Two evenings. Ninety minutes. As a coach that's how much time a week on the average I have to influence the training of my athletes. I have to trust them to do the right things on the other five days of the week; run a long run, run a semi-long run, run some easy runs, rest, listen to their body, and so on. The training regimen of every athlete, whether elite or amateur, boils down to two states: The Run, and The Recovery.
When you're not running you're recovering. It's that simple. Even if you're busy at your "real job", if you're not running it's recovery time. Simply put, recovery begins the moment you finish the run. Some of the smartest things you can do to aid in the recovery process has to start within the first 30 minutes of the finish.
First things first: let's refill the tank. A blend of carbohydrates & protein (3-to-1 or to 4-to-1 is optimal) will help to repair micro-torn muscles & jump-start the process of glycolysis (simply put, the making of glycogen, the fuel muscles use to burn for energy). You can either take this in solid or liquid form; your body will accept it either way. If you don't like to eat soon after a hard run or a race, then you can use a commercial recovery drink, like (Pacific Health Labs') Accelerade, (Aijinomoto's) Amino Vital, or (Cytosport's) Muscle Milk to get those necessary elements in that 30-minute window. Why 30 minutes? Physiological research finds muscles are more ready to accept those elements during that first 30-minute period. Besides, I can think of few things better after a hot, sweaty long run than a nice cool drink.
Low-fat chocolate milk has been the latest recovery hero; an almost perfect blend of carbohydrates & protein, and without the hassle of measuring and mixing; every little local convenience store (no matter where you are) has 16 ounce or half-liter bottles of the stuff in stock. If you can eat during that half-hour window, low-fat yogurt, a sandwich or pasta with meat sauce will also do the trick. Does it have to be both carbohydrates & protein? While carbohydrate-only refueling is better than no refueling at all, a recent study concluded runners taking carbohydrates & protein together reported less soreness compared to runners who took only carbohydrates.
At the finish of my ten-miler this morning I stepped into the porta-potty near my car. I felt like I needed to void my bladder, but all I could void was a small amount of dark yellow urine. Yes, I was definitely dehydrated; probably even before I started the run. The eight-to-ten ounces of water I took in at the halfway point of the run was a weak holding action at best in the struggle to remain hydrated. I wrung out more than that amount from my technical shirt at a mile-and-a-half to go. There are multiple schools of thought on rehydration:
Weight change - weigh yourself naked before & after the run. Rehydrate with the same amount of water or sports drink you lost in weight.
Weight change/150-percent - weigh yourself naked before & after the run. Rehydrate with 150 percent - one-and-a-half times - the amount of water or sports drink you lost in weight.
Weight - weigh yourself . Divide the number (pounds) by two. That number is the amount of water (in ounces) you should take in. This school of thought is good for those no training run days.
Urine color - drink enough water/sports drink to ensure the color of your urine is straw-colored/light yellow. The problem with this method is it's subjectivity; one person might consider their urine to be sufficiently light in color, also, vitamin supplements can color urine a bright yellow.
I run with several friends who consider beer to be a beverage with multiple benefits; post-run carb replenishment, post-run analgesic, lubricant. One out of three is correct. Apart from killing pain (and brain cells!), alcohol affects reaction time, accuracy, balance, eye-hand coordination, & endurance. Even the night-before "barley pop carbo load" can screw up sleep cycles & hurt the next day's performance.
A 12-ounce can of beer has only 14 grams of carbohydrates, as compared to 40 grams in a can of soft drink. Athletes who drink regular beer end up running - to the bathroom - more than those who drink low-alcohol beer or alcohol-free beer. And drinking alcohol forces your liver to focus on breaking down alcohol rather than on glycolysis. So one 12-ounce can of beer can delay your body's recovery & refueling by an hour. When you have real life to accomplish outside of the run or the workout every hour counts.
If you're trying to drop a pound or few (one pound of excess weight can add two seconds per mile to a race performance) calories in alcohol pile on top of regular caloric intake. Alcohol also stimulates the appetite & makes it harder to feel full. So if you like alcohol, limit the drinks to two per day (for men; one for women). And don't forget to swap between one glass of non-alcoholic beverage for every drink.
I know several local massage therapists; I train one of them. I'd use their services on a weekly basis if I didn't have a real daytime job. My employer understands my occasional training & coaching-related absences to a certain degree, but I'm not willing to push the envelope on this account. So, outside of the occasional weekend "fit into the schedule" visit, my use of massage as a means of recovery is a do-it-yourself project. Some massage therapists teach self-massage to their clients as a value-added service: A smart LMT will have to work less hard on an athlete who keeps their muscles & tendons happy in between visits. The founder of Trigger Point Performance Therapy considers self-massage like tooth-brushing; you still go to the professional (like a dentist) for a thorough job or an emergency situation. Some popular self-massage items include foam rollers, therapy & sports balls for pinpoint massage, knobs; there are also at least half a dozen books on athletic & therapeutic self-massage. Check with your local health club, therapy spa, massage therapist, or athletic specialty store - not necessarily in that order - for lessons, items & recommendations on what works...and what should be avoided like the plague.
Yoga can be used as a cross-training or therapy tool - the core strengthening, relaxation & flexibility aspects can be used either after or in between workouts; even on those days when you're beat up or injured. There are stretches & positions which will work on the legs, core & balance.
Lastly, compression wear - tops, tights, & socks - can help ensure blood flows from the extremities back to the heart, lungs and digestive system. They provide gentle pressure and support to the muscles, as well as retain warmth, which will allow the muscles to remain supple for a longer period of time. There are several companies which produce compression clothing, at varying levels of affordability, so every runner can take advantage of their benefits. Oh, and while there are many runners who swear by the use of compression sleeves or compression socks while racing or training, the jury is still out on the benefits; so far all they seem to do is make runners look a little geeky.
So, the best way to prepare for the next workout is to aggressively approach the recovery process immediately after the present run is completed.