Once I hit 30, my body started to let me know some things. Primarily it taught me that I can’t beat it up like I used to and still expect it to love me back. I have been injured numerous times in the last few years and get so frustrated by these setbacks. It can be difficult to take time off from exercising because of an injury or some other type of nagging pain.
I have realized that maybe what I did to my body before was okay up until a point and now I have tipped the scales. It’s not to say I can’t do the activities I used to, but I need to pay more attention to my body and focus on recovery and maintenance.
Exercise, particularly high impact activities, can put a lot of stress on your body. Your recovery in between your training sessions is just as important as the time you spend running, training in the gym, or on the bike. I love endurance and HIIT training. I understand it’s not the best for me physically to be running 15+ miles at once, but I love training and the way that I feel working toward a goal. I also love to do plyometric movements and intense workouts. I accept that all of these activities are hard on my body. However, I have incorporated several things into my recovery that has made a big difference on my ability to bounce back and get right back into it the next day.
A warning about NSAIDs: A lot of people take these to prevent pain during workouts or to mask it afterwards. The problem is they destroy your gut lining and can do a lot of damage to your liver. I used to take two Tylenol before a long run or race even when I didn’t have any pain. Not smart. Today, I rarely take NSAIDs. Instead, I reserve these for times when I truly need them.
Here are my go-to recovery items (I think these can all be applied across activities, no matter what you are in to):
- Epson salt –This is a miracle mineral if you ask me. Epsom salt can be purchased cheaply and in bulk. Magnesium sulfate is a great soaking solution for sore muscles and sprains. I add 1 – 2 cups to my bath and try to sit in it for around 15 – 20 minutes. You could also use a magnesium cream if you prefer.
- The Stick – This helps work through trigger points and alleviate tight muscles. It provides a great myofascial release. Plus, it’s probably just about a foot and a half in length which makes it really easy to travel with. Mine (shown above) is an older model, but works really well. I’ve had it for almost 10 years!
- Foam roller – Hurts so good! I try to foam roll before and after a run to get into my hamstrings, quads, and calves. If you are strapped for time, it’s more beneficial to foam roll after your workout than prior to. You can use a foam roller on basically any part of your body. If I need to target smaller spots (like the bottom of my feet), I will use a tennis or lacrosse ball.
- Tiger Balm – I use this so frequently, Matt actually refers to it as my perfume. Just stay away from the orange (extra strength) kind. It’s super messy and leaves a stain on EVERYTHING. There are also TB patches that can be applied and worn for several hours at a time.
- Massage – When I am training I try to get a massage regularly – at least every month. Nowadays, I try to go once every 3 months. Studies show that massage therapy can reduce your recovery time, prevent injury, and improve muscle performance.
- Acupuncture – I can’t say enough about the benefits of acupuncture. It has helped me on so many levels. Many people associate acupuncture solely with stress relief. While it is known primarily for relieving tension and increasing relaxation, it can be supremely helpful for muscle soreness, inflammation, and treating injury.
- Ice – I’ve never been one for icing or taking ice baths for that matter. However, I understand it can be useful at times. I’ve been told by several medical professionals you should only ice immediately after exercise. After that there is really no benefit, it just feels good. Some research shows it actually delays the recovery process. Mind = blown.
Your ability to train regularly is dependent on your post-workout nutrition. This means including high quality carbohydrates to replenish glycogen levels and lower cortisol levels. I like to pair my protein with carbohydrates (for example, eggs + sweet potatoes or chicken + butternut squash). I don’t think I need to explain the importance of hydration. Just be sure to drink enough water during and after your workout.
In addition to getting a good meal in, here are some great ways to replenish following your workout:
- Tart cherry juice – Tart cherries may help decrease inflammation, muscle damage, and oxidative stress. For an easy recovery drink I mix a little water with tart cherry juice, a squeeze of lime and one teaspoon of honey. I stay away from sports drinks of any kind since they usually contain high-fructose corn syrup or sugar.
- Amino acids, specifically L-glutamine and BCAAs
- L-glutamine –This is a supplement that is available in a powder or pill form. I usually take it during my workout or within 30 minutes of finishing my exercise. This helps replace glycogen levels and boost your immune system. I use the Poliquin powder form and mix that with water (it’s flavorless).
- Branched-chain amino acids – BCAAs have been shown to decrease exercise-induced muscle damage and promote recovery. There are many kinds out there, but this is the kind I use.
And finally, REST when you need to. I used to feel so guilty about missing a workout, but I don’t give myself a hard time about that anymore. It’s critical to listen to your body. If you need a day off, two days, or even a week, it’s not going to set you back too much. In fact, taking the time to rest and recover will ensure you can train for many more years to come.
I would love to hear about your post recovery habits or suggestions!