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I’ve always found recovery after a long period of exercise really tough. When I first started running/cycling long distances, I found that I’d get an agonizing headache a couple of hours later, and would feel sick and queasy for the rest of the day.

After reading up on recovery I realized that I simply wasn’t eating enough – before, during and, most importantly, after the workout, and as a result my body was starved of nutrients. When we exercise we lose so much through both energy expenditure and sweating (even during workouts in the cold or rain), and replacing these nutrients is essential to maintain a good workout routine. If you want to get up and do it all again in a couple of days, your body has to be ready for it!

Training for a marathon has hammered this home to me more than ever; whereas I would happily go out for an early morning run on an empty stomach a few months ago, now I always make sure I’ve had something, no matter how early it is, and will often take an energy drink along too to top me up as I go. I do training runs to improve and get stronger, and there’s no way I’m getting stronger if my body is running on empty and feeling like a lead weight, using up all the energy I can muster to just keep going!

Fuelling up is important, but for me, it’s when it comes to recovering that things really start to get tricky. I did a 21 mile run two days ago; the longest distance of all my training runs, and the furthest I’ve ever run, ever! I came home and had a recovery shake (I use Rego strawberry recovery shake), and then had a good lunch of raw vegetables, bagel, houmous and walnuts with an orange juice, but I realize now that even all this was probably too little, too late!

The thing is that a long run requires a lot of fuel. Prior to my lunch I’d eaten a big breakfast with honey, toast and jam, a sweet energy drink, a sickly sugary energy gel and a chewy energy bar – I’d had enough of food, and the thought of more sugar made my stomach turn. But, the fact is that I should have eaten 1g of carbohydrate for every kg of bodyweight once an hour for the following four hours after the run (so the science tells me). That’s the equivalent of one and a half bagels per hour for four hours.

I honestly can’t say whether eating that much works after a long run, as I’ve never tried it. Instead I tend to listen to my body and pay heed, very carefully, to what it tells me. That normally includes a big lunch, a few hours where I fancy something but I don’t know what and end up munching through half a box of cereal, a flapjack or cereal bar after an afternoon sugar craving, and then a really big, healthy evening meal packed with protein and vitamins.

Today, two days later, I’m still recovering. My legs feel like lead and my lungs are like cotton wool; I found it hard to relax into a comfortable breathing rhythm during my morning recovery run, and finding the energy to push a little for some sprints just wasn’t happening. Even walking up the stairs is tiring at the moment, and my muscles, joints, lungs and bones are all calling out for a bit of help. The fact of marathon training is that I’m still recovering from one run, while preparing my body for the next; no wonder I’m always so grumpy the day after a big run or cycle!

When it comes to recovery I still have a lot to learn, but I do know a few important things to help get me back on my way as soon as possible:

  • Little and often is the key. I sometimes find myself snacking on bowls of sugary cereal at multiple points in the afternoon – cereal is light, packed with sugar (which is essential after a long period of exercise), easy to digest and, when combined with milk, also provides calcium for bones and fluid for hydration.
  • Cereal bars work wonders when on the run after a long run. My favourite is the Eat Natural almond and apricot variety – it’s a nutrient all-rounder, is nice and filling, and satisfies the sugar craving while also being healthy and portable! I always carry a bar in my handbag in case of any hunger pangs while out and about.
  • Fruit and vegetables have true healing powers. There is nothing better than a big bowl of vegetable soup after a muddy fell race, or a huge fruit salad and thick Greek yoghurt after a long road run in summer. I don’t need to highlight how great this is for packing the nutrients back in to your body, but it also feels incredibly wholesome after putting in all that work, too. After the Keswick half marathon we always visit our favourite veggie cafĂ© for a huge bowl of chilli and cheese – it’s mega hot which is great for detoxing and relieving aches and swelling, as well as being a great comfort food!
  • Liquids also count! The first thing I turn to after a race is orange juice. I can’t stomach it before a run (lesson learned very early on!), but I can drink a large glass in a matter of seconds when I’ve pushed myself hard. It’s also incredibly refreshing when combined with some sparkling water or lemonade. As well as fruit juice and smoothies, lemonade, ginger beer and sugary tea are also great for recovery – they help to replenish both water and sugar, which is perfect.

    The best veggie chilli in Keswick!

The ultimate lesson for recovering after a long period of exercise is to listen carefully to your body. It’s easy enough to ignore hunger during more sedentary periods, but when I’m training for a race I’m like a bear with a sore head at even the slightest sniff of hunger. I allow myself to have whatever it is that I fancy, and if I fancy something but I’m not sure what (as is often the case – a bit like having a hangover) then fruit, yoghurt and muesli works every time.

It’s also essential to stay hydrated for speedy recovery

– urine should always be very pale in colour, but this is never more important than after a long run. Hydration is another post for another day, I reckon.

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