One of the most important changes I’ve made in my training in the last year is getting serious about recovery. It’s just as I like to remind my students when I guide them into Svasana at the end of a yoga class: you’ve spent all this time working your body hard, but it isn’t until you rest that your body rebuilds itself to be stronger. The benefits of recovering better include less soreness, more energy, and the ability to strategically tackle a training plan.
Not too long ago I would get through each workout but never gave thought to what I was doing in between. A personal trainer I spoke with once asked me as part of a questionnaire what I did to recover. I had no idea what he meant. He asked how I relaxed; I replied that I ran to relax. He laughed. We then got into a discussion about what active recovery looks like.
Here are five things that I like to incorporate into my life not just because they help with recovery but also because they are enjoyable:
1) Hydrate. Do this before, during, and after a workout. This is important simply because a large portion of your body is water, and you lose some of it during any kind of physical activity. Plain water is the best for hydration, but if you sweat a lot, add in electrolytes. I like coconut water, which has potassium and magnesium, which can help prevent sore muscles as well.
2) Eat. Specifically, eat protein and carbohydrates after a workout. These will help replenish energy and rebuild muscle. One of my favorite ways to pair these two fast is in a smoothie with fruit and a protein powder. Other good options are breakfast tacos, waffles, or even a simple PB&J sandwich. Here are a few more ideas.
3) Walk. This feels good to me after a hard or long run. I used to recover on the couch after every long run, but this left my legs fatigued and stiff. I think the motion in my muscles, along with increased blood flow, helps to reduce soreness.
4) Foam roll. We invested (and not even that much) in a foam roller last year. Nick and I both agree that foam rolling after a workout reduces stiffness and soreness. When you’re new to it, it might be a little uncomfortable, but like anything, the more you do it, the easier and better it gets. An alternative is to recruit your spouse to trade massages with you (we’re a fan of this method, too.)
5) Sleep. I could talk to you about the benefits of good sleep all day because I am that huge a proponent. I ensure that I get at least 8 hours every night, and it’s pretty usual for me to take another 20-30 minute nap after lunch. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but getting enough sleep for you is important. Again, your body rebuilds itself and grows while at rest, and your brain also processed what you have experienced and learned.