As runners we’re always looking for ways to improve. Your training needs to improve in order to achieve faster times whilst racing. But how can you improve your training?
Fatigue naturally restricts our training, so over the past few years I’ve really focused on recovering as fast as possible. Doing what it takes to get my body into a place where it’s ready to train at ultimate performance. There’s a fine line between reaching your peak performance and over-training. It’s also impossible to run to your full potential unless you’re fully recovered, feeling fresh and raring to go.
Here are some of my best recovery tips that have helped me improve my times astronomically.
1. Protein within half an hour of a hard session
This is probably the most important tip and the thing that has helped me improve the most. After a track, tempo, hill session, hard parkrun or race, it’s crucial to give your body the protein it needs for your muscles to build and recover.
Think of this as the same concept as a car emptying its tank. The fuel it needs to get going again is the protein your body needs to recover in order to train again. It’s absorbed best within half an hour of doing your session.
I personally have a scoop of diet whey protein within half an hour of every hard session. I use diet whey protein to try stay lean for running and to avoid bulking up.
Hydration in the form of electrolytes, during and straight after a run helps speed up the recovery process. I personally start every day with a hydration tablet, which is full of electrolytes that my body absorbs and stores for when it’s required on a run.
2. Loads of fruit, veg and good carbs (before big sessions)
The more natural the food the better. It’s important to bear in mind that everyone reacts differently to different diets and nutrition, so what works for me may not necessarily work for you. It’s really important to get a mixture of good fruits and veg. Try not to fall into the trap of eating the same fruits and veggies all the time.
The most common veggies I eat are kale, broccoli, spinach, beetroot, sweet potatoes, sweet corn, carrots, lentils, chickpeas and black beans. When it comes to fruit, I mainly eat oranges, kiwi, pineapple, berries and tomatoes. I wish I could eat bananas but they just don’t tickle my taste buds.
Some of the benefits of eating the above include: great source of calcium, vitamin B, vitamin C, iron, potassium and a whole lot of goodness that helps with recovery and keeping healthy by building a strong immune system
Good carbs are the ‘fuel before the session’, followed by protein which is the ‘post session fuel’.
3. Pre and post session stretching and foam rolling
Warm up and cool down before big sessions is often as important, if not more important than the actual session itself and something that a lot of runners neglect. Be kind to yourself and give your body the time it needs to warm up and cool down rather than just doing the session and stopping straight away.
Whether it’s a hard or easy session, allow yourself at least 10 minutes to stretch pre and post run. I know it can be boring and time consuming but it helps release some of the lactate that has built up and that’s the body fluid that makes you stiff.
Foam rolling should be done according to feel. I aim to do a foam rolling session at least 3 times a week – also after my harder session, rolling through the muscles that need the most attention and releasing the tightness from within them so they can recover as quickly as possible.
4. Yoga at least once a week
We all know that running makes your muscles tight but I only figured out just how tight mine were when I went to my first Yoga class about a year ago. I was that guy who could barely touch his knees never mind his toes. ‘Downward facing dog’ was definitely a lot more painful than the pleasurable stretching pose it’s supposed to be (I looked more wobbly than a baby giraffe at birth).
Since that day I have done Yoga every week without fail and am a whole lot more flexible than a year ago. Often I do a Yoga session, purely for the mental recovery side of things. Yoga gives you a break from the fast paced world we live in and really allows you to reset the mind, so you’re in the best possible place going forward, whether it’s in running or just life in general.
5. At least 8 hours of sleep
Sleeping is when your body truly recovers. Aim to get at least 8 hours, even if you’re not in a deep sleep for 8 hours.
During this pandemic, a lot of us have slightly more time on our hands than before. I can clearly feel the benefits of consistently getting 8 hours sleep and the way it helps me recover.
6. Compression tights/socks
Whether it’s during a session or post session, compressing muscles helps speed up the recovery process. Studies have been done to prove this and I can vouch for this, having personally tried and tested various different compression socks and tights. Often after a big tempo session or race my calves seem to twitch like crazy from the build-up of lactic acid. Compression socks help maintain the blood flow and completely remove that uncomfortable feeling.
7. Elevate the legs
I usually keep my legs elevated for about 45 minutes when watching TV in the evening. The point of this is to circulate/drain all the unwanted lactate within the legs, then allowing fresh, nutrient rich blood to replace this. That’s the theory – I’ve found that it helps.
8. Sports massage before a big race
These are never the most exciting forms of massages and can often be very painful but usually totally worth it. A pre-race, deep tissue sports massage really wakes the legs up and rejuvenates the muscles. I make a point to go for one about 4-5 days before a big event. Be careful not to go too close to race day as the soreness from the sports massage can stay in your legs for a couple of days.
9. Keep the recovery days easy
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Recovery days should always feel easy. My training trend is one hard day followed by one recovery day. Often I find that my legs feel fresher if I do a light jog rather than completely rest, however, this isn’t the case for everyone.
This concept took me ages to learn and is easier said than done. When getting fitter, I often found I would get bored on easy runs and time would go slowly and I was worried people would see this slow pace on Strava. Since getting over this fear, it’s been onwards, upwards and progress all the way.
It’s important to listen to your body – if you have a big session planned, but you’re fatigued and your body is screaming for recovery then it’s best to listen to your body and skip the session. This is not always the easiest thing to do and it takes a lot of discipline, especially if you’ve mentally prepared for the sessions and feel guilty for missing it. There are times in the world of running when you just need to listen to your body.
10. Ice Bath and cooling muscles
Definitely not the most comfortable thing to do after a tough session, but shocking the muscles by jumping into an ice bath helps improve recovery by reducing the inflation. The cold constricts the muscles, flushing away the waste and unwanted fluids when they open up again.
I once took part in the crazy race called the ‘Kosmos 3 in 1’ where you run a marathon in the morning, a half marathon at lunch and a 10k in the evening – an absolutely brutal race. Ice baths and a freezing cold swimming pool definitely did the trick and was the thing that helped most to ensure you’re recovered by the time the next race starts.
Nick Bester is a passionate runner and online coach who has achieved 3 silver Comrades medals, the fastest in a time of 6:28:52. He has also completed 23 consecutive sub-3 hour marathons.