After my recent marathon, I had near complete resolution of my muscle pain and weakness after just 48 hours. Since many runners are seeking keys to quicker recovery, I felt it was beneficial to list my recovery regimen.
- Cool Down
As recommended in research, I walk for at least 10-15 minutes without sitting or stretching to ensure the muscles have time to cool down with a light stretch from regular motion. If the cool down is done effectively, it will alleviate some of the after marathon recovery.
Since exercise related pain is due to lactic acid or protein (muscle) breakdown, refueling is a key. In a study by the University of Illinois on rats in 1999, quicker recovery was found from refueling quickly after exercise with Leucine (an amino acid) containing products. Leucine is found in protein products such as meats and dairy products, as well as in protein bars and some sports drinks. So how do I refuel after a race? After any run, and especially after this marathon, I drank a large glass of milk within 30 minutes of completing the exercise. Fluids are also imperative as are some other carbohydrates to help further maintain blood glucose and reduce lightheadedness from low blood glucose. When I don't want to eat within 30 minutes after an exercise, I eat anyway, especially the large cup of milk and/or a yogurt to get the Leucine benefits.
- Fluids, Fluids, Fluids...
Part of refueling is getting the necessary fluids to replenish the body. I have a tendency to start sweating when I think about exercise. I therefore must replace a large amount of fluid after any form of exercise. This replacement is both for refueling and for providing the reservoir for flushing out waste products from the body and especially the muscles. It requires more fluid to carry all these waste products out of the muscles into the kidneys for excretion. Try to drink 6-8 ounces of water every 2-3 hours during the initial recovery period.
- Hot or Cold?
Although everything I have read recommends ice baths or ice massage after a strenuous exercise, and often they recommend avoiding the heat after exercise. I will say now that I aggressively treat my muscle soreness after an exercise (even after the marathon) with soaking in a warm bath or hot tub. Let me explain the science behind my actions. (Note that for me this works really well and decreases my muscle soreness significantly within the first 24 hours and reduces it nearly completely by 48 hours.)
The body reacts to hot and cold by dilation or contracture of blood vessels. Cold (ice) will reduce (vessel contracture) the blood flow into the area or cause the body to pull the blood from the area. Heat will increase (vessel dilation) the blood flow to the area and allow increased blood flow through the area. Since muscle pain is often due to lactic acid in the muscles or other waste products of "anaerobic" muscle metabolism (contracture), heat will allow blood flow through the muscles that can remove these waste products. Heat is only recommended by me during the first 12-24 hours. Ice can be utilized at anytime, but is rarely necessary if I undergo my usual exercise recovery regimen.
These four steps or keys find me nearly pain free 48 hours following a strenuous 26.2 miles. I plan to continue to train and run marathons and will evaluate the benefits of this regimen after any strenuous exercise. The proof will be in my recovery.