Recovery: Not Just 'Fluffy Stuff'
By Ally Bowersock, Ph.D., CSCS
Our mission of encouraging folks to be fit, healthy, and happy is also to keep this opportunity as accessible as possible for everyone. How does this translate with products in our store? We only carry it if it will benefit you, and we will not sell you crap you don't need. Granted, not everyone needs caffeinated gels or hydration vests or even ::gasp:: prefabricated inserts, but there are products which, based in current scientific literature, can help you better enjoy your fitness journey and that's what this post is all about. After all, once one workout ends, the next one is just beginning whether you think about it in that context or not.
The "how" of recovery depends on many variables including the duration, intensity, temperature, and overall volume of your workout(s). If you engaged in a leisurely stroll with friends at lunch, you do not need to immediately pop on compression socks and chug a recovery mix. However, if you, like many of our regulars, have an event on the calendar and are gradually building your miles, there are days when those long runs are some of the hardest or longest workouts of your training block. Whether its the longest distance or the most difficult course or the most intense speeds you've endured thus far, your body then must work that much harder AFTER your workout to repair itself at the cellular level to prepare for the next one.
This repair process is highly individualized. This is not helpful if you are looking for an exact 'prescription' of what to do in recovery, but it's true. Like most guidance when it comes to health and fitness, trial-and-error for each person will best determine what works best. For example, say you've been training the same mileage as everyone else building up to a marathon but you've been mostly flat or indoors. Then you decide to jump in a group long run and the route goes up some steep climbs and the weather turns humid. Now you've introduced two new variables to which your body must adapt both during the workout and then after as well. The terrain (hills) demands unique uses of your body, and the temperature (humidity) will change both how much fluid you lost during your run as well as how much you should replenish compared to your climate-controlled alternative.
So what are the general best-practices for recovery? In addition to stretching (very important), there are some tools you can use to help your body further repair itself and rebound for the next workout. First, compression gear. While data in the sport-textile world is rapidly changing and evolving, there is evidence to suggest that compression of the muscles after a workout does in fact assist in circulation (oxygenation) of the affected muscles that are compressed. Studies assessing venous return, muscle blood flow, and oxygenation do suggest that this only occurs in the muscles that are compressed. Therefore, if you're wearing compression sleeves only, the muscles of your upper leg (quads, hamstrings, etc) will not receive the benefit of greater venous return etc. as those of your lower leg. There is emerging data that of the three types of garments available (socks, sleeves, tights), tights are actually the most beneficial due to larger surface area of the body being compressed. However, there is a lot of practicality in using socks or sleeves for folks who travel for work and may not want to wear compression pants on the plane or under work attire, so at minimum, use of socks or sleeves will at least aid in the circulatory benefit one would seek if you're sitting for long periods of time or will be stationary for a while after a long/hard workout. The same is true for plantar fasciitis socks with medical-grade compression- these can be worn anytime, but a good practice to try is wearing them after a run to support the ligaments and tendons of the arch when muscles begin to cool and induce pain if ::ahem:: proper stretching habits aren't followed. Or, perhaps you stretch a lot and are still prone to posterior chain tightness- use of some sort of compression does seem to aid in the recovery process.
Next, percussion massage- which needs no introduction if you've been a patient at UPT! These massage guns are the highest-quality percussive therapy and offer a variety of tools for targeting sore muscles. Is there data to show that this type of care improves recovery and doesn't just make you feel good? Emerging evidence suggests that both muscle soreness as well as range of motion at the massaged joint improved after use of percussive therapy compared with controls (passive range-of-motion therapy). Currently no studies have assessed performance outcomes in competitive athletes, but certainly such data will emerge and further advise us in recovery best practices. However, it is well-known that use of massage generally is beneficial for assisting in the same physiologic processes (venous return etc) as compressive gear, but these devices do come at a higher price-point. Percussive tools are a great investment if you regularly seek massage care and want the same level of treatment at home or traveling , and of course these travel devices make great holiday gifts because who doesn't love to feel good?
Recovery NUTRITION, okay, whole other ball of wax. It bears repeating again: this is highly-individualized and dependent on "ecological" factors like temperature that may influence your sweat rate. Some folks sweat a lot no matter the temperature, some barely glisten at all in the same workout. Some folks eat more calories the night or morning before a workout while others may cut back on food calories and consume more in liquid form during a workout. SO MANY THINGS TO CONSIDER! It can be very overwhelming.
Generally there are a few guidelines to consider. First, depending on the demands of your workout and the environmental temperature in which that workout occurred, you may need to consider an electrolyte solution which contains added sodium. Replenishment of sodium lost when sweating will aid in maintaining blood osmolality and overall pH balance. Such imbalances lead to increased muscular pain and soreness, headaches, nausea, and cramping. You can look to products like LMNT or Salt Sticks to provide this additional sodium content to your post-race fueling. Other products like Tailwind, Accelerade, and Skratch (certain types of each) contain compounds formulated for muscle recovery and nutrient uptake for cellular repair. Tailwind and Accelerade, for example, also contain protein in addition to carbohydrates, and evidence suggests consuming a meal with both protein and carbs up to an hour immediately after a workout does in fact assist muscle
repair and recovery. These products could be consumed with a food-based meal or mixed with a smoothie, added to a muffin or pancake recipe, or simply taken with water.
If you follow the accounts of these products on social media, often you will find recipe ideas like the muffins and smoothies as mentioned. In hot and humid weather, often athletes prefer a cold or liquid recovery option, so the smoothie recipes come in great handy. In cold and cooler temperatures, warm foods like soups and stews are a great recovery food and the Tailwind recovery chocolate mix is great warmed with milk and a dash of cinnamon. Mmmmm hot chocolate...
Nutrition/hydration recovery trial-and-error is a relatively low-cost way to improve recovery, and both compression gear and percussive therapy are investments at various price points which can further assist recovery and athletic performance. We carry a variety of styles, brands, and price-points to ensure that you're able to find the assortment of products which best fits your financial and fitness needs. Know of a recovery product or tool we don't carry and should? Let us know- we are always on the hunt for new opportunities in providing greater selection of goodies you need to be fit, healthy, and happy!
Desai, R. & Desai, M. (2018). Effects of electrolytes on endurance of middle-school girls: a prospective study. J Pub Health Emerg. 2:12; 1-5.
Leabeter, A.J, James, L.P, & Driller, M.W. (2022). Tight margins: compression garment use during exercise and recovery- a systematic review. Textiles, 2: 395-421.
Riordan, S.F et al. (2021). Sports compression garments improve resting markers of venous return and muscle blood flow in male basketball players. J Sport Health Sci, 00; 1-10.
Sumbal, M. (2018). Essential Sports Nutrition. Rockbridge Press, Emory, CA.
Trainer, J.H. et al. (2022). Acute effects of percussive therapy on the posterior shoulder muscles differ based on athletes' soreness response. Int J Sports PT; 17(5), 887-895.