You’ve done it! Those last few miles really took it out of you though, you felt there was nothing left in your legs or that your lungs were about to burst, but you just kept telling yourself “move your legs!”. So i bet you are dreading the aching legs and tending the blisters over the next few days, but is there anything you can do to speed your recovery and get back to the gym or out on the road again?
Nutrition and hydration
Optimum nutrition and hydration are key recovery strategies after the half marathon. As tempting as it may be, it is very unwise to go straight down the pub and celebrate your performance with a couple of pints and pub lunch. Alcohol will further dehydrate you and compound the dehydration induced by 2 or 3 hours of running.
Replace the water and electrolytes you have lost in your sweat. You need to drink 1.5 litres of water for every kg of bodyweight you lost during the race. Make sure you add a little pinch of salt into the water so your body absorbs it.
Restore your muscle and liver glycogen stores. This restoration is highest in the first hour post exercise, so use liquid then solid meals containing protein and carbohydrate. To do this consume 1-1.2g of carbs per kg of body weight per hour for up to 4 hours post race – e.g. 80kg athlete would need to consume 80-90g of carbs per hour to restock muscle glycogen. Here is an idea of carb content of food:
• Lucozade sport – 30g
• Lucozade hydro – 10g
• 1 banana – 25g
• 1 apple – 15g
• 1 orange – 20g
• 1 kiwi fruit – 6g
• 1 serving of berries – 5g
• 2 dried figs – 15g
• 2 dried dates – 15g
• 6 dried prunes – 20g
• 1 tablespoon (30g) dried raisins – 20g
• 2 slices granary bread – 50g
• 1 medium serving rice – 50g
• 1 medium serving pasta – 45g
• 1 medium serving spaghetti – 35g
• 1 serving Special K – 20g
• 1 serving sugar free muesli – 30g
• 1 serving cornflakes – 25g
• 1 serving bran flakes – 25g
• 1 serving porridge – 14g
• 1 Potato – 50g
• 1 large sweet potato – 30g
• 1 portion of peas – 8g
• 1 portion of carrots – 3g
• 1 portion of broccoli – 1g
• 1 portion of cauliflower – 3g
Make sure you eat these carbs with good quality sources of protein that helps to repair muscle, tendon, ligament and bone damage induced by the race. Good sources include eggs, chicken, beef and fish.
As insane as it may sound but the best thing you go do to speed the recovery of those aching limbs is to do what is called an active recovery. This be anything from a light walk with the dog, a gentle 20 minute light bike ride or jog. Some stretching and a massage would also be a good idea as part of this active recovery. Research shows that athletes who do an active recovery report less muscle soreness and improved performance compared to athletes who do a passive recovery.
Cold water immersion
It is currently en vogue for athletes to use “ice baths” after exercise as they are supposed to improve recovery after exercise. I’m sure you have all seen and heard Paula Radcliffe promote the benefits of using ice baths. However how do you know if an ice bath is good for you after training and after the half marathon? More importantly how can you do these at home?
There are some misconceptions around ice baths or what is otherwise known as cold water immersion (CWI). You do not have to throw 10kg of ice into a bath of water and sit there for 10 minutes shivering in pain to benefit from CWI. The water temperature only needs to be cold (<15 degrees C) and cold water from a tap, with perhaps a few ice cubes thrown in will suffice. You can stay in the ice bath for between 2-5 minutes or do contrast bathing where you do CWI for 30 seconds, then warm shower for 30 seconds and do 2 or 3 rounds of this.
CWI is useful for drawing blood out of the extremities and back to the core. This helps to remove waste and toxins from the working muscles. When you warm shower or simply get out of the cold water and warm up you will have an increased blood flow back to the extremities which carries fresh blood and oxygen back to the muscle to aid recovery.
CWI and contrast bathing have been found to be more effective than doing a passive recovery (which means doing nothing), but no more effective than compression socks or an active recovery. So it might be wise to combine you CWI with an active recovery and compression socks.
Some people love ice baths and swear by them, others absolutely hate them, so I think the use of ice baths is purely subjective. In some people CWI decreases the feelings of pain and fatigue after a race and increase the perception of “recovery”. So if you’re one of these people – then go for it. If you can’t bear the thought of it then think about post exercise nutrition, compression socks and an active recovery as a way to improve your aching legs after the half marathon.
We don’t fully understand why we need sleep, but we do know that sleep has an amazing restorative and regenerative process on the body. We know that certain hormones are released during sleep such as growth hormone, testosterone and melatonin and that these hormones run the bodies repair processes.
Good sleep hygiene refers to adopting behaviours that typically promote improved quality and quantity of sleep and avoiding behaviours that interfere with sleep. One of the best ways to improve sleep is to improve sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves many things such as sleeping in a dark, quiet room, aiming for 8-9 hours of sleep, eating the right foods and nutrients throughout the day (such as meat, fish and vegetables) and avoiding foods and other things that retard sleep (such as caffeine and alcohol).
• Hydrate and restock muscle glycogen stores in the 4 hours after the race has finished.
• Get a good nights sleep (8-9 hours)
• Use CWI if you think it benefits your recovery
• Do and active recovery the day after the race