Have you ever seen the designated finish line area for elite athletes? Filled with ice baths, NormaTec boots and on-call masseuses—it's a far cry from the crowded fold-up tables stacked with bananas and water that we amateurs usually encounter.
To be fair, pro athletes are breaking down their bodies for a living, and staying in peak condition for the next race means recovery is as much a part of their daily lives as breathing. But still, even we mid-pack finishers are at risk for injury, illness and loss of performance if we don't recover properly. But how can you recover like a pro without quitting your day job? Here are five ways to stay ahead of the recovery curve:
Invest in a Portable PT Center
While some pro athletes visit a physical therapist weekly for active release massages and gait assessments, the average athlete doesn't have the time or budget. For less than $100, you can purchase an array of equipment that can stave off many of your post-race or heavy training injury nuances.
Foam rollers start at around $30, and you can find entire foam rolling routines on ACTIVE.com and YouTube. Have a little bit more cash? Try the $70 TriggerPoint Starter Set, which comes with a FootBaller, Baller Block, TP Massage Ball and DVD to release some of the more common post-race sore areas.
All of these items are small enough to fit in your transition or race bag, so after you cross the finish line, you can grab some water and a banana, then hit the ground for 15 minutes of active release, leading to less muscle soreness, reduced risk of injury and a shortened recovery time. Just keep in mind that if after a week of recovery and foam rolling you're still feeling pain, it's time to go see your doctor.
Think on the Micro-Level
Most people think that recovery involves only post-workout or race behavior, but in reality, recovery is something your body is doing constantly. One of the most overlooked ways to recover is through diet—specifically, micronutrient supplementation.
So what exactly are micronutrients? Unlike macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) which are nutritional components we need in large quantities, micronutrients are incredibly beneficial minerals and vitamins we need in small dosages to orchestrate a range of physiological functions from immunity to fluid balance.
During a race, micronutrient supplementation involves taking in electrolytes like potassium and magnesium to keep your body hydrated and to regulate your blood's pH levels. Eating a balanced diet will keep your micronutrient levels in check, but during periods of heavy training or racing, micronutrient supplementation can improve your performance, prevent illness and decrease your overall recovery time.
There are many philosophies out there regarding micronutrient supplementation and what works best for each individual. One company, EnduroPacks, has developed a daily regimen of micronutrient supplements that can be used before, during and after your workouts for optimal recovery.