Recovering After the Long Run
What are you craving after your long run? Take the survey at the end of the article!
So you've been training hard for months and each week your mileage is creeping up into the double or maybe even triple digits, deepening on what type of races you're training for. Refueling immediately after and on recovery days is essential to your training plan--almost as important as the miles you are putting in. What is your body telling you it needs, what are you craving after the long runs and what is the difference?
After running for hours, it is easy to justify eating whatever you want on your recovery day. I just started pushing my mileage up into a range that I have never visited before and, let me tell you, I have started eating everything in sight! I started to find that I was recovering from my recovery days and was feeling bloated and sluggish for a few days after my planned rest day. Now, I believe that it isn't how much I was eating or the calories consumed, but what kinds of calories I was consuming. Filling up on burgers, pizza and ice cream was making me feel like all my hard work was going to waste.
After reading more about running recovery and nutrition, I started reading more about the ketogenic diet and benefits of turning your engine into a fat burning machine. The ketogenic diet is a low or no carb diet that forces the body into a state of ketosis whereby instead of burning carbs (no more pasta binges the night before a race) your body starts burning fat. Sounded great, but after consulting with a primary care doc, I was told that the waste products generated by this type of diet would have long term effects on the GI system; while you would be getting energy from fats, you would also be processing more fats in general, which as a rule of thumb, isn't really easy on your digestive system. What to eat then?
As corny as it sounds, it turns out that everything in moderation is still a useful cliché. Eating a balanced meal with fruits, veggies, proteins and lean fats (even if its more of it) left me feeling less bloated, having more energy and I tended to recover faster. Sounds like common sense, right?
After the long runs, when I found myself craving all the bad things, I allowed myself to have some of the bad things but I also made sure that I got more of the good things in first so that my appetite was controlled before diving into that bag of potato chips! Making sure that you're property hydrated first and drinking more water than you think you need will help stave off the post-run binges. Recovery drinks high in protein are also an easy way to supplement after the long run and tend to replenish calories faster before you can get to the fridge.
What I was craving, typically, after a long run was salt so I started implementing sodium intake into my nutrition plan during the run and alas my cravings for potato chips subsided! Determining what my body is telling me that it needs and what it just plain wants is still a work in progress, but so far in my experimentation what I eat on my recovery day really effects my ability to push through the miles the rest of the week. I have become more mindful of what Im eating on recovery days and how much of it Im consuming and I am feeling the benefits of balance.
Your recovery goals my be different from mine and understanding your baseline is important. For me, I have some weight to lose to get to my ideal 'race weight' and becoming lighter is one of my goals that is part of my training plan so being mindful of the binges and splurges after the long runs is important so that I don't backslide. Good nutrition is important to everyone's recovery, but if you are already at your race weight you may find another approach to post-run refueling more valuable to your training program. Ultimately, knowing your body, knowing what feels good overall for your training plan is important and its up to you! And giving into cravings a little is always better than not at all -- after all, you deserve it :)