Firstly, to everyone reading who participated at the SCMM 2015 – congratulations! We are sure that a lot of gruelling training, discipline and sacrifice went into achieving this feat. Thank you for showcasing the spirit of the Indian running community. Hopefully, most of you are back to training already!
Post-race fatigue, aches and pains, and muscle soreness is a natural part of your recovery process. Whether you are a beginner, or a seasoned marathoner – training and running long distances is brutal on your body. Think of it as a process of controlled destruction and rehabilitation. While training prepares your body for the ‘destruction’ bit of the process, post-recovery nutrition is crucial to ensuring that the damage sustained by your muscles is repaired, and that the body is not left vulnerable to injury.
Evidence strongly suggests that post an endurance activity like a half or a full marathon, optimal recovery occurs when the right nutrition is consumed within 45 minutes of completing the activity. This period is referred to as the ‘golden window of opportunity’, when the body is most receptive to comprehensive recovery. Imagine your body as a dry sponge after an intense run – in this window of opportunity, your body is the most ready to soak up everything it needs to heal and rejuvenate itself.
While most runners are quick to gulp down an electrolyte drink or just water after crossing the finish line, many ignore the fact that the body has lost more than hydration. Your glycogen stores, which kept you going for the duration of the race, are running low at this point. The level of glycogen in the body has a direct effect on the fluid balance. If left unaddressed, this can worsen muscle fatigue and increase the risk of further muscle damage. An ideal recovery drink should be a good source of carbohydrates, capable of replenishing these glycogen stores and addressing dehydration.
However, it is important to not just chomp down on the carbs after a big race – don’t forget about the protein. Consumption of carbohydrates and protein in the 4:1 ratio is scientifically proven to aid muscle recovery and promote the growth of new muscle tissue. Protein enhances the body’s absorption of carbohydrates, and the amino acids in the protein act as the building blocks for muscle growth. A combination of carbohydrates and protein is significantly better for muscle recovery than carbohydrates or electrolytes alone.
Recovery nutrition should also replace electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium which are lost during intense endurance activities. These electrolytes are integral to the body’s fluid balance, energy production, and other vital functions. Timely supplementation of electrolytes keeps bowel issues and cramping at bay, along with preventing further damage to muscle.
Finally, the nutrition you consume immediately afterwards should ideally contain an antioxidant. Intense activities like a half or full marathon generate free radicals in muscles as a result of increased metabolic activity. These free radicals can cause potential damage at the cellular level, leading to muscle fatigue and delayed recovery. Antioxidants, like vitamin C, help eliminate free radicals and lower oxidative stress, thereby aiding recovery and protecting muscles.
On race day, ensure that you have your recovery drink, chilled, pre-mixed and good to go in your favorite bottle, waiting to welcome you at the finish line. As you finish, first let your body cool down gradually till your heart rate comes down. Then, proceed to consume your recovery drink before 45 minutes of your finish. Ensure that the quantity you drink is enough to replenish fluid losses, but not so excessive that it gives you stomach issues.
Finally, and this has nothing to do with nutrition – soak up the moment! It is easy to get carried away in the adrenaline rush and the atmosphere of the finish line, but take a moment to have a conversation with yourself about what you have just achieved. Before the post-race celebrations ensue, reflect momentarily on all that has gone behind making this moment possible. After all, every run is a celebration in itself – of the body, the mind and the spirit.
Dr. Aashish Contractor
Consultant, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital
Certification Director, American College of Sports Medicine