Best recovery method for runners, RICE or MEAT?
By Henry Howard
Recently I have been dealing with a plantar fasciitis injury, which has required a longer recovery time than I would have liked. Throughout this experience, I’ve thought not only about my own healing but about how two concepts play into the recovery of runners and other athletes.
As a running coach, I implore my runners to tell me when they first detect a discomfort. Maybe it’s nothing, or something a few days of rest will handle. But I want to be able to properly address it before it becomes an injury that requires a pause in the training or worse.
I rely on two approaches – RICE and MEAT.
No, not, the foods. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. MEAT refers to movement, exercise, analgesics and treatment.
Some injuries are best served by one or the other, or perhaps a combination. In addition to understanding the injury, knowing the athlete’s history, fitness level and training load will help determine the best course of action.
What follows is a brief overview of both recovery theories. Please note that this is not considered to be medical advice. Should you experience an injury, consult a medical professional, your coach, a physical therapist or other expert for specifics on how to deal with your injury and recovery.
Here’s the scoop on RICE
RICE is the most common of the two concepts for treating acute injuries. And it’s been something I’ve used successfully. However, it’s not necessarily the best way to optimize healing. Here’s an overview:
Rest: Pretty simple. Give the injured area time to heal by reducing movement. For example, runners with lower leg injuries will take time off from running.
Ice: Apply cold therapy to decrease inflammation and pain. Up to 20 minutes at a time, two to four times a day.
Compression: Apply compression to reduce swelling. Wearing compression socks or tights for leg injuries, for example.
Elevation: Raise the injured area to stimulate blood flow and promote healing. Putting that injured foot on a table or laying on the floor with legs raised against wall, point toward ceiling, are what I try.
Serving up MEAT
So RICE mostly focuses on reducing blood flow, and therefore, the inflammation due to injury. But some injuries are best served by an increase in blood flow to stimulate recovery.
MEAT prioritizes movement, which in turn, increases blood flow to promote recovery. This is especially important for soft tissue injuries to ligaments and tendons, where blood supply is minimal to begin with. Those injuries need a kick start with movement, not idleness.
For example, not having a completely healed ligament will increase the likelihood of having chronic instability of a joint. This can be a big problem with athletes.
Here’s an overview of MEAT:
Movement: Start with gentle activities to place minimal load on the injured area. This is why for foot and leg injuries, the recommendations often start with yoga or stretching. Such movement promotes tissue growth, pushes in new blood and reduces the pain. Be sure to listen to your body and back off exercise when necessary due to pain.
Exercise: This is a step up and will promote even more circulation and fresh blood while removing debris from the damaged tissue. Start slightly more active exercise in this phase, depending on the injury. Possible options include walking, biking and easy running. Again, back off exercise if pain becomes an issue.
Analgesia: There are natural foods and supplements that can help promote healing. Natural pain killers are much safer than NSAIDs. Among those that help manage pain are ginger, turmeric, magnesium and boswellia. There are also CBD-based products that can play a critical role in healing, too.
Treatment: This covers a broad spectrum, depending on the injury and how acute it is. Medical experts may recommend ice, heat, acupuncture, scraping, soft tissue release, laser or other forms of treatment.
Find a customized approach
At this point, I am still working through the latter stages of recovery. I’ve used a combination of rest, ice, compression, movement, exercise and analgesia. (And technically, treatment to, as my PT has scraped my injured area).
To get to the point where I began running again, there was trial and error. Don’t give up if one treatment doesn’t work, or is slow to respond.
Whether your injury requires RICE, MEAT or some combination, be sure to consult an expert listen to your body, back off when pain flares and follow a personalized strategy that works for you.