Rest and recovery tends to be an underrated and unappreciated aspect of training. Everyone talks about his or her super long long run or really hard workout. People talk about the glorious parts of running, but not about stuff like recovery runs, foam rolling, nutrition, days off or sleep.
The basic science behind improving your fitness level is by performing strenuous physical activity, you stress your body by breaking it down. This stress is unknown to the body, thus to accommodate this new stress the body rebuilds back stronger than before. So if you do not allow proper recovery time, then no adaption can be made which basically neglects all the hard work you just put in.
To bounce back stronger and faster after a really hard session, rest and recovery needs to be a priority. There are many types of recovery like immediate, day-to-day, or training cycle to training cycle.
Immediately following a run, the recovery process begins. There are many things you can do to begin the process. Performing a proper cool down by either jogging slowly or walking will allow the heart rate to come back down and flush out metabolic waste that accumulates after a hard effort. Once the heart rate has come down, foam rolling and stretching are also a great way to flush out the toxins. Nutrition can also jumpstart recovery because your body is in a depleted state and craving nutrients. Your body needs to be rehydrated and restocked of glycogen. Many nutritionists recommend ingesting 200-300 calories that contain a 3-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Chocolate milk, energy bars, or refueling drinks provide the optimal ratio to jumpstart recovery.
Day-to-day runners can help their body recovery more efficiently and effectively. The most underrated recovery tool is sleep. While sleeping, the biggest gains in recovery are made because the body releases human growth hormones which builds and repairs muscle tissue. To ensure you stay healthy and recover faster, you need to allow optimal amount of time to sleep (7-9 hours). Professional runners sleep on average from 10 to 12 hours a night to allow proper recovery. Professional runners also receive massages once or twice every week. While most people can’t get massages multiple times per week, foam rolling is the next best thing. Foam rolling helps push the metabolic waste and promotes circulation which offers the same benefits of a massage. Maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated will also keep your metabolism revving and continue to help the body recover quicker.
After a large training block with a peak race, a long period of rest is needed to allow the body to get back to “normal.” Most coaches recommend taking at least two weeks of zero running followed by two more weeks of light running or exercise. This does not mean sit around every day and do nothing, but break the cycle of running and do other activities that allow for recovery like hiking, walks, or biking. This is active recovery that gives both the mind and body a break from running. Once you are fully recovered from that training block after a couple weeks, begin to build back up slowly and find that next big goal to hit!
Don’t be afraid to rest and recover. Impress your running buddies tomorrow by bragging about how much sleep you got last night instead of mentioning the killer hill repeats you did.