Hey CardioCrew! My name is Nick Kafker and I’m a runner and cyclist who used to spend more time injured than I spent training.
Last year, my best friend from high school track and I quit our jobs to build the first ever injury prevention app for endurance athletes. I’ll tell you more about that later, but first I’m thrilled to be a guest on the CardioCast blog to talk about my favorite topic: recovering from a hard workout. Let’s get into it!
Everyone has heard some version of that old phrase, “when the workout ends, the gains begin.”
You usually see it on the wall at CrossFit gym or another place where cardio junkies like me don’t always feel at home, but there is a whole lot of science in that bit of bodybuilder philosophy. Biologists call it the Stress-Recovery-Adaptation cycle, and it pretty much defines how the human body responds to every challenge it faces.
When you go for a long run or a battle through a tough workout (the stress), you don’t actually get fitter during the activity. Later, when you’re on the couch (the recovery), your body makes itself fitter (the adaptation) in response to the stress.
Most of the adaptation your body does is completely automatic. Evolution has us covered, but as athletes, it’s important to give your body what it needs during that recovery phase so you can get the most adaptation possible. There are 3 kinds of support your body needs: fuel, hydration, and prevention.
The first form of support, hydration, is super simple. Rehydrate! If you’ve done a long workout or sweat bigly (like me!), drink until you feel satisfied. That will most likely sort you out. If you love numbers and data, you can use body weight as a more precise metric for how much water you’ll need to replace. If you went to your workout at 172.2 and came back at 170, you lost exactly 2.2 lbs of water, which is exactly one kilogram, which is exactly one liter, which is exactly the size of a Nalgene bottle. Did I pick those numbers because they were easy? Yes, but 2 lbs per Nalgene is a simple way to think about it and will be hard to forget.
Most people make the second form of support your body needs, food, way more complicated than it has to be. There’s a boatload of conflicting science out there about what to eat after a workout and how soon after the workout you need to eat it and yada yada yada blah blah blah. Nutrition is so varied and complex that it’s basically become a form of religion. We think it should be dead simple.
Here’s the dead simple version: refuel ASAP and try to make it healthy. What is healthy food? Hot Take: everybody knows what healthy food is. Cheetos or an apple? Swedish Fish or wild caught fish from Sweden? A big colorful salad or a big bag of potato chips? I’d bet anything that you just got a 100% on this impromptu quiz. Eat a good quantity of healthy food after your hard workout. If you feel hungry, irritable, or exhausted in the next few hours, odds are you’ve got to get a little more food in. Thankfully you’ve just discovered that you’re an expert in healthy eating!
Injury prevention is the most interesting and most often neglected piece of the stress/adaptation/recovery cycle. Endurance athletes get injured at incredibly high rates, some studies mark it at 75% per year, so doing some prehab / injury prevention work is CRITICAL. Counterintuitively, the time immediately after a hard workout is actually the best time to do your injury prevention work. When you do your prehab immediately post workout, your body gets the maximum time to recover without adding any challenge to your recovery days.
Do your prehab on your hard days and your easy days are protected. Do your prehab on your easy days, and all your days become hard. This is why pro runners, cyclists, and triathletes often proceed from the track straight to the weight room.
Every athlete’s body is unique and everybody has different aches and pains. We worked with olympians and the world’s best running doctors to design the app that helps every runner fix aches & pains and prevent injury. It’s called “Recover Athletics”. If you’ve got aches and pains or just want to train more without worrying about injury, you can try the app 100% free by clicking below. If you like it, a year long membership costs less than one trip to the PT or Chiro!
Ok. You made it through. Stop the watch. Bask in the glory of your effort. Whatever the workout, congratulations. Now the good stuff begins.