Recovery is one of the most critical elements of training. I preach to my athletes that it’s even more important than the hardest workouts.
Without rest and recovery, training-induced stress won’t result in growth. Unfortunately, like various aspects of training, many runners are unintentionally hampering their recovery thanks to pervasive myths based on outdated science. Here are the three biggest recovery mistakes I see in the athletes I coach.
Mistake No. 1: You’re taking Ibuprofen or Advil
Like countless runners before you, when faced with a slight twinge, inflamed tendons, or delayed muscle soreness from training, you may have popped a few non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs for short) such as Ibuprofen or Advil. However, as our understanding of inflammation has evolved, we now know that anti-inflammatory drugs can limit or cancel out the very training benefits we’re so desperate to achieve.
The perception around inflammation suggests that inflammation delayed healing and removing it as quickly as possible would aid in the recovery process. But, we now understand that inflammation is a crucial first step in the body’s natural healing process.
Moreover, we also know that anti-inflammatory drugs can limit training adaptations. One study showed that taking Ibuprofen during endurance training canceled running-distance-dependent adaptations in skeletal muscle. Another study confirmed in the laboratory that the use of NSAIDs after exercise slowed the healing of muscles, tissues, ligaments, and bones.
Mistake No. 2: Not eating correctly (or at all) after a tough workout
Providing your body with the right nutrients to recover after a hard workout is essential to repairing the muscle fibers and providing your body the fuel it needs to stimulate recovery.
Many studies have determined the optimal time and the amount and ratio of nutrients necessary to maximize the recovery process. Ideally, nutrient intake should begin at least 30 minutes after you finish your run and continue for about an hour to 90 minutes after. During this time, you should consume a 4-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. This means that for every four grams of carbs you consume, you also need one gram of protein.
If you hate stomaching food after a workout, try recovery shakes such as the GU Recovery Shake or SIS REGO Rapid Recovery.
Mistake No. 3: Not stretching, massaging, or foam rolling
The concept of stretching has caught some major flak in the past few years (and rightfully so), which has resulted in many runners finishing a workout without adequately recovering. The problem is that we lump all types of “stretching” into one big group with static stretching. But not all types of stretching are harmful.
Other types of “stretching” that are not static and are more dynamic—such as yoga, mobility drills, active isolated stretching, and even foam rolling (which I consider stretching)—can be immensely helpful when it comes to promoting recovery.
Incorporating dynamic stretching after a run has been shown to help improve flexibility to help you execute the biomechanically sound movement patterns when running (such as a proper hip extension).
Drills and mobility exercises and foam rolling have also been shown to help improve neuromuscular function and can serve as a cool down to help deliver blood and oxygen to the muscles that need repair.