By Dr. Beau Beard
Photo by Nick Danielson
When did the idea of recovery become such a hot topic? Probably about the time that it became popular to constantly push, compete, train and optimize every part of our life. Over the past decade trail running alone has seen a massive increase in exposure and participation, with much of the emphasis on longer races, training harder and the relentless pursuit of just more. While this mentality has an appeal, this hedonistic approach to running usually results in a repetitive cycle of chronic fatigue, injury and actually a decline in health. So how do we keep the motor running, while at the same time not allowing the thing that we love to become the thing that breaks us over time?
Recovery can be simply defined as the time that we are actually improving from our efforts on the trails or in the mountains. Any time we are putting effort into our given sport we are technically breaking down tissue, stressing our energy systems, and creating oxidative damage that all need to be kept in check. Following an efficient and effective recovery strategy, will allow us to actually spend more time on the trails as our body becomes conditioned to longer, harder and faster efforts.
There are numerous resources that have come about in the past few years that really take a deep dive into the benefits of sleep. If you look at sleep from an evolutionary standpoint it really hits home that if we were designed to shut down our body for hours on end, possibly making us vulnerable to the elements and predators, then it’s a safe bet sleep is pretty damn important. Sleep hygiene really consists of our routine throughout the entire day, and not just the time immediately before we go to sleep. The following is a solid approach to sleep hygiene.
- No caffeine after noon, 3 PM if you’re a fast metabolizer, and no alcohol within 3 hours of going to sleep. Caffeine and alcohol can both affect your body’s ability to get into deep sleep which is vital to cognitive recovery.
- No food 4 hours before bed. Try to time your meals so you have time to move most of the contents of your stomach to the lower GI system. Overeating, spicy foods, and stimulants like dark chocolate (yes I said it) can also disrupt sleep.
- 7-8 hours per night. You cannot catch up on sleep, and your body thrives on routine. Try to maintain the same bedtime and wake time each day.
- Try to make your room as dark as possible. Our brains are wired to respond to light. Try to stay off electronics before going to sleep as blue light can have slightly detrimental effect on sleep promoting hormone production. Close the shades or invest in blackout shades.
- Put your cell phone in a different room. Without putting on my tinfoil hat and going into the possible negative effects of EMF, having your phone as your alarm keeps your brain anticipating alerts coming from your phone. Studies have shown even when your phone is on airplane mode you are still aware that your phone is near. Also, do not check messages/alerts first thing upon waking as this can send a rush of anxiety/stress into your system, and as we said sleep hygiene is an all day routine.
- Keep it cool. The optimal temperature for human sleep is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature is crucial to going through full sleep cycles, if your room is too hot your body will have a harder time diving into REM and deep sleep cycles.
As runners we know the importance of hydration during our time on the trail, but do we understand why staying properly hydrated off the trail is a crucial factor to our recovery. Here is a great daily hydration routine.
- 16 ounces of lukewarm water first thing in the morning. Sleep is dehydrating to your body, in particular at altitude. After our 8 hours of sleep your body needs to replenish it water stores. Try adding a dash of sea salt, and then vigorously shaking your water for 30 seconds to allow the water to become mineralized and which makes it easier for your body to utilize. You can also add some lemon or lime for added electrolytes and a taste boost.
- Skip sugary sports drinks as the sugar in them can be dehydrating, but also creates a bit of an inflammatory reaction in the body.
- Drink throughout the day. Runners tend to drink water throughout the day, but be sure you add some sea salt or a bit of electrolytes to every other bottle of water. When we drink too much plain water we can create a dilution of our electrolytes which can lead to the same feelings/symptoms as being dehydrated, such as fatigue and cognitive impairment.
- Limit caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, and albeit coffee/tea is mostly water, the dehydrating effects can outweigh our hydration strategy throughout the day.
- Stop drinking water 2 hours before bed. As a kid I always though it was normal to have a glass of water by the bedside, but to ensure that we are not having the urge to urinate at night which disrupts our sleep, it’s best to cut it off an hour or two before sleep.
Running is movement, but as you run more you actually hit a break point where you become worse at running. Yes, you heard that right. From a biomechanics and energetic standpoint your body is designed to become as efficient as possible at the task we demand of it, and running is no different. If we avoid mobility, cross training and soft tissue work our body can become so well adapted that we get locked into a poor movement patterns ultimately leading to injury.
- Cross training is absolutely vital to recovery and continual improvement as a runner. Without loading the muscle, fascia, tendon and ligament systems of the body in a different manner than running, we are inevitably going to outpace the capacity of those tissues resulting in injury. In addition to making those tissues more resilient, adding strength to our body allows us to push harder and go longer on the trail.
- Creating movement variability helps keep your body guessing to allow for improved neurological adaption, and at the same time it can help stave off burnout or over training.
- The commonly used and even more commonly misunderstood term of ‘mobility’. This term seems to be a catch all for stretching, joint mobilization, foam rolling and the extremely fad-friendly vibrating guns of muscle destruction. Mobility can more concisely be defined as flexibility you can control. So if you break that down it becomes more clear that we need to be able to move all of our joints and tissue freely, but at the same time control those movements. In order to make this happen we can use all of the aforementioned strategies. Some areas of notes for trail runners are ankle and hip mobility.
- Breathing. I would guess that not everyone thinks of breathing as a movement, but it’s actually the first movement all of us ever perform. From the time we come out of the womb we breathe to stay alive, and when on the trail we breathe to continue moving forward in the face of impending fatigue. We can also harness our breath to speed our physical and mental recovery. After a hard run or workout, focusing a on breathing session with nasal breathing where those breaths come from the diaphragm, with the exhale lasting twice as long as the inhale is a great starting point to get your body back into parasympathetic or recovery state ASAP. Breathing can also be a vital tool in creating mental clarity, reducing anxiety and aiding in getting to sleep at night.
Knowledge is only as powerful as the action it inspires. So I hope that these few tips and techniques aid your recovery and health in order to keep you running and staying wild!
Check out Beau's series on hip strength and mobility here: