In order to avoid physical and mental burnout it is important to properly recover from any endurance event such as a marathon, Ironman event or Ultramarathon. It is particularly important in events greater than four hours because of the multiple systemic effects that occur.
Research has found that strenuous endurance exercise impacts normal physiological processes of your body including your metabolic, endocrine, musculoskeletal and immune systems. Post-race your body shows signs of severe muscle damage, increased systemic inflammation1, changes in blood glucose2, fluid and electrolyte imbalances, increased cortisol by up to 132%3, a compromised immune system and variations in your coagulatory and fibrinolytic systems4.
These physiological changes can last for 24 hours or greater than 19 days depending on which system was are discussing. Your recovery after a major endurance event should be anywhere between 7 days and 3-4 weeks depending on what event you participated in and how strenuous it was for you body and mind. Do you ever get sick right after completing the race of your dreams? Your immune system may be suppressed for at least 5 days following strenuous activity1.
Recovery after an endurance event is multi-faceted. Mentally you may need to sit back drink a beer, eat a cheeseburger and enjoy all the temptations you missed out on during your rigorous training. Go for it- decreasing the mental stress will allow your body to relax, which ultimately aids in recovery. However, remember the first few hours, days and even weeks following your event are critical for long-term success. After you revel in your delicious victory meal consider investing in your recovery to avoid burnout.
Improve your recovery through your diet
Within 20-30 minutes following the completion of your event consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein for optimal glycogen repletion5.
Drink tart cherry juice. It has been reported to effectively reduce inflammation, muscle damage, and muscle soreness following exercise. One recent study found that drinking it prior to, during and post race can reduce the general immune response to endurance exercise in addition to reducing serum triglyceride levels6.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods and spices to assist in decreasing overall systemic inflammation. Here are a few ideas to get started: leafy greens, blueberries, animal based Omega-3. Garlic, walnuts, shiitake mushrooms, green tea, turmeric, ginger and curry.
Improve your recovery with movement
Keep moving by walking, doing yoga or even light cardiovascular exercise. Movement will promote blood circulation,decrease swelling, control your blood sugar and manage anxiety that may come from cessation of training. However, avoid pushing your heart rate out of Zone 1-2 (recovery zone) during the first 2-3 weeks after your event.
Foam rolling is a form of self myofascial release. Research has shown that foam rolling can decreased muscle soreness 1-3 days after exercise, it can improve range of motion without decreasing strength and it may even improve performance7-9.
Improve your recovery with mental rest
A majority of endurance athletes have a type A personality- that is why we love our sports. As you re-introduce exercise into your daily routine resist the urge to wear a watch, track your distance and pace. Enjoy the feel of the ground under your feet, the water between your toes and the wind on your face. Fall back in love with your sport – don’t force it.
Sleep. Reap the rewards of your success. Go to bed early, sleep late. Don’t set an alarm. Our body gets to repair itself while we sleep.
Read that book on your bedside table collecting dust. Avoid reading about training, performance enhancement, or your next training plan. Let it all go for at least a week.
Improve your recovery through relaxation
Get a massage. Massage has been found to have a strong psychological benefit for athletes following competition. It also may have injury prevention and management benefits10.
Take a bath. It doesn’t mater if it is an ice bath or a warm Epsom salt Research shows that our bodies respond well to water emersion. Changes in heart rate, blood flow, muscle and core temperature, immune function, and perception of fatigue and improved muscle soreness have all been demonstrated. There are several studies that look at cold water, hot water and contrast baths (hot: cold alternating) but there is no clear temperature or emersion time that stands out10.
Training for and completing an endurance event is a tremendous accomplishment. You spent countless hours training your body to perform now allow it to recover and heal itself so that your next event is even better.
Neubauer O etal. Recovery after an Ironman triathlon: Sustained Inflammatory Responses and Muscular Stress. Eur J Appl Physiol (2008) 104:417–426
Was ́kiewicz Z et al. Acute metabolic responses to a 24-h ultra-marathon race in male amateur runners. Eur J Appl Physiol (2012) 112:1679–1688
Dittrich, N., de Lucas, R. D., Maioral, M. F., Diefenthaeler, F., & Guglielmo, L. G. A. (2013). Continuous and intermittent running to exhaustion at maximal lactate steady state: Neuromuscular, biochemical and endocrinal responses. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 16(6), 545-549.
Kupchak et al. An Ultramarathon's Physiological Impact on Men. Wilderness and environmental Medicine, 2014 (25,) 278–288
Niles E, et al. Post-Exercise Muscle Glycogen and Performance. Journal of Exercise Physiologyonline 2001, 4(1). Retrieved: September 27, 2015
Goodenough et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014, 11(Suppl 1):P34
MacDonald, GZ. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):812-21.
Nelson AG, Kokkonen, J and Arnall, DA. Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength endurance performance. J Strength Cond Res 2005 19: 338-342.
Pearcy GE. Et al. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. 2015 Jan;50(1):5-13.
Halson, S. Recovery Techniques for Athletes. Sports Science Exchange 2013 26(120) 1-6.