Q & A: Speedy Recovery Tricks

Q. I’m pooped after my long run! Should I take the next day off from working out and lounge around all day?

A. I’d advise against that. It’s counterintuitive, but you’ll actually recover faster from a brutal workout if you do a short, easy workout the next day. Remember the Shake Out Recovery Run? This is the time to do it. You might be a little sore when you start, but by gently moving your body and increasing the blood flow to your muscles, you are providing your muscles with the nutrients they need to rebuild and recover. Take the day after that off to rest and recoup. Maybe you use that easy run to catch up with a friend who’s a little slower or enjoy the scenery. Whatever you do, take it easy but get up and move!

Q. All I want after a hard workout is get into a hot shower and stay there. For hours. That’s cool, right?

A. You know what’s better? Suffering for juuuuuust a few more minutes (10-15, to be exact) in an ice bath and then sit in your hot, steamy shower for as long as your little heart desires. The thing about the ice bath is that it gets your body to chill out and not swell up. When you’re out there running for a while or killing it during a really tough run, your blood is a-pumpin’ and your body’s fluids are moving at a faster rate than normal. When you stop, your body takes a while to slow back down and you can build up fluid (edema) in your extremities (legs!!) which is seriously uncomfortable and hinders your recovery. Ice bath first, hot shower second.

Q. I don’t really need to stretch after a long run, right?

A. Wrong. Right after a run is when your muscles are the most warm and your joints are the most lubricated. Prime stretch time. As you get older (ahem, I am not old, just old-er), these problems become more apparent. You youngsters probably don’t feel creaky just yet, but wait a few years. You will. In order to promote muscular recovery and prevent injury YOU MUST STRETCH AFTER YOU RUN. Seriously, I just watched Spirit of the Marathon, a documentary film that follows various athletes through their marathon training leading up to the 2005 Chicago Marathon. Deena Kastor won that marathon and in the film she talks about the importance of stretching after a run. So much so that, despite her confessed “laziness”, she has her husband stretch her because she knows how crucial that component of training really is. Treat it like your workout: make the time for stretching.

Now go out and run!

Post-Long Run Recovery

Runners talk a lot about running long runs and races and all that jazz, but I hear very little about what happens after you stop running. Most professional athletes are taught to respect the recovery as much as the run, and so should you! Recovery is where the growth takes place and without growth there will be no progress.

If I’m honest, the first thing I do after a long run is go to the corner store next to our apartment and get drinks and whatever food sounds good. Sometimes it’s watermelon, sometimes it’s pita chips. Because I sweat more than the average bear (it’s true: in yoga class the other day I was the only girl who looked like it was raining down on her; true story), I tend to crave salty items pretty much immediately. I don’t judge after a long run. And also, the Diet Lemonade Ice Tea from Snapple has been calling my name recently.

The perfect lunch. I had a sandwich, too, but it didn't make it to the photo shoot...

Most people jump into the shower first. Not me. Reason? Well, I am sensitive to dips in my blood sugar and once my body realizes I’ve stopped running and my sympathetic nervous system chills out, my parasympathetic nervous system takes over and the first thing it does is totally freak out because I haven’t eaten in a very long time. How do I know this? Oh, I do this very lovely little thing where I get very dizzy and nauseous and it usually ends with my gorgeous husband shoving some carbohydrates down my throat so that I don’t pass out. Very sexy indeed. So, I’ve learned my lesson. Food first.

The very simplest rule of thumb for post-endurance activities is eat whatever you can tolerate first, since your stomach is probably not the most inviting place on Earth. Second, eat protein within about a half an hour to get those amino acids flowing to your muscles for rebuilding. You see, in order to achieve optimal (and speedy) recovery time, your body needs protein right away. Not so appealing, I know, but very necessary.

I’ve recently found that because the temperatures are so high at the end of my long runs, I am desperate for a slushy immediately after I stop. I mean within seconds. So, I’ve tried a slightly (I mean, ever so slightly) healthier version in navigating the end of my runs so that I am nearby a Jamba Juice. You health nuttys out there are going to tell me there’s sugar in those drinks. I know. That’s what I’m going for! I need a little pop of sugar and something that easily digests in my stomach to boost my blood sugar levels and get me home. It helps that it’s sweet and cold, too!

Mmmmm...Mango-a-Go-Go!

I keep hard-boiled eggs in my fridge and having been loving egg salad (2 eggs, please) on a piece of whole grain bread lately. It’s a perfect combination of basic carbohydrates and pure protein to fuel my post-long run body. Along with Cedar’s amazing Fresh Bruschetta with Stacy’s Simply Salt pita chips and some cantaloupe, I have covered all my basics. Now onto the shower.

Oh, wait. No. Cold water bath first. I know, so totally not appealing at all, but necessary to prevent excess inflammation, edema and speeding recovery of those beat-up muscles. I do a cold water bath instead of an ice bath because, well, my freezer is small and I have very little ice in there. Whatever. Cold water bath is better than nothing. I save the ice water baths (with ice!) for post-marathons. I know to some (ahem, JB) it may seem grotesque to not shower immediately upon arriving home after a very sweaty, very hot long run, but I know my body and my body needs food first.

Bottom line, you need food after your run. Sorry if you’re one of those sour stomach people after you work out, but you reeeeeally should consider eating anything you can scarf down. It’ll help your recovery and keep you from getting the dizzies later. Protein, carbs and some fruits and veggies if you can! Get it all in there! Rehydrate all day long, not just immediately after, to make sure you aren’t depleting your body further of its most precious reserve. Well, most precious aside from oxygen, I suppose. I digress. Ice bath if you can take it, cold water bath if you can’t (or if you have no ice). Trust me. 15 minutes. It helps.

After that, feel free to take a little snooze! I tend to curl up on the couch next to JB and fall dead asleep if it’s more than 12 miles. But, the most important thing is to be sure to get up at some point in the day and take a little walk. Muscles soreness can be more severe if the blood supply to them is low, ie. you are a couch potato all day. So, grab your dog or your friend and take a stroll. I like to head uptown to 16 Handles, which is about two miles from our apartment, but that’s just me. I love a reward!

Whatever you do, listen to your body and treat it with love and respect. After all, it just took you on a long run. The least you can do is listen now!

Now go out and run! Or, if you already ran, take a walk 😉