For a runner, or any keen athlete for that matter, being injured is the worst. Not only can it be a huge training setback, but it can also have a psychological impact.
It’s no surprise then that the industry is overflowing with different ways to aid fast recovery, from supplements to gadgets and even clothing.
We’ll go to great lengths to shave days off our recovery process, but which method works best?
A lot of us swear by stretching after a run, in the belief it will help reduce DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) and prevent injury.
Stretching, like many other recovery techniques, is thought to increase blood flow to damaged muscles, which removes waste products produced after intense exercise, to help rebuild the muscle.
Train, damage, repair (stretch), become stronger… sounds logical. However, a 2011 Cochrane library study into the benefits of stretching to reduce soreness found that ‘muscle stretching.
Whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.’
But don’t throw in the towel just yet; if it’s what you’ve always done, keep stretching.
The benefits of sleep cannot be overstated, especially following an intense session. Through the night, we cycle through four stages of sleep.
The final two being associated with memory processing, when the body releases hormones to repair tissues, and ‘REM’ (rapid eye movement).
Where we also engage our procedural memory, responsible for cognitive and motor skills. Dr Nicola Barclay, departmental lecturer in sleep medicine at the University of Oxford, and Mammoth sleep ambassador, says: “Individuals with chronic sleep loss are more prone to injury, increased pain, elevated levels of cortisol and inflammation, as well as decreased growth hormone and levels of testosterone, indicating that sleep loss may alter tissue repair.”
She also says that the level of sleep we need a night is very individual, so we shouldn’t become “fixated on the eight-hour average.”
But, if you do find yourself struggling to get in the hours, napping throughout the day is also a great way to catch up on sleep.
Many folk think they need to get their protein and carbohydrates in straight after a workout, in the form of a shake or a meal.
But really, unless you’re training multiple times a day, when you eat doesn’t have as much an effect on your recovery as what you eat.
Nutritionist Pollyanna Hale says runners should focus on three things after a run: muscle glycogen replenishment, muscle repair and hydration.
“Running depletes muscle glycogen (stored sugar),” she says. “So it’s important to replenish these with easy to digest carbohydrates like bananas, or a balanced meal containing protein, with rice or potatoes.
Protein is rich in amino acids, which will help to repair muscles.” Keeping hydrated during exercise and after is also just as important, as a 2% drop in hydration can cause a 10% drop in performance.
Massage Versus Gadgets
Over the past few years, the fitness industry has been inundated with gadgets designed to promote recovery.
From vibrating rollers to percussive therapy massage guns, each ‘gadget’ claims to increase blood flow to the muscles.
Skeptical as some may be, there is some science behind it. Dr Jason Wersland, founder of Theragun, says: “Percussive therapy combines the science of frequency, torque, and amplitude to provide deep muscle relief, reducing tension, alleviating pain and enhancing fitness, health and well-being.”
While punching your body repetitively with a small gun sounds much more fun than the arduous task of rolling on a spikey ball for 30 minutes a day, how does it compare to a proper massage?
“There’s mixed evidence for whether percussive therapy can actually speed up recovery time and while it definitely has its place, you can’t beat a good deep tissue massage,” says Sam Olden, lead physiotherapist at CP+R.
After a long run or intense training session, it’s common to see runners reaching for their compression clothing, under the spell that it will lessen their DOMS.
There’s more on the efficacy of that practice on the opposite page. Slightly newer to the market than the more established compression brands like 2XU and Zone3, but using a different method of clothing construction to very much plough its own furrow, is Kymira Sport.
This clothing company uses infrared technology in its kit to accelerate your recovery. The material used by Kymira Sport works by absorbing body heat and visible light, which it then transforms to a targeted area of the infrared spectrum.
The makers tell us that the energy is then penetrated up to 4cm into the athlete’s body. On the face of it, we’ll admit this does sound a little far-fetched, but many international athletes have endorsed it, including two teams that contested the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Tim Brownstone, founder of Kymira Sport, says that the key difference between the compression approach and the use of infrared is that, “Compression products require muscle activation in order to get the most out of them.
However, the crucial difference between this and infrared is that infrared has an effect even when you are just sitting there doing nothing.” Slip the clobber on and just sit there? We’re all for taking it easy, once in a while…