Most athletes know that getting enough rest after exercise is essential to high-level performance, but many still over train and feel guilty when they take a day off. The body repairs and strengthens itself in the time between workouts, and continuous training can actually weaken the strongest athletes. Rest days are critical to sports performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals. In the worst-case scenario, too few rest and recovery days can lead to over training syndrome - a difficult condition to recover from.
In this two part post we explore the more traditional methods of recovery from sleep, nutrition and massage to the newer and more controversial techniques like cryotherapy, cupping and pulse recover systems. it seems the importance of recovery is not in question but revolves around finding the technique which best suits you.
What happens during recovery?
Building recovery time into any training program is important because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training effect takes place. Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. Exercise or any other physical work causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen) as well as fluid loss. Recovery time allows these stores to be replenished and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise. Symptoms of over training often occur from a lack of recovery time. Signs of over training include a feeling of general malaise, staleness, depression, decreased sports performance and increased risk of injury, among others.
Short and long term recovery
Keep in mind that there are two categories of recovery. There is immediate (short-term) recovery from a particularly intense training session or event, and there is the long-term recovery that needs to be built into a year- round training schedule. Both are important for optimal sports performance. Short-term recovery, sometimes called active recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise after workouts during both the cool-down phase immediately after a hard effort or workout as well as during the days following the workout. Both types of active recovery are linked to performance benefits. Another major focus of recovery immediately following exercise has to do with replenishing energy stores and fluids lost during exercise and optimising protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells, preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size) by eating the right foods in the post-exercise meal. This is also the time for soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments) repair and the removal of chemicals that build up as a result of cell activity during exercise. Long-term recovery techniques refer to those that are built in to a seasonal training program. Most well-designed training schedules will include recovery days and or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule. This is also the reason athletes and coaches change their training program throughout the year, add crosstraining, modify workouts types, and make changes in intensity, time, distance and all the other training variables.
Adaptation to exercise
The Principle of Adaptation states that when we undergo the stress of physical exercise, our body adapts and becomes more efficient. It’s just like learning any new skill; at first it’s difficult, but over time it becomes second- nature. Once you adapt to a given stress, you require additional stress to continue to make progress. There are limits to how much stress the body can tolerate before it breaks down and risks injury. Doing too much work too quickly will result in injury or muscle damage, but doing too little, too slowly will not result in any improvement. This is why personal trainers set up specific training programs that increase time and intensity at a planned rate and allow rest days throughout the programme.
Recovery needs to take place not only physically but mentally and spiritually too. BURN out is a result of not allowing your WHOLE being the time and space to recuperate after pushing yourself to your limits. This collection of great articles gives you great insight into recovery, let’s take a closer look…
Nutrition: Feed Your Body
There are compelling reasons for embarking on a rehydration and refuelling strategy immediately after a training session. The basis for this started over 40 years ago when it was shown that exercise performance (moderate to high intensity) is related to muscle glycogen availability and that fatigue during such an activity is often associated with a depletion of muscle glycogen. It can be assumed that muscle glycogen decreases during exercise, and that for complete recovery these stores need to be replenished. There is evidence to suggest that ingesting carbohydrates immediately after exercise results in higher glycogen levels six hours later compared to if the carbohydrate was only ingested two hours after exercise. Muscles that are damaged from the exercise do not restore their glycogen as efficiently as undamaged muscles, possibly as a result of transient insulin resistance. There is evidence to suggest that exercise capacity will be restored more effectively when a mixture of carbohydrate and protein is ingested during recovery, compared to the same amount of carbohydrate alone.
How important is recovery nutrition after exercise?
The importance of recovery nutrition depends on the type and duration of exercise just completed, body composition goals and personal preferences.
The goals of the recovery nutrition are to:
• Appropriately refuel and rehydrate the body
• Promote muscle repair and growth
• Boost adaptation from the training session
• Support immune function
Proactive recovery nutrition is especially important if you complete two or more training sessions in one day or two sessions in close succession (e.g. evening session followed by early morning session the next day). However, if you’re exercising once a day or a couple of times a week, recovery nutrition is still important but you may be able to meet your nutrition goals from your usual meals or snacks without adding in extra food.
What can happen if I get my recovery nutrition wrong?
Inadequate nutrition recovery, especially if training multiple times a day, can result in:
• Increased fatigue (during training and at work or school)
• Reduced performance at your next training session or event
• Suboptimal gains from the session just completed
• Increased muscle soreness
The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison... Ann Wigmore
The relationship between sleep and recovery after exercise, particularly relating to performance, is receiving more attention as the link between sleep cognitive function and metabolic function becomes better understood.It has been recommended that athletes should have at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Based on the understanding of sleep and how it contributes to recovery and restoration,there is reason to believe that “power naps”during the day will be beneficial. Research has shown that “power naps”, defined as a brief period of daytime sleep lasting less than an hour, improves alertness, productivity and mood, and may contribute to consolidating learning and improved performance of tasks involving visual discrimination.
Many of the world’s greatest athletes eat, sleep, breathe, and live for their sport. But did you know that in addition to physical conditioning and conscious eating, sleep plays a major role in athletic performance and competitive results? The quality and amount of sleep athletes get is often the key to winning. REM sleep in particular provides energy to both the brain and body. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to repair memory, consolidate memory, and release hormones. Tennis great, Serena Williams, told a UK publication that she usually sleeps well and enjoys going to bed early around 7 p.m. On the website of cyclist Lance Armstrong is a LiveStrong dare to get six to eight hours of sleep to improve mood, performance, and concentration. A study in the journal SLEEP confirms the role of sleep in performance with results thats how declines in split-second decision making following poor sleep. Results also showed increased accuracy in well-rested subjects. If there's one facet of the training regimen many athletes tend to neglect, it's sleep and recovery. But skimping on either can single-handedly halt your gains, increase your risk for injury in the gym or on the road, and hinder processes in your body that regulate, well, pretty much everything. John Walker and Damian Little tell us more.
SLEEP GIVES YOU MORE THAN JUST REST FOR YOUR BRAIN
Sleep gives you more than just rest; it recharges your “battery,” a.k.a. nervous system and replenishes your energy stores. Naturally the deeper and better you sleep, the better you reload. That's important because if you don't let your central nervous system(CNS) recuperate, your fitness suffers since your CNS is responsible for triggering muscle contractions, reaction time, and response to pain and you can start overloading your body on a larger scale. You're going to become slower, weaker, maybe even less coordinated in your workouts. What's more, your endocrine system and hormone profile are working while you’re sleeping. "These are really important because they secrete hormones, like cortisol and testosterone, that produce protein synthesis [muscle growth]," Little says. "In a stressed-out state, people have high cortisol levels, which can hurt performance and goals over a long period of time," he adds. For example,after a couple days of being under-recovered, your testosterone is going to drop; that affects how much muscle you can gain among other factors, like sexual function."
The better your reload is during sleep, the better you’ll be able to tax your body the next day," says Walker. If you have a bad reload during sleep, the workout you do the next day might seem harder than it normally would. Or you might overreach to compensate for your lack of energy, which ups your odds for injury. "When you’re asleep, all your body has to do is repair your muscles, breathe, and keep your hormone levels up," he says. It doesn't have to do as much, in comparison to when you’re awake, so it can use most of its energy to restore your damaged tissues. But if you’re getting low-quality sleep, or not enough sleep, that’s going to impact your body’s ability to heal itself. Bottom line: Without proper rest and restoration, you start degrading muscle growth and recovery, and your central nervous system stops recharging, so you feel tired, demotivated, and weak in your workouts, causing a negative feedback loop that can start a vicious cycle, Walker says.
ATHLETES DON'T NECESSARILY NEED 8 HOURS OF SLEEP
"Some people think, ‘Oh, I get eight to nine hours of sleep; that’s enough,’ but sometimes it’s not," Walker says. The quality of your sleep matters most. You can sleep for eight hours; but if the quality isn’t that good, you won’t recover as well as if you had six hours of high-quality sleep. You also need an optimal environment for sleep and to maintain good sleep hygiene, as well as good nutrition (don't eat fatty,spicy, or ultra-processed food right before bed) and use supplements (like melatonin and tart cherry juice).
IT PAYS TO KEEP TRACK
Just as you track your calories when you're on a diet,it's helpful to keep tabs on your recovery. "We use a basic journal or monitor to test out people’s level of fatigue," Walker says. Simple questions like "How do you feel today?" "Are you sore—and is your soreness symmetrical?" and "How many hours and how well did you sleep?" can expose simple measures of fatigue.
PAY ATTENTION TO SIGNS OF FATIGUE
Pay attention to your body. Are your feet starting to get a little bit heavy? Are you not as balanced on some of those landings? Are you not quite making the corners on the single-track? These signs of fatigue might not even show up on any test or machine. "In some ways, the critical eye of a coach, a co-partner, or yourself—if you really understand your own system—can be your best indicator of fatigue," Walker says. Professional athletes are really good at this. They know when they have that pop in their legs and when they don’t. If you're overly tired, call it quits; better you get the rest you need than hurt yourself. Each workout you do has a different influence on fatigue markers. But as long as you’re keeping track of your workouts, you’ll be able to note the trends in your body’s recovery time. “At MJP , we have hangover effect charts that show each client how long it'll take him or her to recover,” Walker says. “We also order workouts to optimise recovery," he adds. For example, if you're working on power in the form of plyometrics, like box jumps or broad jumps, get the work in early in the session because you’ll be too fatigued by the end. This way the recovery can actually occur within the training day itself.
"We’ve got to fatigue you!" Walker says. "We’ve got to pull you into that system (aerobic or anaerobic) where you suck. "Being uncomfortable (not in excruciating pain) is how you get stronger, faster, better. There are going to be days where you don’t feel great, and workouts that crush you. And that’s okay. Athletes training for the Olympics are constantly pulled toward their goal by getting uncomfortable. "There were days when [retired American sprinter and four-time Olympic gold medalist] Michael Johnson would run repeat 300s and feel completely trashed for two days later," Walker says. "That doesn’t mean the training itself is bad. "You want to make sure whatever you’re training for, you're stressing the right system at the right time," Little says. You've got to find that fine balance and know when to push it and when to back off.
SLEEP RITUALS ARE IMPORTANT
Late-night rituals: Most of us are overworked. You're probably working on your laptop, checking emails on your phone, or catching up on news or social media late at night. Problem is, the blue light emitted from these devices is going to trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. "Your body’s natural melatonin levels are going to be pushed down pretty low because your body thinks it needs to be awake," Little says.
"Get off your electronic devices at least one hour before you go to bed; this will help your melatonin levels naturally rise to where they need to be before you go to sleep," he adds. Lie down, meditate, do some positive self talk, read a book, or talk to another human being (crazy stuff, we know); all of these things are incredibly relaxing. Plus, they can get your heartrate down. Bedroom environment/sleep hygiene: If you're in a city, try blackout curtains if light from store fronts are always on outside your window. Set your bedroom temperature to a maximum of 20 degrees C (your body prefers cooler temps to slow your heart rate down and get to sleep quicker), Little suggests. Invest in a good mattress, sheets, and pillow, too. You want to create the optimal environment for sleep.
Non Steroidal Anti- Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)
NSAIDS relieve pain and have anti- inflammatory properties. These properties make them an attractive modality for the treatment of athletes after training and competition to possibly enhance recovery, and are the most widely used medications for treating muscle injury. Studies on strains and contusions suggest that the use of NSAIDS can result in a modest inhibition of the initial inflammatory response and the associated symptoms. However, the inhibition of the biological steps may cause negative effects later in the healing phase. Many studies have examined the acute affects of NSAIDS on muscle injury and the diverse findings suggest that NSAIDS have a dosage-dependent effect that may also be influenced by the time of administration. Animal studies suggest that whilst NSAIDS may have a short-term positive effect on muscle repair, the long-term effects (four weeks) may be negative and associated with ineffectual or delayed muscle regeneration.