Socks of the Apocalypse

Two words: compression socks.  

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that if I couldn’t reasonably push my workouts any harder, given general job and life constraints, that there was perhaps another facet of training I could still exploit–recovery.  It stands to reason that the better my body is recovered going into a workout, the more I could get out of it, so I started doing some research on post-run nutrition and muscle-rebuilding.

The Palo Diet for Athletes does a pretty thorough job with post-run nutrition.  The book goes into a lot of subtleties, but boils down to two main points: Eat high-quality carbs within 30 minutes of finishing a workout to replace those burned from the muscle stores.  Muscles are most receptive to carb-loading directly following a strenuous workout, and in fact, the muscles most heavily used will receive the most benefit.  That means that for a short window of time, you can actually target carbs to your legs, which strikes me as really awesome science.  (This was also addressed in Bejamin Rappaport’s paper last year.)  The second stage of refueling should occur within an hour of finishing the workout, and should include a healthy serving of protein to promote muscle repair.

This is all pretty straightforward advice, but as anyone who’s tried it can attest, preparing a meal within an hour of a long run can be a challenge in itself.  I also find that I often don’t feel like eating much right after running, which can be another hurdle.  My approach has been to freeze a bottle of coconut water the night before the run, and throw that in the car when I head out in the morning.  By the time I get back, it’s thawed but still icy cold.  I’ve been drinking Zico, which has 60 calories and 13g of carbs in a small bottle.  It’s enough to get the rehydration started, and since it’s so cold and not too sweet it usually goes down easily.  I also take a Lara Bar and eat that if I feel like something solid.

For the protein, I make sure I have a few turkey or bison burger patties stashed in the freezer.  If I remember to defrost one the night before, great, but if not, it only takes a few minutes in the microwave.  I preheat the grill and the oven while I shower, and then throw on the burger and some sweet potato fries.  (Bonus if I have some leftover in the freezer.)  A grilled peach for dessert is a nice treat, too.

With the food taken care of, that brings me to the second front of my recovery offensive–the compression socks.  I’d been curious about them ever since I first saw socks going for $80 at a race expo, so I decided to find out if they were really worth the price.  Just like their less-glamorous brethren, diabetic socks, compression socks are designed to enhance blood flow through the lower legs.  The more oxygenated blood flowing through the muscles, the quicker lactate can be removed and cells repaired.  The jury still seems to be out on whether compression garments can actually enhance performance while running, but the evidence for recovery enhancement seems pretty solid.

Runner’s World reviewed a number of brands a few months ago, and I settled on the Sugoi R+R’s, which I got for $40 from Steep Planet.  I’ve worn them once for running, but have been putting them on post-run for a few hours all week.  Today I put them on immediately after my 18-miler, and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how good my legs feel right now. My calf-guns, as I like to think of them, have been giving me some trouble all year.  It hasn’t been anything too bad, but I’ve had nagging tightness and soreness that usually requires a lot of trigger point massage after my long runs.  Today they actually feel warm and loose and I haven’t hit the foam roller at all yet.  I realized that I even walked up the two flights of stairs to my apartment after lunch today without uttering any of my usual post-long-run moan/whimpers.

I think my only regret on the socks was ordering them in white rather than black, which I could conceivably have disguised under my work clothes. Somehow I don’t think white cheerleader-style knee socks are office appropriate.

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