Something I've discovered since I started running marathons is that I learn something new either during the training cycle or from the race itself. Each one presents challenges I have to figure out how to overcome, and over time I've built up a mental dossier of things that work well for me. Why did I cramp at mile 19 and how can I prevent it from happening again the next race? What can I eat that won't make my stomach queasy? How often should I drink water? The list goes on and on.
This last time around while training for Chicago I was running more than ever. Most weeks Will and I were turning in 65+ miles, and a couple topped out in the low 70s. It was a slow ramp up that allowed my body to adapt to the new demands being placed on it, but still it was very taxing. Although I wasn't in any real pain, I was continuously sore and fatigued. Just part of the deal, I told myself. You're supposed to feel like this!
One day I happened to come across a site called RunnersConnect that I initially thought sold coaching services and training plans. After spending a few minutes poking around, however, I found a number of informative articles about training, nutrition and injury prevention. I wondered if they had anything about training recovery and eventually came across this article, What Runners Can Learn From Bodybuilders. I found it to be an extremely informative post that both explained what takes place in our bodies after a hard workout, and what could be done to promote quicker recovery.
I won't go into much depth about the article because I really think you should read it. That said, the author, Jeff Gaudette, offered two pieces of advice that basically revolve around the repairing of muscle fibers (anabolism) and delaying the break down of muscle tissue (catabolism). So, how can we do this like a bodybuilder does?
To promote anabolism Jeff advocated consuming whey protein in the form of a protein powder drink as soon as you wake up in the morning. I tried this for a few weeks and, honestly, didn't think it did a lot for me. I'm sure in the overall scheme of things it was helping my muscles, but I didn't experience any drastic changes in the way I felt. Further, I run first thing in the mornings, and putting this into my stomach didn't really agree with me. So, given these two things and the expense of the product he recommended, I came to the conclusion it wasn't worth continuing.
While the whey protein came up short, Jeff's other advice on how to conquer catabolism I found to be invaluable. He suggested consuming casein, a slow-digesting protein chock full o' amino acids, just before bedtime each night. The point of this he says is to feed your body with muscle building goodness and prolong the cannibalization process that would otherwise occur while you're sleeping and fasting. Whatever voodoo magic is taking place overnight, I can say with enthusiasm that this stuff really works! The mornings after I started doing this I woke up feeling significantly more recovered than I was before. I didn't creak near as much getting out of bed, and I was able to better execute each day's workout.
Incidentally, I feel it warrants comment that whey and casein protein should be considered only one aspect of your overall nutrition plan. If you're not eating right in the first place I suspect these supplements won't do a lot for you. So, minimize your alcohol and sweets and stock up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. It'll do your body good.
So, will this work for you? If you decide to try it I'd be interested in your feedback. The product Jeff specifically recommends is Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein. Apparently, it's what you want because it has a high concentration of protein isolate, and that's what makes it more effective. You can mix it with milk or water, and comes in a quite a few flavors. The chocolate supreme is what I got, which was great because it also satisfied my chocoholic tendencies. Sweet!