On the day after you exercise intensely, your muscles feel sore and you feel tired. What can you do to speed up your recovery so you can compete again on the next day?
The most effective way to shorten recovery time for your muscles is to eat carbohydrate-rich foods and drink fluids immediately after you finish your first event. Intense exercise, such as running a fast race or playing a hard game of basketball, uses up muscle glycogen, the main source of energy for your muscles during exercise. A low concentration of glycogen in your muscles makes you feel tired on the next day.
Researchers at Loughborough University in Great Britain compared two groups of competitive runners who ran very hard for 90 minutes on consecutive days. All of the runners normally consumed an average of 3,100 calories a day. On the day after their first hard run, both groups ate foods containing 4,100 calories -- 1,000 calories more than they usually ate. One group ate a high-carbohydrate diet, obtaining 63 percent of their calories from carbohydrates; the other ate a low-carbohydrate diet, obtaining only 42 percent of their calories from carbohydrates. The high-carbohydrate group recovered much faster. That means that if you have to exercise hard on two consecutive days, eat a high-carbohydrate meal immediately after you finish your first event: lots of fruits, vegetables and grains-based foods, such as pasta and bread.
Q: What kind of jogging program should I use to prepare for long-distance races?
A: Jogging slowly all the time will slow you down in races. You should plan to run fast two or three times a week in practice. Twelve years ago, one of the top female distance runners in the country was tested at the Olympic Training Camp and was found to be able to jump only 9 inches off the ground. This depressed her greatly. She concluded that she had no natural talent and was able to race successfully only because she trained harder than most of her competitors. Actually, her training of more than 90 miles a week had reduced her ability to jump and run.
Your muscles are made up of white fibers that help you run fast and jump high and red fibers that give you endurance. Running slowly develops your red endurance fibers at the expense of your white strength and speed ones, and it slows you down. When she reduced her training to 40 miles a week and ran at a faster pace twice a week, she was able to jump much higher and race much faster.
Every time you run fast, your muscle fibers are damaged and you should wait at least 48 hours to run fast again. Run slowly while you are recovering from your very fast workouts. To increase your speed, you should train your leg muscles with weight machines on the same days that you run fast.
Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.