ST: How to maximise your recovery period?

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 1 July 2018.

#AskMok

  1. Your fav recovery regime? One that you would do if you have time to spare and one when the time is not on your side. – Kendrick
  2. How do I find out what nutrition/food & meals I need for training and rest day? –  Chad Lim
  3. Where can I get the roller which you used to roll/massage your leg? How much is it? – Terence 

Hi Kendrick, Terence and Chad, thank you for your questions.

The topic of routines for optimized recovery is a popular one among runners. The purpose of a recovery period is to allow the body some time to repair and strengthen itself after a training session. Contrary to popular belief, your body gets stronger duringthe recovery period, rather than during the training session. The recovery period gives your body an opportunity to replenish energy stores lost during exercise, and to build and repair muscles. If you deny your body sufficient time to recover, you will only become increasingly fatigued!

Get a good sleep

The best recovery tool, but also the least talked about, is sleep. Sleep plays a key role in the regulation of many types of hormones in our bodies, such as cortisol, growth hormones and thyroid hormones. These hormones are crucial in the recovery process post- workout.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation results in an increased insulin resistance and decreased glucose tolerance. This then translates to low energy levels and a decrease in the time to exhaustion (i.e. you experience exhaustion during exercise much quicker).

During sleep, our bodies release growth hormones to repair and strengthen our muscles and bones. Without sufficient sleep, you may be limiting your body’s ability to recover from an intense workout or make your muscles and bones stronger. Getting regular, sufficient sleep is therefore paramount to achieving an optimal recovery.

Go for a massage

Sports massages theoretically increase local blood circulation and reduce muscle tightness. The increased circulation to muscles also aids to eliminate waste products such as lactic acid build up in muscles after exercise. Despite little scientific evidence in the literature of sports medicine to conclusively determine the efficacy of sports massage in enhancing recovery, there are individuals who feel that they reap tremendous benefits from sports massages and many elite runners go for regular sports massages to enhance their recovery following intense workouts.

A downside of sports massages is that they are often quite pricey. An alternative would be to self-massage by employing various tools which may be easily procured. Such tools include foam rollers, massage sticks and trigger balls (which you can easily purchase from any sports retailer or online stores). In order to utilize these tools effectively, it is best to learn the techniques for using such tools from a trained physiotherapist or trainer.

Eat a nutritious diet

It is a no-brainer that you will need to complement your workouts with adequate nutrition. One aspect of nutrition is nutrition timing – the time window in which you consume your nutrition. Most sports scientists recommend that the “window of opportunity” is 30 minutes after your workout, meaning that you should consume your recovery food within 30 minutes post-workout.

Another aspect of nutrition is the content of the nutrition. Generally, you should choose foods which contain protein, carbohydrates, and (good) fat. Choosing easily-digestible foods will also promote faster nutrient absorption. In a recent meta-analysis of 12 studies in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that the consumption of chocolate milk post-workout lowered blood lactate and offered an improved time to exhaustion (i.e. lasts longer) at the next training session.

Thus, an easy way to improve your nutrition is to bring along a packet of chocolate milk to your workouts and to consume it immediately after the session. This replenishes the electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during your workout and provides a dose of protein to kick-start your recovery process.

Spend quality time on work and family

Your mental and emotional well-being are also an important aspect of recovery. Personally, I used to find that many of my other personal commitments, such as study, work, and family, were a hindrance to my recovery – perhaps that time could have been better used for precious sleep. However, I have come to realize that even work and studying could be a form of recovery.

To me, spending time with my loved ones (especially my wife), seeing patients and operating in the surgical theatre gives me a break from running. These activities pose a different challenge to the mind and heart, which I absolutely relish. Investing your time and effort in other aspects of life (other than running) can be a great form of “recovery”, in the physical, mental and emotional sense. After all, we all need some balance in life.

Now, as you #RunWithMok, do remember to prioritize your recovery days to maximize your training!

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