In endurance sports, you can only improve as fast as you can recover. While things like stretching, foam rolling, and compression socks can all be beneficial, the vast realm of nutrition offers some of the biggest benefits to speed up recovery. Here are 4 nutrition principles to change the way you recover:
Hunger is the Enemy
Starting immediately when you wake up in the morning on a rest day, it's important to maintain a steady, balanced intake of nourishment. Protein and carbohydrates are necessary to rebuild and refuel muscles, but they're also necessary to keep the body functioning properly. If they begin to run low, recovery will be put on hold as all macronutrients will be utilized for an immediate fuel source. To avoid this and to allow recovery to continue uninterrupted throughout the day, try to take in at least 100-200 calories every hour. Taking more of a "grazing" approach to recovery days rather than focusing on 3 large meals with gaps in between is ideal.
Avoid Sleeping on a Full Stomach
While you don’t want to go to bed hungry, you don’t want to go to sleep with a full stomach. While you sleep, the endocrine system rebalances and secretes hormones like HGH which are incredibly important for recovery and the maintenance of a healthy and efficient metabolism. However, this process is hindered when the stomach is full, especially in the presence of excess carbohydrates. Having a low-carb dinner approx. 2-3 hours before going to sleep is all it takes to allow the body to take full advantage of the rebalancing process that takes place at night.
Active Recovery Can Open Metabolic Pathways
The foundation of any recovery day is to take it easy. However, taking it too easy can be detrimental to recovery. Active recovery activities like hiking, stretching, yoga, or even a very easy ride/run can increase metabolism and the flow of nutrients and building materials to muscles. As circulation and metabolism increase, so does recovery.
Find Balance with Hydration
Staying hydrated even when you're not training is extremely important. However, avoiding over-hydration is equally important, and perhaps even more of a problem for most endurance athletes. Over-hydration can deplete the body of electrolytes and other nutrients, just like dehydration can. The best way to find balance with hydration on rest days is to simply listen to your body. Drink water every time you eat throughout the day, but don't force yourself to consume bottle after bottle. Simply put, drink to avoid the feeling of thirst.
Rest days are just as important as your hardest training days. As you get better at recovery, you'll get better at training. I hope these tips help you take your racing/training to the next level!