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Training vs recovery - getting the balance right

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Dr Simon Sostaric tells us how to get the balance right between training and recovery in the lead up to the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival.

The Blackmores Sydney Running Festival is a draw-card for thousands of runners; all sorts of backgrounds, shapes, ages, abilities/disabilities and motives – which is a wonderful thing.

So every runner’s preparation, which includes training and recovery, is a matter of perspective.

Completing your chosen event will be immensely rewarding, and reflects the ups and downs in your journey to get there in the first place. For many, training is the easy part, and knowing how to read the signs between adaptation and over doing things is the challenge.

Run, recover, adapt

Those who run regularly will ultimately improve their fitness; better cope with fatigue and amongst other things, help to maintain their long-term health. Evidence-based science demonstrates multifactorial adaptations, including:
  • Enhanced muscle architecture and function
  • Stronger bones
  • Improved heart and lung function
  • Improved immune function
  • Reducing the effects of stress
  • Improved heat regulation
However, when the balance tips the wrong way for extended periods, runners are vulnerable to developing soft tissue injuries (particularly tendonitis of the Achilles and knee), illness, or multi-level overtraining syndrome.

Marginal gains approach to enhancing recovery

Unfortunately the elusive magic bullet for maintaining good health doesn’t exist. Adopting the concept of “marginal gains” refers to doing 1-2% better at everything you can do within your control.
  • Ensure increments in training loads (volume and intensity) are gradual and sustainable
  • Respond to niggles quickly. Not necessarily a sign that you have to stop running, rather, modify your training loads, and increase strength across the affected area. Refer to a physiotherapist
  • Replenish with ~50g carbohydrate / ~10g protein within 30-60min following glycogen depleting training (eg. A run over 90min, or interval training) to help with muscle responsiveness during the next training session
  • Try to stabilise sleep patterns. Getting to bed and waking at the same times, and 7-8hrs is ideal. Sleep time is the catalyst for regulating muscle repair; hormonal, immune system and metabolic function
  • Periodic whole body ice baths after hard training, to reduce body temperature and systemic inflammation
  • Innovative recovery modalities (eg. Electrical stimulation therapy, whole body cryotherapy) as directed by your practitioner
  • Balanced nutrition, rich in essential vitamins and minerals; fibre; carbohydrates, protein and good fats

Is there such a thing as too much recovery?

Paradoxically, throwing everything at recovery all the time would be counterproductive for your progress. Periodic training when you are glycogen depleted, or affected by muscle soreness, or fatigued, will indeed increase your resilience and contribute to important physiological adaptations. In principle, minimise modalities such as ice, or proven recovery “gadgets” in your early build up.

If you need an unscheduled rest, take it. You can’t flog a dead horse. Listen to your body.

Dr Simon Sostaric is the founder of Melbourne Sports & Allied Health Clinic  and also consults in Sydney at the Inner West Allied Health & Specialist Centre