Recovering from a long run is more than rest. It’s more than stretching and strengthening. Sure, those pieces do matter, but an often overlooked piece of recovery happens within the first 30 minutes after hitting the stop button. That first 30 minutes is where the magic happens. Your body is highly sensitive to nutrients that provide energy, wanting to store anything and everything in circulation. It lags behind your brain and watch. It plans on you continuing your current effort and relentlessly grabs resources in preparation. This forward feedback loop creates that magic 30-minute window, a window where your body will grab hoard nutrients in anticipation. With the beep of the stop button, the 30-minute start button begins. Your heart and breathing rates lower, signaling a gradual return to normalcy and diminished sensitivity at a cellular level. Absorption of nutrients slows, creating a ‘sooner the better’ scenario for recovery. Your onsite energy (stored glycogen) is depleted. You need to refill your gas tank, but how and with what? The answer? Carbohydrate.
Since the early 2000’s there’s been a war on the carbohydrate. This uber important organic compound has been a loyal advocate for activity and exercise. The propaganda of beer and food companies conjure of images of low carb products being synonymous with health. Lance rides his bike through the mountains before setting off to sit with friends and sip his favorite low carb beer. I can only assume that the general population is still buying into the hype, as companies are continuing to spit out ads of healthy, active, individuals consuming low carb products. You need carbs, especially as a distance runner. Not only will carbs help you fuel your next run, but they are important to prevent burnout and injury.
What is a carb?
Carb is short for carbohydrate, a compound that is broken down to create and store energy in the form of glycogen. Think of it as the gasoline for your body. Carbohydrates are ingested from foods like pasta, bread, fruits, and energy drinks. The body breaks down a carbohydrate and stores it for energy within the muscle or the liver. It’s fast acting and sustainable for most exercise. Like any energy source, though, it needs to be replenished.
Why do I need more carbs?
To race well, you need to train well. Low carb diets can deplete your muscles of energy, calling on other sources to get the job done. If you’re too stringent about your carb ingestion you can leave yourself running (pun intended) on fumes. The feeling of ‘dead legs’ is the least of your worries. Once your gas tank is flirting with ‘E’, it begins utilizing other sources of energy. Protein is up to bat. A fundamental building block for your muscles, protein begins to burn off to provide you energy for the demands, literally eating away your muscles. The starvation continues throughout your training and eventually leads to an epic blow up on race day, or even worse, a DNS (did not start) due to injury. Refueling after a workout is simple. You need to replace what you lose. It’s more than water. It’s more than electrolytes. You need to feed your muscles
You’re Starving Your PR Muscles
Think of it as finance. Taking frequent withdrawals (energy draws) can only happen for so long without a deposit (ingesting carbs). You need fuel in the tank (energy surplus) not only to run fast, but to prevent break down.