Last updated: 02-Mar-16
Written by Sports Dietitian Rin Cobb
As runners, fitting in our weekly mileage around life can sometimes seem more like a juggling act, particularly when training for an ultra race. Pounding out all those miles however takes it toll on the body and nutrition is key to not only fuel your runs but also help you recover.
Recovery is aimed at returning the body to its pre training or competition state and should be an essential part to any effective training plan. In addition to nutrition, various recovery strategies are used such as rest, sleep, massage and even the use of compression garments, which I have no doubt you’ll have tried and tested to some degree. If you don’t allow your body to recover effectively, you’ll no doubt find yourself feeling washed out, not able to train or compete to the best of your ability and more prone to illness and injury; all early warning signs of overtraining syndrome.
Like with all things nutrition there are a number of different nutrients to factor in to your recovery plan, all of which I’m sure you already have on a daily basis but timing can be just as important as type.
Yes, I’m harping on about carbs once again but in my defence, I spend a vast amount of time advising runners on the virtues of carbohydrate, being a runner’s primary fuel. As you’ll have used up some of your carb stores during training or a race, it’s paramount that you replenish these stores as soon after a run as possible in preparation for your next training session, particularly if training daily. For the number crunchers amongst you, try aiming for 1.2g of carbs per kg body weight per hour for the first four hours after training.
This could be in the form of a carbohydrate drink straight after your run followed shortly after by a carbohydrate rich meal if soon after or using several snacks between meals. For some, this can be a considerable amount of carbs to tolerate so using more concentrated carbs such as fruit juice, smoothies or sports drinks can be a preferred option.
Protein provides the building blocks to repair muscles as well as promoting growth and training adaptations. As such, it’s an important consideration for runners and not just those who frequent the gym on daily basis to get massive. Runners have slightly higher protein needs than your average couch potato at 1.2-1.4g/kg body weight and it’s best to try and spread this out throughout the day by consuming protein at each meal. Whilst there are more and more turning to protein supplements, even in the running world, it’s quite do-able to meet these needs through your diet alone. Having a mix of different protein sources such as fish, meat, eggs, dairy, beans and pulses will ensure you get a full complement of amino acids not to mention a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals.
Many of you may take a recovery style drink after a long run or gym session and this is a great way to start the recovery process. The ideal composition is ~20g of protein for recovery plus some carbs to start replenishing dwindling stores and if you drink this as soon as you finish, your body will be able to use it more effectively. Whilst there are a whole host of sports recovery drinks and powders on the market, which maybe more practical for self-sufficent races, I always advocate food first. A pint of milk, whether that be blue, green, red or even orange and purple these days, will give you your 20g protein and around 25g carbs but you can always add a banana, berries, honey or cocoa powder to help up the carb content or for a ready-made on the go option; chocolate milk goes down a treat.
This is perhaps a given that you need to replenish all that fluid you’ve sweated out whilst running but is still often not prioiritised. It’s recommended you aim to replace 1.2-1.5 x what you’ve lost, particularly if you don’t have a lot of time between runs. One way to keep track is to weigh yourself before and after a run, taking into account any fluids drunk to see how much you’ve lost. Electrolytes can help to replace losses in sweat but also encourage the body to hold onto what you’ve drunk rather than needing frequent trips to the loo. These can come from food if eaten whilst rehydrating or sports drinks with added electrolytes and milk are some other options.
A great way to tick off all three Rs is to use a recovery drink; combining carbs, protein, water and electrolytes to help you on your road to recovery.