Training for physically draining sports like obstacle racing, ultra races, and triathlons can be extremely demanding; to the point where being just a weekend warrior, who spends less than 20 hours a week training, might not give you the desired results at all. To be able to digest that amount of training without any long-term negative impact is as challenging as the racing lifestyle itself, especially if you want to recover swiftly and perform to your best in the trenches.
My own workout routines sometime exceed the 2-hour mark. That’s not too bad, but it basically means that the next couple of days whatever part of the body was engaged during training will be dysfunctional, aching and hardly usable in further training. I am talking about those long mile runs and the notorious leg days featuring hundreds of weighted lunges. In the long run, these exercises do work wonders when it comes to seeing benefits. They also literally break down your muscle fibers in order to restore and build a stronger version of yourself. Due to this, they are only feasible once in a while; your body just cannot recover that quickly.
Ever seen those hardcore lunatics who are able to go back on the trail the very next day and perform at the same capacity? I have, and I studied them and tried their tricks myself, determining via trial and error the best tricks they use day-to-day.
These are not your woo-woo type of ‘hacks’ or anecdotal evidence. It’s extremely practical advice which should let you jump back into your still-muddy kicks if not the next day, then the day after with a feel-good and ready-to-hustle attitude.
Anti Inflammatory Food Sources
The first of these tricks is ingesting anti-inflammatory food sources, as they help to reduce inflammation caused by physical stress. They also have outstanding anti-oxidant properties and are generally considered to be super foods:
A spice pretty common in curries with a unique flavour and potent medicinal properties too. Curcumin, which gives curries that heart-warming yellow colour comes from the turmeric family of spices. Turmeric is considered to reduce inflammation in muscle strains, arthritis and numerous other health issues. Because of its anti-oxidant properties, it’s thought to reduce cancer cell growth. This is a must not only for athletes, but anyone concerned with their long-time wellbeing.
I like to take this in tablet form, however to get the best out of it you should aim to get tablets which also contain black pepper extract. Alternatively, you can simply add some of it to the powdered form of this super-spice then add it to your food or drinks. A cup of tea with a teaspoon of turmeric can make for a nice morning brew and, thanks to some neurotropic effects, it can boost your mental game too.
The anti-inflammatory effects of ginger have been known to us since the 70s, when it was discovered that this root shares pharmacological properties with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and can thus serve as a herbal medicine. Ginger is a perfect way to naturally supplement your body’s functions and help it recover from physical strain. Ginger is so versatile and widely used that you can add it as a spice to almost any meal, use it in smoothies, post-workout shakes or add it to your morning brew with turmeric for an added kick.
This plant is widely used as the active ingredient in gels to reduce sunburn and heal wounds. However, did you know it is also edible and actually beneficial for your muscle recovery?
Aloe vera is full of salicylic acid and its salts, which are very similar to that of aspirin, making it a perfect addition to your post-workout drink. Don’t expect it to taste great, but knowing the extent of its benefits to reduce the production of histamines (chemical response triggers to inflammation), you should definitely get past the flavour and include this plant in your diet.
Protein powder (whey, hemp etc.)
Perhaps the most popular supplement in the fitness industry is protein powder. Although its effectiveness is widely debated, it does contain essential amino acids which are always beneficial, and especially right after a training session. Depending on your dietary choices and the sort of athlete you are, your protein powders could be the regular whey isolate concentrate or hemp and soy if you follow a plant-based diet.
Among bros, this one is well known as the post-leg day ‘soreness reducer’. It is contained in most protein powder mixes and it’s one of the essential amino acids, used as building blocks in repairing muscle tissue. Consuming L-Glutamine does the trick and you will feel less damaged the day after your hardcore training, especially if you did hundreds of heavy squats, lunges or other strength exercises, which usually result in delayed muscle soreness for days after.
Branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine, come as easily available supplements, unlike other amino acids that are metabolised in the skeletal muscles instead of the liver. Due to this, BCAAs are often used after fasted workouts in order to prevent the muscle breakdown providing a better overall performance and boosting recovery rates.
Currently my favourite mobility tool, a buffer can not only polish your wheels, but also help with the miofascial release. We wrote an article about mobility comparing a buffer and a foam roller which covers the pros and cons of a buffer pretty well. This tool will not only boost your recovery tenfold, but it will also work as a good tool to warm up your muscles before a training session.
By now a staple of runners and other active folk, the foam roller is very portable and provides a good way to lengthen tight muscles through miofascial release. Although this does hurt, finding the painful spots and massaging them will speed up the healing process after training. Otherwise, those muscle knots could result in a fascial problems, and injuries, not to speak of poor performance due to less mobility.
Just like the foam roller, a lacrosse ball or other, similarly rounded tool can also do wonders for your mobility. Try taping two lacrosse balls together in order to roll out hard to reach with foam roller areas such as upper back and shoulders.
Using all three at the end of the day will grant you a very fresh start the next morning. As mentioned before in the post about buffers and foam rollers, I love to use this tool intensely for at least a couple of weeks before the race in order to increase mobility, stretch any tight muscle spots and to simply get ready to use the fascia to its fullest extent.
+ Bonus and the most obvious ingredient – Rest
Naps and a Good Night’s Sleep
Notably, sleep deprivation can make us less able to fend off diseases and inflammation (Irwin et al., 1994), which then leads to a vicious cycle of under-performance. Our editor Helena previously mentioned, that athletes especially should perhaps be sleeping even more hours than other people who are usually recommended 8 hours a night. A 2011 study conducted at Stanford University by Cheri Mah (Mah et al., 2011) investigated the performance of collegiate basketball players after they’d gotten at least 10 hours of sleep. Interestingly, their skills on the court (such as shooting accuracy and speed of sprints) improved significantly after 10+ hours of sleep, compared to their baseline performance from before their sleep was extended. Of course sleeping for longer won’t necessarily mean better quality sleep so you should also be aware of any factors in your daily routine which could be adversely impacting your sleep.
For example, intense training sessions and racing leads to overtraining, which can disturb sleep. Ironically, one of the first signs of overtraining is not being able to get to sleep or not feeling refreshed after waking up. Ever felt like this? It can be really tough! I bounce back and forth all the time, between hard training and career choices that keep me busy. We have mentioned before some useful resources on how to improve your quality of sleep and get it back on track. Do use these to help yourself get more of this amazingly good ‘zzz’ stuff.
Spartan race founder Joe De Sena preaches using yoga to prepare for all sorts of intense physical activity, including obstacle and adventure races or ultras. We absolutely agree with him. Yoga is essential for the overall body and mind integrity and it can also help you build a tree trunk-strong core. It can also tighten the loose bits – you surely know what I mean, the ones which, when challenged during longer exercise, break down first.
What other ways to increase recovery do you use? Any secrets you wouldn’t mind sharing?