Give Me A Break!

A lot of athletes have been asking me lately how much time they should take off after their big race.  This isn’t an easy question to answer and differs among runners based on many factors.  Many of you have probably heard of the rule that you should take a day off for every mile you ran in the race.  But that would mean taking nearly a month off after a marathon.  While that is definitely okay to do if you really need a break, for most of us we would probably lose our minds.

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The first factor that determines the amount of time you should take off is how far you actually raced.  If you ran a 5K you can take a day off or  you might be able to just jump right back into another training cycle.  If you ran a nice easy paced half marathon you could probably follow the same rule.  On the other hand if you ran a very hard 10K or a race with many hills a few days might be necessary.  Distance, speed, effort, and hills are all key determinants here and vary from runner to runner.  My hard race pace is an easy run for some of my friends.

The second factor requires you to be very honest with yourself.  How is your body feeling?  Did you spend a long time training for this race and push yourself pretty hard?  Are you feeling sluggish from the actual race as well as training?  If you are feeling exhausted after a training cycle it is very important for you to rest your body before starting again.  This is the time when your body is most vulnerable to injury.  You might be feeling excited by your new PR or angry from a poor performance and want to get back out there.  But your body deserves some time to recover and repair before you push yourself again.  Tired muscles or achy lactic acid filled legs need some time off.

Exhausted

Some athletes recover faster than others.  This might mean that while you need a week to recover after a marathon another athlete can jump back into training a bit more readily.  I personally tend to recovery relatively quickly after a race and during my last marathon was able to jump back into light training after two days off.  This time around I will need a bit more rest and will have to be patient with my body.

The other important factor that trumps your ability to recover is any injuries that have been sustained during training.  If you have had nagging IT band issues that you pushed through during training it would be wise to rest until you have recovered from this injury.  I totally understand and am okay with running through most injuries to get you to race day.  However, you really shouldn’t start another training cycle until you have dealt with any and all injuries.  This includes any nagging aches or pains.  Pushing through a minor injury to get to a race is one thing.  But continuing to run through that injury will never allow you to fully heal and may cause further or more serious issues.  Let your body rest.

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Some athletes find that after a race they come back quicker by doing some slow and short recovery runs right away.  These slow runs can help your body flush out lactic acid and any stiffness that built up during your race.  This is absolutely fine to do as long as you tend to recover relatively quickly, do not have any injuries, and feel healthy.  Again, ask yourself if this type of run will help you or make you feel even more exhausted.

The final factor is a big one.  Ask yourself how you are feeling mentally.  Are you excited to get back out there?  Do you feel like you are dragging a bit and need a break from running?  I mentioned the other day that I am physically and mentally a bit tired right now.  I am actually looking forward to a break after the marathon and some time to take nice autumn walks with my husband where we can talk to each other without squinting through sweat or wiping snot from our faces.

Generally speaking a few days off after a short race and up to a week off for a longer one is a good rule of thumb.  Start with that option and then use the factors listed above to determine just how long you should be resting.  And don’t forget to enjoy some delicious food and drinks while you are at it!

Speaking of breaks…congrats to Mitch, Madeline, Katie, and SuzLyfe for completing their marathons yesterday.  Great work!  Enjoy your well deserved rest.

Recovery Shake

I have a confession.  When I do my long runs, 15 miles and over, on hot days I crave Diet Coke near the end.  Not only do I crave Diet Coke but it has to be from the fountain machine at McDonalds!  Here’s the kicker; I don’t really like Diet Coke and I never go to McDonalds.  So I honestly have no idea why that is the one thing my body screams for on a 20 miler.  I wish I could say that I am dying for a bowl of fruit or be like my brother in-law who carefully picks out a whole watermelon to go home and consume.  Nope, soda.

I do know though that getting the proper fuel within the “muscle recovery window” of 30-60 minutes after a hard workout is key.  By getting your post run fuel in during this time frame you help your body promote muscle synthesis and build back up your lost glycogen stores.  These are especially important during marathon training.

Lately before I head out for my early morning run I whip up a recovery “shake” and then stash it in the fridge.  I have to admit that during some of our hotter morning runs I have thought about that shake for the last few miles and it has been really great to look forward to.  I also have a tendency to finish runs and get ravenous.  It is not uncommon for me to come home from a run, take a shower, and then basically eat us out of house and home.  This recovery shake works perfectly to fill my tummy just enough that I don’t end up consuming twice the calories I just burnt.

A few years ago there was a lot of research showing that chocolate milk is the prefect recovery drink for after a long run.  The reason for this is that it is high in carbohydrates and protein which are both needed to replace glycogen and promote protein synthesis.  The ideal combination is believed to be a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.  Chocolate milk seems to fit into this ideal.  It also helps replace fluid lost from sweat and is high in calcium.

Unfortunately for this girl, I am lactose intolerant.  But over the years there have been a surge of other options in the milk department.  For awhile I was in love with soy milk but the research is still rather iffy and I feel better if both my husband and I avoid it.  I absolutely love almond milk.  I like it plain, flavored with vanilla, and can drink it by the glassful in it’s chocolate form.  The slightly nutty flavor tastes way better to me than regular old cow’s milk.  It also has half the calorie content of milk which helps me from breaking the bank after my run.

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While it might not contain the same perfect combination that cow’s milk has, it still contains a good bit of protein.  It seems that while the 4:1 ratio is still the ideal, research shows that getting 15-25 grams of protein after a hard workout is just as good.  As long as you get enough protein in during your recovery window, the carbohydrate rules relax a bit.

Don't get me wrong.  I love these guys.  Who wouldn't love a face like that?!

Don’t get me wrong. I love these guys. Who wouldn’t love a face like that?!

While I use almond milk as the base of my recovery shake I also add in coconut milk yogurt, mostly because it is delicious.  However coconut milk yogurt is also high in magnesium and can help aid in muscle function.  It is also high in Vitamin D which helps our bodies absorb calcium better.

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I also throw in a banana to give the drink a more shake-like consistency.  It doesn’t hurt that bananas are high in potassium and magnesium and are full of fast acting carbohydrates.  Bananas are full of fructose which quickly converts over to energy that your body can readily use.  They are also great for helping to stave off post run cramps.

I sometimes but not always throw in a scoop (or two) of peanut butter.  Sometimes a girl just wants that chocolate peanut butter flavor.  While peanut butter is rather high in calories, it isn’t going to kill you after a hard work out.  Plus peanut butter or any other nut butter has around 6 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein in two tablespoons.  This works in that carbohydrate to protein ratio you are looking for to boost your recovery.

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Post Run Recovery Shake:

1-32 ounce box of unsweetened chocolate almond milk

1-6 ounce container of dairy free vanilla coconut milk yogurt

1 banana

1-2 optional tablespoons of peanut butter

When I get home from my run I pull the shake out of the refrigerator and put it back in the blender for a quick spin to make it nice and frothy.  A glass of this tastes so good after a run and seems so indulgent.  The entire shake has around 440 calories if you don’t add in the peanut butter and can easily hold 4+ servings.  And although it is great to look forward to after a workout, it is just as delicious as a breakfast drink or a treat during the day.  Toss in a scoop of cocoa for a little extra flavor or a squeeze of honey to give it some added sweetness.  Just beware that the almond milk does settle over time so if you keep it in the fridge you will want to give it a whirl in the blender before consuming again.

Happy recovery!