You may have noticed how professional leagues are more obsessed with resting their elite players than ever before and reducing the risk of injury. Those leagues are learning to value the importance of rest and recovery for athletes, and the rest of us should learn to do the same.
But not all rest is created equal, and there are things we can do to speed up our recovery and ensure that we feel good when we're ready to hit the trail or the gym the next day. Here are a few important tips focusing on rest and recovery for athletes.
1. Sleep a Lot
You probably already know how important it is for athletes to get proper sleep, but it can't be stressed enough. Stars like LeBron James and Roger Federer sleep a ridiculous 12 hours a night, because they need more time to recover than most people, who need an average of 7 to 8 hours. Though you may not need that much sleep, you should be resting for at least 7 to 10 hours per night.
It can hard to get that much sleep when you consider the demands of training, work and all of life's other distractions. But there are always moments when you can get in a good 10- to 30-minute power nap to alleviate sleep debt.
2. Pay Attention to Sleep Quality
A good night's sleep is not just about hours, to which anyone who has felt terrible after sleeping for 10 hours can attest. It is about getting the highest quality sleep possible.
You want to make sure you have a good mattress and a comfortable bed. But perhaps the most important step is to keep a regular sleep schedule so that you always wake and get up at the same time. Also, set a routine of stretching or reading to relax yourself, and don't spend your last waking hour on your phone or computer.
And if you are the sort of person who has a hard time getting up in the morning like I do, I recommend drinking some water before you go to bed. A quick jaunt to the restroom when you wake up should ensure that you are fully awake and not tempted to hit the snooze button.
3. Get Proper Nutrition
There are a million guides out there on the best nutrition strategies for athletes, and I do not have the time or space to go over every one. What I have come to believe is that preparing a decent diet strategy and sticking to it matters more than going full paleo or skipping on wheat products ,or whatever.
Also note that nutrition varies from person to person. You should have an idea of what foods work best for you and what to avoid. Craft your own diet plan and plan your meals in advance. That will do more to help you recover than jumping on the latest fad diet.
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4. Drink Responsibly
If you're of legal drinking age, I am not asking you to stop drinking. But you should know that alcohol hampers the body's ability to recover. It affects your sleep schedule, leeches valuable water from your body and weakens your muscle growth—among other potential harms.
Still, moderate alcohol consumption, especially of red wine, can have positive health effects. If you are at a bar, go for red wine or stick with beer. Avoid mixed drinks that use syrup; less sugar is a good thing. And drink responsibly. But don't think that because you're training that you have to avoid alcohol altogether.
5. Don't Be Afraid to Kick Back
All of the tips listed above are important for recovery, but there is more to life than exercise, training and resting. If you sleep adequately and eat well, you can afford to have a Saturday night out.
In fact, moments like that can help your recovery and performance over the long run. Burnout is a real problem when training, and every athlete has moments when he or she doesn't seem to be improving and can get discouraged. Burnout can take multiple forms, ranging from extended muscle pain to an inability to sleep to just hating the idea of working out.
Fixing and avoiding burnout requires a change in routine, whether it's approaching the sport from a different perspective (like Men's Fitness recommends) or having fun. So don't be afraid to mix up your routine, skip the chicken, and have a good time out on the town. Moments like those are good for your mental health and thus good for your physical health.