. Studies that found that deep sleep helps improve athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning.
Give Yourself A Mental Break
If you’re anything like me, racing takes it out of you, mentally. The night before the race I’m a bundle of nerves and I end up waking up numerous times before my alarm, asking myself, “Is it time!?” This last race I even had nightmares that I was actually running the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon, was running late to get to the start and, worst of all, I couldn’t find a key to the locked bathroom! I woke up in a panic.
Racing is mentally stressful. After your race, give yourself some credit. Pat yourself on the back, and know that it only gets easier. Pre-race jitters can be helpful in preparing your body for peak performance, but you need to keep it under control. Before the race, take some time to acknowledge your feelings, be okay with them and think about how exciting and fun the actual race will be. Perhaps do a relaxing meditation at bedtime before the race. Challenging yourself allows you to overcome physical and mental mountains. Once you’ve conquered one, the ones to follow will be a walk in the park!
Thanks for this great post Lauren. I’m wondering about glycogen in the muscles being depleted after a race. Is that still a thing? Is it important to be fat adapted so as not to worry about that? Or does one still need to carboload for that glycogen?
Hi there Shelley, thanks for your comment!
It is still very important, mainly if you’re doing a marathon, iron man or ultra. During a race, your muscle stores of glycogen will be used up as fuel. It’s important to eat real, whole foods during your race to replenish them.
You’re right that it’s important to be fat adapted. Any long race, you want to be able to switch easily from burning glycogen to burning fat. It ensures efficient energy usage. In a long race, you’ll be taking less risks and will be more efficient by using both sources of energy. This is especially true if you have not been following a keto, very low carb diet for 4 weeks – the time it takes for you to become fully fat adapted.
Carboloading for me is eating roast sweet potatoes the night before! Along with a healthy, balanced meal.
Great advise! Your blog posts are super educational. Really been enjoying these.
I have a question: for someone who is mainly eating vegatarian/ plant based (and eats fish once a month) what would you recommend in place of bone broth?
Hi Liz, thanks for your comment! It’s a great question – I know quite a few people who are vegetarian.
You can eat a nutritious vegetarian diet if you’re mindful of eating a range of foods and possibly supplementing with what you can’t get.
Bone broth is another story. It contains gelatin, found in collagen. It’s great for hair, skin, nails and helps to heal your gut, protect your joints and helps you sleep better. Unfortunately, it’s only found in animal products. Some vegetarians use hydrolysed collagen powder – it’s derived from bone and has a very neutral taste. Maybe consider using that?
I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog! Let me know if you’d like to chat further and get maybe get resources about paleo vegetarian diets:)