The importance of recovery


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Elite sporting organisations across the world have realised the importance of optimal recovery and have heavily invested in programs to ensure improved recovery times, reduced muscle soreness, improved follow up sessions and lower levels of fatigue. No matter the sport though, all recovery programs bring a mix of optimal hydration and nutritional/supplementation strategies together for post training and competition.

Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to be an elite runner to benefit from recovering with the right fuel mix after a big session. In fact, if you are currently running several times each week as you prepare for an event, a good recovery program is exactly what you need to ensure you have enough energy to maintain your hectic schedule minus injury and fatigue.

Not all sport watches help with this, so I like to use my TomTom GPS Sport Watch as a handy tool when it comes to inferring my recovery needs, as your heart rate can give powerful insight into how hard your body has worked during a session. The TomTom Cardio range also offers built-in heart rate monitoring so you don’t have to wear a chest strap to get your heart rate data. Measuring your heart rate can also give you an idea of how well your body is recovering in between sessions via measuring your resting heart rate and recovery time once your session has finished. Naturally harder sessions will require more focus on recovery to ensure you are fully rested and prepared for your next session.

When it comes to sports nutrition specifics and recovery a societal trends towards a lower carbohydrate style of eating, especially throughout the second half of the day, can represent a high risk situation for any runner who is clocking up the kilometres. While you may feel that you are burning few calories at work in front of the computer, or watching television later in the day, if your schedule also includes an hour or two of training on most days of the week, you will still be depleting your muscles of glycogen. Failing to then replenish these stores, particularly overnight after late afternoon or early evening training sessions, means that not only are you likely to be starting the next day with inadequate muscle stores of fuel but you are leaving the body in an energy depleted state. It’s at these times that there’s the potential to compromise both immune function and athletic performance.

Research has repeatedly shown that there is a key window of opportunity when it comes to muscle recovery. It is known that muscle glycogen restoration is significantly enhanced when a mixture of both carbohydrates and a small amount of protein is consumed within 30 minutes of finishing a session. From a practical perspective this means that waiting until you return home to a carb free dinner of meat and vegetables may not be the best thing to do by your body. Instead, taking a compact, nutritionally balanced snack that contains both carbohydrates and proteins such as a tub of yoghurt; a milk based coffee or a slice or two of bread with peanut butter, tuna or cheese and consuming it immediately after your run will not only ensure that your muscles have the best opportunity to recover prior to your next session but allow you to keep your dinner light if you choose.

While high GI supplementary sports products including gel shots, sports drinks and bars are regularly promoted to be the best choice when it comes to recovery, for recreational athletes, the high carbohydrate loads of these products, without the extra recovery benefit of protein mean that although you get a bit of sugar, you get a whole lot of extra calories that you may not need. For example, a bottle of sports drink contains 30+ grams of carbohydrates per bottle without protein and 1000kJ as opposed to a liquid meal drink which contains a similar amount of carbohydrates with the added benefit of protein for far fewer kilojoules. So, leave these sugary products for the elite athletes.

The second important component of optimal recovery is ensuring you drink enough fluid once your session is finished to fully re-hydrate. While many of us are in the good habit of drinking plenty of fluid when training, the importance of hydrating for a number of hours after finishing training is often overlooked. Get into the habit of weighing yourself before and after long runs to determine how much fluid you are losing. Remember, you will then need to drink one and a half times the amount of weight you have lost to fully replace your fluid losses and optimally re-hydrate to be ready for your next session.

Super Recovery Foods

Chocolate milk

It is now well documented that flavoured milk can be just as effective as supplementation to recover tired muscles. Either make your own at home with a little cocoa powder and milk, or grab a container of low fat flavoured milk on your way home from training.

Tumeric

This powerful Indian spice contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound, curcumin, which is often found in curry blends. It is said to have the same effect as over-the counter pain relievers so get ready to add to your curry and soups this winter.

Watermelon

A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that the amino acid L-citrulline facilitates lactic acid removal, reducing muscle soreness and aiding recovery.

Beetroot juice

Packed with nitrates which help to open blood vessels, aiding oxygen delivery to the muscles along with a good dose of antioxidants.

Oily fish

Packed with nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory fats, the omega 3’s, sardines, salmon, fresh tuna or snapper should be included in the diet at least a couple of times each week.

Thank you to TomTom for providing me with a Runner Cardio GPS Sport Watch . For more information on the TomTom Runner Cardio GPS Sport Watch, head to their website: www.tomtom.com.

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