How to take care of your body after a life of competitive running / athletics

As a competitive runner, there are few things that command as much of your time and energy as training. Deciding which races to run, coordinating travel, and planning your training routine are an integral and exciting part of the life of an athlete. When it comes to recovery and taking care of your body, however, age plays a role. A lifetime of competitive running has great benefits for your body, but once you hit 40, the body begins to respond differently. How you care for your body during this stage of life is as important as your training routine.

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Recovery Begins Before Your Next Run

A thorough warmup is more important than ever. The risk of injury and overtraining increases, which translates to less time to train. While we all understand the basics of training, a habit of scrimping on a warmup is a mistake, particularly for pro athletes 40 and above. Warming up not only prepares your body for the training session, it will minimize the damage to your muscles which ultimately means a faster recovery. When you exercise, your muscles go through extreme stress, with an increased flow of nutrients to the muscles for growth. Muscle growth and strength cannot occur without proper rest and the right recovery nutrients – the body will simply become tired and worn. Specific after-workout steps will help you gain more out of every workout, particularly if you have been a competitive athlete throughout your lifetime.

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Quality over Quantity

A shift in your mindset can work wonders for a training schedule. Rather than simply looking to hit a specific number of miles each week, begin a run with purpose in mind. You may decide to do a run with HIIT, a long run, a slow run, or one to keep tempo. No matter the goal, always run with a purpose – and ensure your body is replenished with the right nutrients, at the right times, following your run or training session.

The Importance of the Cool Down

Once you reach 40, your body starts to go through changes. Its ability to repair itself slightly declines, with a gradual loss of muscle and connective tissue. The muscles start to lose some elasticity. Tight muscles can mean a shorter stride with an increased susceptibility to injury. Including an extra, off-the-clock mile or two followed by stretching will allow you to keep up your training and reduce the risk of injury, while keeping your muscles healthy. Stretching thoroughly after each run will not only minimize post-workout pain but help maintain a higher level of muscle strength and flexibility for the long term.

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As a runner, you understand the importance of nutrition as a part a training routine.

Nutrition for Recovery

As a runner, you understand the importance of nutrition as a part a training routine. The days when you could just grab and consume whatever was convenient are pretty much over. Planning your post-workout nutrition will ensure your body gets the fuel it needs for a faster, healthier recovery. The optimal time to refuel your body after a good run or workout is within 30 minutes, and again two hours later. A combination of protein and carbohydrates – heavy on the carbs – will give your body what it needs to repair, restore energy, and build muscle strength to help you avoid fatigue.

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Athletes and coaches alike all agree on one thing: there’s nothing that will aid your recovery efforts more than healthy sleep. When training for a big race, rest becomes even more important to strength and endurance. You should be getting between ten and twelve hours of sleep each night. While this might seem excessive, your body is doing bulk of its recovery during sleep. As you move out of the thirties and into the forties, you may find it is more difficult to get to sleep. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day will train your body to a standard routine that can significantly boost your energy and endurance for an upcoming race.

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Planned Time Off

Pro athletes know that time off is part of a healthy, long career. After the laser-like focus required to train for elite races, both your body and your brain are ready for a break. Most runners agree that planning to take time off is a far better than being forced to take a break to recover from an injury or exhaustion. Listen to your body and your intuition. It will tell you when you need to take a day, week, or even a month off. When you return, you’ll be well-rested and ready to tackle your next race with confidence.

Dr. Casey Crisp serves as the Director of Clinical Quality Assurance at Airrosti, a nationwide health care organization specializing in musculoskeletal pain injury treatment. His primary role is educating and developing new doctors and managing clinical teams to meet clinical requirements in documentation, clinical assessment, and quality care assurance. He currently serves as the lead instructor for the CEU (Continuing Education Unit) program for Doctors of Chiropractic.

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