It is June now and spring racing season is over. Most people have a race or two under their belt and everyone targeting summer and fall races are well into their training. It seems like it is an appropriate time to talk about recovery.
As runners (or cyclists, or triatheletes, or whatever sport you choose) we all know how to train hard and we know how to break down our bodies to get stronger and faster. We also hear a lot about the importance of recovery after we do that. But the thing is, I don’t think everyone puts a much work into recovery as they do into training. And you know what? Recovery is often more important (and more difficult) than training.
We expect our bodies to put up with a lot of stress. We are stressing our cardiovascular system to get more lung capacity, we are stressing our muscular skeletal system so we can stay on our feet longer and go further. We are stressing our nervous system, it raises your cortisol levels and stimulates the “fight or flight” response. And while we are doing this we are also still going to work, raising a family and dealing with all the every day ‘normal’ stressors we have in out lives. Let’s call these last ones mental stressors.
Well you know what? Our bodies can only handle so much stress. We all know that, but we also put so much importance on training hard and performing at our best be it at work, in sport, or with our families, we don’t make time to recover.
What do I mean by recovery?
- sleeping enough
- nourishing your body properly so it has the right amount of vitamins, minerals and building blocks to replenish its self
- giving your legs the time they need to bounce back after that long run (not too much time mind you, just enough) so you are ready for your interval workout 4 days later
- recovery runs, and taking them seriously and at a recovery run pace.
Do you know how many athletes say they are out on a recovery run, but in reality they not even close to recovery pace? The answer is most. A recovery run not done correctly just causes your body more stress and damage. This may be a whole separate blog topic. Recover like you mean it. It’s important!
What Does Over Training Look Like?
Over training can cause you to have some funny reactions. The easiest one to identify is the dreaded injury, the sore knee, oblique or foot. They kind of smack you in the face with your body saying “hey buddy, what were you thinking, that’s just too much for me!”. But there often lots of signs that happen before you get to that point that we just don’t hear (or see) and listen to.
Do you need a nap after your long run? Think that is normal and it happens to everyone? Well think again. You can go run that 28k at XXXX pace, and come home have a good meal and mow the lawn and play soccer with your kids. If you can’t there is a good chance you just aren’t feeding yourself enough food, or maybe the right food. If you give your body the appropriate amount of whole, real food, you will be able to go through your days without having a 3pm slump or bonking after your big training efforts. That might be a whole different blog topic though.
Digging a little deeper into some signs, stay with me, here and be warned, this is going to get personal.
Do you ever have a moment of anxiety over something, like blow it right out of proportion. Like say when your spouse leaves their dirty running socks in the middle of the kitchen floor (I know, who does this) for the umpteenth time. And it causes you to go into a blind rage and throw all their socks and shoes into the yard. Then you pick them up 20 minutes later when you realize that was a bit of an extreme reaction and are embarrassed and don’t want them to see what happened).
If you don’t’ relate to that one, how about you are at work and someone throws you a curve ball for the project you have a tight deadline on. And your reaction is frustration, anger, and throw some panic in there for good measure. You waste quite a bit of time on this reaction, when really you should just be acknowledging it, processing and moving on and getting to the task at hand, but you just can’t….. its caused you some disruption and you are just going to give it too much time and spiral a bit.
Now getting even more personal, how is your digestion? By that I mean, do you get an upset stomach, gas, bloating, or interesting bowel movements? I’ll leave that there without going into more detail. But I do want to remind you that your body can’t digest food when it is in ‘flight or flight mode’. We can dig into this further at a later time.
Let me tell you a secret, these symptoms are all a product of stress. Your body doesn’t know the difference between physical stress and mental stress, and its reactions to physical stress might be mental, and its reactions to mental stress might be physical.
I’ve asked around, and here are some key things runners say they do to recover:
- Eat after your workout (the all important within 15 minute rule)
- Drink beer (carbs and electrolytes and pain killer)
- Foam rolling
- Ice baths
- “Protein” shakes
- Active recovery, slow running, walking, ect.
- Epsom salt baths
- Volteran or ibuprofen
- Compression gear
Anything you can think of I missed? Everyone has his or her own rituals and beliefs when it comes to recovery after a hard workout. I’m not here to say any of these strategies are no good, they all certainly are and I do a lot of them. However I would like to unpack the how and why behind some of them, and add a few more you may not have thought about.
Baths with Epsom salts are generally said to be detoxifying and soaking in the epsom salts allows your body to absorb magnesium.
Did you know that you need to add 4 cups of Epsom salts to your bath to realize these therapeutic benefits? That is a lot of salt.
Magnesium is a very important mineral for athletes, and we often just can’t get enough of it in our diet. If you are training at high mileage and high intensity you might want to think about taking a magnesium supplement instead of those salt baths. Magnesium is so important for muscle recovery, and it help’s you sleep!
Now to address the detoxifying benefits of that salt bath.
There are a couple of bath salts that we use on the regular, dead sea salt and celtic salt. The dead sea salt is soooo relaxing, its wonderful for relaxing your muscled and your mind. The keltic sea salt is the most detoxifying of the salts and works effectively on your muscles. You can use either or, or mix them together depending on what you are looking for in your bath.
When using these salts, you can use about 2 tbsp per bath and see the same detoxifying benefits as that large amount of Epsom salts.
We also add to that 2 tbsp of dead sea salts 2 drops each of lavender and grapefruit essential oil. Put the oil in the salt and stir until its dissolved before adding to the bath. Grapefruit is an amazing liver detoxifier, and lavender is going to help de-stress and does some work on reducing inflammation. I find this combination is best used 3-4 days after a hard race effort, or the day after your toughest training effort of the week. Part of training is teaching your body to heal from these efforts so you have to give you muscles some time to heal after the breakdown they endured. Salt baths can be a gentle way to support that healing when used at the right time.
Notes on Essential oil Safeties
Since I have not written about essential oils here before I need to add a few notes about how to use them. Essential oils are strong plant medicine, and should be use sparingly and with respect. Here are some rules to follow when using essential oils:
- Do not apply oils neat to the skin, they should always be diluted.
- Do not add oils directly to the bath water, they are not water soluble. Always dissolve them in salt, or add them to oil before adding into the bath water, otherwise they will just float on top fo the water and come into direct contact with your skin (see safety #1 listed above…)
- Use between 3 and 5 drops of oil in your bath. Remember more is not always better. Essential oils are a concentrated form of the plants volatile oils. When using them remember that one drop of peppermint oil has the same amount of volatile oils as approximately 1000 cups of peppermint tea.
- Not all oils are suitable for everyone. If you are choosing to use essential oils make yourself aware of the safeties of the oils you are using to avoid any side effects. If you purchase your oils from a reputable company they will come with an information sheet telling you what the oil is effective for and what safeties you need to be aware of before using it.
- Some essential oils are phototoxic and can cause irritation, inflammation, blistering, redness and/or burning when exposed to UVA rays. Grapefruit (and all oils expressed from citrus peels) is one of these oils. So be mindful when you have your grapefruit bath you should do it at a time when you will not be in the direct sun for 24 hours.
- Store your oils out of reach of children and pets, and consult with a qualified aromatherapies before using oils on children and pets.
- Do not take oils internally.
Another trick we use at New Leaf Endurance is tea. Herbal teas are both calming and can be very beneficial to your recovery and overall wellbeing. Our current favorite is a blend with Tulsi and Lemon Balm that we have in the evenings. Lemon Balm has a bit of a sedative effect so it will help you fall asleep, and the Tulsi is a great adaptogen and will help regulate your cortisol levels. Another great benefit and why we add Tulsi is that is helps your body assimilate oxygen, which in turn helps you increase your endurance. This one is a win win, calms you down and helps boost your training.
Breathing & Meditation
Breathing exercises, meditation. Deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system chiefly controls various involuntary organs and blood vessels and generally decreases the activity. It lowers your heart rate and calms your body systems.
We have all herd the expression take a deep breath and count to ten, well this is where that comes from.
If you haven’t already read Coach Rick’s post on meditation, jump on over there and have a read.
What do you do for recovery?
The above tips are a few of our recovery strategies. I would live to hear what you do for recovery. And if you have any questions about what we do reach out and ask.