Training is just one part of the formula for peak performance. Another critical component in that equation is recovery.
Training creates a stimulus to which the body must adapt, and through that adaptation, improvements can be seen in things like strength, speed and size. This adaptation best occurs during the recovery window between training sessions. While hard training is beneficial for performance goals, it can actually be damaging to muscle tissue. It's during the recovery window when muscle tissue is rebuilt and adaptations can occur.
Athletes often equate recovery with lounging around and inactivity, but by taking an active role in recovery, athletes can actually recover faster and better. This directly translates to enhanced performance. These are some major and minor items you can do when you're away from the weight room to further help your performance on the field.
The Essentials of Workout Recovery
These are non-negotiable items. All things considered, if these two items are kept in check, your recovery between training sessions will greatly improve. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if either of these items are lacking, regardless of how many other high-tech recovery methods you may utilize, your recovery between training sessions will never be optimal.
Sleep is No. 1.
While I mentioned earlier that athletes equate recovery with lounging around, and sleep doesn't exactly scream active recovery, sleep is one of the most important factors for great recovery between training sessions and peak performance. Getting a good night of sleep does require some active measures for most athletes because poor sleep hygiene can negatively affect sleep quality. Things like light exposure, diet, and work/shift schedules can all impact sleep quality.
A study on adolescent athletes found that chronically sleep-deprived athletes were more injury prone. A review of studies on sleep-deprived athletes found that sleep deprivation in athletes resulted in a decreased time to exhaustion during training and an increased rating of perceived exertion during training.
Nutrition includes not only the fuel the body uses for optimal performance, but also the fuel required for complete recovery. Hard training can deplete the body of many critical nutrients, which is why it's important to have a diet that delivers the right amount of macronutrients and micronutrients. The electrolytes (minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium) are commonly lost via sweat during an intense training session. As an example, intensive exercise can increase urinary and sweat excretion that can result in increased magnesium requirments by 10-20%. Carbohydrates and fats get used as energy sources during exercise to varying degrees depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise. And proteins are necessary to rebuild damaged muscle tissue following hard training especially resistance training.
The Add-Ons of Recovery
These modalities can provide some additional benefits to athletes to further optimize the recovery process.
One of them is known as active recovery, which typically consists of low-impact steady-state exercise or non-eccentric resistance training movements (like a Sled Push). This style of training serves as an excellent way to get the blood flowing to muscles to further speed up the recovery process. The enhanced blood flow to muscles that were used during your training session delivers more nutrients to the areas that were damaged by training.
Supplements can also play a positive role in your recovery. Sound nutrition should cover the majority of the body's needs for macronutrients and micronutrients, even when taking intensive training into account. With that being said, using the right supplements can provide additional insurance. While there are a plethora of different supplements out there, the basics like protein and omega 3s will cover most athletes' recovery needs. A study on strength/power athletes found that whey protein supplementation prior to and post resistance training resulted in improved exercise recovery 24 and 48 hours after training.
There are also a handful of alternative recovery strategies used by athletes. These cover a broad range of techniques, from the gua sha, a traditional Chinese medical treatment that's been used for centuries, to Cryotherapy. There are so many different techniques that can fall into this category and the efficacy of these methods will naturally vary. As such, it's important for athletes and coaches who choose to implement these to research them and also understand that their effectiveness may also vary individual to individual. As an example, a study on foam rolling, a popular recovery technique found that it was effective for reducing DOMS but its effects on the athlete's subsequent sprint times ranged from small to large.
In summary, intensive training is meant to provoke a stimulus in the body that causes a super compensation where athletes are able to adapt to the training and improve. For these intensive training sessions and adaptation to occur, it's crucial that athletes are adequately recovering enough between training sessions to maintain this intensity and allow the adaptation to take place.
Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock, alvarez/iStock