And they’re off! The clock is ticking and the runners are making their way through the 5k route towards the finish line.
I make my way through the crowds of people, running one step at a time, trying my best to keep up, however I can’t help but feel—well terrible.
My legs are sore, my throat was throbbing, even my bones felt pain—I was tired.
I had been racing and training hard all summer with little to no recovery periods, and I was feeling the effect.
Continuous exercise, day after day, with little to no rest or recovery can be detrimental to performance as well as health.
Negative effects can occur in muscular strength, mental strength, and physical health.
The Effects of Too Much Exercise
According to an article published in the U.S. News & World Report titled, “Ten Signs You are Exercising Too Much,” over-exercising without allowing your body adequate rest can lead to “diminished strength and increased body fat.”
The article, written by contributing writer Chelsea Bush, further explains when recovery is not available the body will begin to store fat opposed to burning it.
During exercise the body will transform into survival mode causing it to do what it needs to in order to ensure energy is available at all times. As a result, fat can be stored to avoid the chance of low energy levels.
Ms. Bush stated in the article that the best way to recover from a difficult workout, such as a fast-paced or long run, is to rest one to two days.
If a full day of rest is simply not possible it is acceptable to participate in a very light bout of recovery exercise.
Additional resting requirements suggested by Ms. Bush include a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night, proper nutrition, and proper hydration.
How To Properly Recover
Providing the body with adequate recovery is just as important as completing workouts.
In order for the benefits of a hard work out to be experienced the muscles must repair and rebuild so they can strengthen, which will only occur through rest periods.
An article published in the online healthy living website, Very Well, exercise physiologist and fitness consultant Elizabeth Quinn explains why rest and recovery are essential after exercise. “Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild, and strengthen,” Ms. Quinn explains. “In the worst-case scenario, too few rest and recovery days can lead to overtraining system—a difficult condition to recover from.”
During recovery the body will adapt to the stress placed on it through exercise. It will also replenish energy stores lost through the energy needed to exercise as well as repair tissue, Ms. Quinn explained.
Without periods of recovery the body will continue to breakdown and symptoms of overtraining will occur.
Symptoms of overtraining can range from a general overall tiredness, depression, decreased sports performance, increased risk of energy, lack of interest in training, lack of sleep, along with other symptoms, Ms. Quinn stated.
How To Properly Recover
When recovering from a hard workout or a race there are several recovery measures that should be taken immediately after.
In an article titled, “How to Recover From a Race,” published by Runner’s World Magazine, recovery should be taken in stages from the moment the race or workout ends, to the days and weeks that will follow.
Within the first 24 hours after the workout the body should consume carbohydrates and protein to adequately restore the energy lost during the event.
Within those same 24 hours relaxation of the muscles along with light foam rolling can assist in recovery and blood flow throughout the body.
Once nightfall comes, the athlete should sleep a minimum of eight hours to allow the body and mind adequate restoration.
Runner’s World contributor Brad Stulberg writes, “When you do finally feel drowsy, don’t cut yourself short. Sleep is vital to recovery, so don’t be afraid to hit the snooze button.”
Throughout the next two to three days the athlete can resume exercise, however light exercise is recommended.
“Active recovery expedites the body’s natural repair process by delivering more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles,” Mr. Stulberg stated. “Just keep it easy—go for a walk.”
Physiologist and doctoral candidate at the University of Utah’s Vascular Research Lab Corey Hart stated in the Runner’s World article that the athlete should listen to their body.
It is common for athletes to reach for ibuprofen to fight pain after a race or workout, however Hart recommends against it.
“The inflammatory response is signaling recovery,” Hart stated, “and that is not something we want to mask.”
Once three to seven days have passed athletes should check in on how they feel to determine the next steps of the recovery process.
Hart stated that athletes who complete longer distances can experience extended periods of fatigue, known a central system fatigue.
“While training, you are constantly suppressing fatigue or downright ignoring it, which can throw your hormonal profile out of whack,” Hart added.
Those who are still experiencing feelings of fatigue should take precaution and allow time for lengthened rest in an effort to avoid a weakened immune system or injury.
Hart said, “Do not fight this fatigue,” instead he recommends light active recovery.
After even seven to 21 days the body may still be undergoing recovery, depending on the type of workout or race that the athlete endured.
Therefore, the athlete should be cognizant of how their bodies feel.
Physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York Michael Joyner stated in the Runner’s World article that throughout the seven to 21 days after the race athletes can begin to incorporate “some” intensity workouts, depending on how their body has recovered.
“The main thing to remember is that you can’t train if you are injured,” Joyner stated, “focus on reading your body and backing off if soreness and fatigue don’t improve.”
In sum, recovery is a very important aspect of training that should not be ignored or discounted.
Athletes who work out hard will recover just as hard, therefore regardless of the type of activity completed all athletes should make recovery a priority.