Back in my home health days, I listened to lots of NPR. I especially loved the program Fresh Air. I was lucky enough to catch Terry Gross interviewing Christie Aschwanden, the author of the book Good to Go, in February 2019. She was speaking my language… scientific but well explained rationale behind the industry of recovery. You can hear the interview here.
As a marathoner, especially an older one, I’ve come to realize that success and avoiding injury in my sport lies mostly on how I care for my body; more specifically, in how I choose to recover. I haven’t met an athlete yet who doesn’t have some type of recovery ritual for tough workouts, whether it’s a protein shake, stretching, or my favorite, the Epsom salt bath! The recovery industry is huge and growing. Much of what Christie discussed really resonated with me and what I’ve learned from recent research regarding the management of inflammation, which is really what recovery is all about.
You see, there used to be this giant push to halt the inflammatory process in recovery, but science is proving some of the old, comfortable ways to recover from hard work really don’t work at all. This includes ice! I’ve never been a fan of ice baths. Not because it wasn’t scientifically proven to work, but because I hate being cold! I was thrilled to read an article stating that it might actually impede recovery. And when Christie reaffirmed this new, evidenced based finding, I was thrilled. She does note that if you are performing several tough workouts in a row, there is a place for those ice baths. She also discussed with Terry Gross her avoidance of taking ibuprofen after exercise for the same reason. You see, our bodies create an inflammatory response to exercise when we perform at an intensity to force adaptation. If we halt this process, we could, in theory, impede our physical progress. Our bodies use the inflammatory response to rebuild what we’ve damaged. You halt the process, you delay recovery and, perhaps, improvements in performance from all of that hard work. So the shift is toward helping to move this process along instead of stopping it, since inflammation = repair.
I bought her book off Amazon that night.
This is a well-researched, excellent overview of various modalities most of us use to improve exercise recovery. Christie hooks you in by telling the story of the “beer study,” a study in which she participated. Initial test results indicated that women may actually benefit from drinking beer to recover, and that this could subsequently improve our athletic performance the next day. Sadly, this was not true for the men. But before you can gather all of your girlfriends to go drink beers on the patio of your favorite craft brewery for the purpose of improving race PR’s, she bursts your bubble. She breaks down the flaws in their research model and why this isn’t true. She literally teaches you how to critique scientific studies, which is exactly what I spent half of earning my MS, PT doing!
Christie divides discussion by electrolytes/hydration, supplements, physical modalities, and sleep. She cites research that supports a paradigm shift in some of our old recovery rituals. And since she is an athlete herself, she tried all of the physical modalities herself, described her experiences with them, and what works for her. She gives you the science behind not only why but when to use these modalities. She also tells you things like real food can help you recover just as quickly as a protein shake, and that a walk can improve circulation as much as those fancy compression boots. She admits that much of what makes us feel better as recovery tools may have a huge placebo effect, but notes that this is OK. Some modalities, like massage and related ones like foam rolling, have limited research to support logical theories as to WHY it works, for example, but we definitely feel better after experiencing these!
As a physical therapist, I do take pause at some of the recovery tools she no longer supports. For example, she no longer includes any stretching as a part of her prep or recovery. I know she cites research to support not doing this, but I happen to enjoy stretching and how it makes me feel as a means to reduce all sorts of abuse to my body from activity. Is it a placebo effect? That’s your call. I’ve read plenty of research over the course of my career to support it both as prehab and rehab when performed correctly. But I also know plenty of runners in my circle who are terrible about taking the time to stretch, so her views might make them feel better about their recovery choices!
All of Christine’s research is cited, so you can go look up the articles yourself. In many cases, she actually interviewed the authors of these studies. In addition, she also interviews top athletes and their feelings about recovery. It’s interesting to see so much variation in what works for athletes. This book is more of a discussion with anecdotal stories than a dry summary of everyone’s research.
I highly recommend this book, especially if you are confused by all of the recovery tools on the market and you appreciate geeking out over the science of the whys, like me. You may find something new to add to your arsenal. And as marathon training season is set to begin next month, albeit virtually, I’ll once again be looking for the best tools to recover from my weekend long runs!
Have you read this book? I’d love to know what you think! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.