By Chris Winter and Rachel Cliff
Do you find yourself squeezing in workouts around the rest of your life -- before work, during lunch breaks and in the evening? While your workouts are important, it is also critical to take your recovery seriously -- the little details have a bigger impact on your training quality than you might think.
We know it can be tough to justify making time for recovery, but remember that if you're able to avoid getting the flu or making trips to your physio, taking care of the details may actually save you time. Despite your busy schedule here are a few ways to sneak recovery into your day:
1. Sleep - Your #1 Recovery Tool
Most of us don't get enough sleep. Research suggests that you should be aiming for seven to nine hours at least each night. While this is true, it may not be possible for everyone, so it is important to make the hours you do get count. Here are a few helpful tips:
Establish a pre-bedroom routine. Do some foam rolling (more on this later), brush your teeth, crawl into bed and read a book. Establishing a routine will help quiet your mind and prep you for a better night's sleep. If possible, try and stick to a consistent wake-up and bedtime every day of the week.
Reduce screen time. Studies have shown that the light from your devices (phones and tablets) can greatly affect the quality of your sleep. It is recommended that you put your phone or tablet away at least an hour before bed.
Create a quiet and comfortable sleep environment. A quiet, cool, dark and comfortable environment is essential for the best possible sleep. It's better to have the room slightly cooler than normal (around 18 degrees Celsius is optimal) with enough bed covers to stay warm. Unwanted noise can be masked with a fan or ear plugs.
Avoid caffeine late in the day. Caffeine is present in more than just coffee and tea. It's also found in chocolate and ice cream, which may keep you buzzing longer than expected.
2. You Are What You Eat
Nutrition is a critical aspect of training, but it can be a complicated. There always seems to be a new superfood or diet that promises to make you run faster for longer. One week you'll be reading about the benefits of a low-carb diet, and then the next you'll read how teff flour is the secret behind the Kenyans' success. Despite the mixed messaging, we have found that following always holds true:
Eat a variety of foods. You generally can't go wrong if you're eating a little bit of everything (baring no food allergies!). Different fruits and veggies contain their own nutrient profile so be sure to mix things up -- the general expression is "eat a rainbow everyday."
Just because kale is a highly nutritious leafy green vegetable doesn't mean you need to eat it with every meal. The same idea goes for protein sources: if you had red meat last night, try eating fish or vegetarian tonight. It is boring to eat the same foods repetitively, and doing so minimizes your opportunity to consume other healthy foods.
Food is fuel. If you're training hard, your nutrient demands are high, and food is what powers you through your runs. Each meal should include a mixture of meat (or protein substitute), dairy, carbs, fruit and veggies. Similarly, use snacks as an opportunity to get some additional nutrients and protein in: hummus, crackers and veggies are always a great option!
Everything in moderation. We strongly believe that there is no need to eliminate anything from your diet -- runners can get into serious trouble if they try too hard to restrict "unhealthy" foods. We both love our chocolate and cookies, and feel that it is important to indulge your sweet tooth every now and then. Just do so in moderation and be sure that these "empty calories" don't replace healthy foods.
3. Stay Healthy with Self-Care
Don't have the time or money to visit your massage or physio therapist each week? We'll let you in on a secret: You don't need to. While there are times it is necessary to seek out professional help, sometimes prevention is the best medicine and there's a lot you can achieve at home to stop injuries from occurring altogether.
Some essentials are a lacrosse ball and foam roller. The foam roller's great for large muscle groups like the back, hamstrings, quads, calves and hip flexors. For these areas we start with the back and then move down from there, spending a minute or so on each section. For problem areas (like the glutes or a trigger spot on your back) the lacrosse ball is usually just the right size and firmness.
Set aside some time, a few nights a week, to work on your problem areas. Keeping this type of therapy as part of your regular routine will decrease your rate of injury and allow you to bounce back faster and stronger for your next workout.
4. Don't Be Afraid Of Rest
This can't be stressed enough. Many runners like to take the approach of "more is better," but this isn't always the case. Sure, there are times during a tough training block where it's okay to be carrying a certain level of fatigue, but if you find yourself so tired that your quality sessions are being seriously hampered, it's time for a rest day or a lighter workout. Sometimes less is more!
Nothing above should come as a surprise. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets when it comes to running and recovery -- it's all about small incremental improvements that, when cumulatively added up, can make a big difference in your performance.
Join Rachel and Chris on Sunday March 20 in Vancouver, B.C. at the Modo Spring Run-Off 8k!
Rachel Cliff is an elite middle distance runner based out of Vancouver, B.C. where she trains and competes for the B.C. Endurance Project, Vancouver Thunderbirds Track Club and Asics Canada. During her athletic career, Rachel has been fortunate to receive the support of wonderful coaches, friends and family as she has chased her Olympic dream. Rachel has also had the privilege of representing Canada on a number of national teams. In addition to running, Rachel is completing her MSc in the Occupational and Environmental Hygiene program at the University of British Columbia. Connect with Rachel on Twitter.
Based out of Vancouver, B.C., Chris Winter is an elite middle distance runner competing for Canada, New Balance and The Speed River TFC. Chris has competed for Canada on a number of national teams in track and field, cross country and road running. With the help and support of his sponsors, coaches, friends and family, he continues to pursue his Olympic dream with hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio De Janeiro. Connect with Chris on Twitter and Instagram.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
MORE ON HUFFPOST: