Minimizing stress and maximizing recovery time are major keys to great performance, both in sports and in academics. It’s tough to balance a high-stress schedule packed with school, sports, and college prep. Between early mornings and constant commitments, how do you manage to sleep enough, eat enough, train enough, and still get good grades?
With the right approach, anything is achievable! You simply need some effective techniques to streamline your schedule and mindset so you can stay focused when life gets crazy.
What is recovery, and why should I care?
Recovery is the process of allowing your body to build muscle, repair itself from all the high-intensity work you’ve done during training, and make adaptations. Without adequate recovery, your performance can decrease.
Optimal recovery is primarily achieved by sleeping enough, eating enough, and decreasing stress- all of which can be a challenge for busy athletes.
How do I make sure I’m recovering enough?
1) Make a detailed weekly and monthly schedule.
Scheduling out your homework, sleep, social time, and breaks can help you maintain momentum and stay on top of your game.
Set a reasonable bedtime that gives you time to wind down and snag at least 8 hours of sleep before your alarm.
Note any important exams and big project deadlines, and set deadlines for first drafts so you don’t end up procrastinating. Block out study sessions in advance rather than waiting to cram. Cramming is an inefficient study tactic, and it’s also stressful!
Make time for relaxation and fun, too. Consider blocking a day off after a big event like a competition, and make sure you get some weekly time to yourself or with friends to recuperate.
2. Treat your sleep schedule with the same importance as school.
Sleep is when your body makes the changes that help you become a better athlete.
When you work your muscles hard, such as during a weightlifting session, the muscle fibers break down. Then, your body rebuilds them just a little bigger, which is how muscle growth works. If you interrupt this process, you force your body to devote more energy to stay awake and functioning. Sleep deprivation can make you more easily exhausted, potentially interfering with your performance.
Sleep is also when your brain sorts through memories and filters important information, which means losing sleep can hurt your learning ability. Plus, lack of sleep dampens your immune system and increases your risk of getting sick. The more you sleep, the lower your chances of catching a cold right before a big game.
Put away your phone and computer an hour before bed and take time to relax. It’ll help your brain wind down and improve your sleep quality. Stick to your bedtime daily, except for special occasions- and don’t go making exceptions multiple times a week!
3. Learn stress-management techniques.
Just as you train your body, you can train your mind. Practice some simple breathing
exercises or guided meditations to help clear your thoughts and bring you back into the present moment. This can be a great way to soothe nerves before a test or game. Schedule it as a regular practice to tap into a calm state.
Chronic stress elevates cortisol, the stress hormone, and potentially prolongs the recovery process. This means stress can create a higher risk for illness and injury among athletes. Mindfulness meditation can lower cortisol.
4. Eat well.
If you’re struggling to keep on weight or gain strength, you may need to adjust your
diet. Eat enough protein, carbs, and fat- each play a key role in your body. You might want to plan a couple of extra snacks throughout the day, too. Make eating a part of your routine rather than an afterthought.
Try to keep your meals and snacks low in sugar unless you’re about to have an extra-hard training session.
5. Take breaks.
Schedule small blocks of time to do whatever you want- even if that’s simply
nothing. During a break, you have zero obligations except to exist. This is another way to reset your mind and de-stress. Try slotting in 30 minutes before you start your homework.
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Life is full of hiccups, some bigger than others. If something comes up that jeopardizes your priorities, address it, but practice an easy attitude with the little day-to-day annoyances. Adjusting your mindset is a powerful way to combat stress and work well under pressure. Don’t let minor issues mess up your performance.
If something goes haywire last minute and throws your schedule off course, take a minute to center yourself, and then adjust your plan. See if you can move anything around to accommodate a reschedule. It happens to everyone, so don’t beat yourself up or worry too much. You won’t always be 100% on track. The sooner you accept that the faster you can get back toward your goals.
Don’t hesitate to ask for support.
Talk to your parents and coach if you’re concerned about recovering enough and aren’t sure how to address it. You don’t have to try and push through everything on your own. Sometimes, an outside perspective can help you reevaluate your approach.
Practice makes perfect.
These tips might feel tricky at first. If your sleep schedule is all over the place, your brain will need a couple of weeks to acclimate. If you aren’t used to eating at certain times, you might not feel hungry. If you’ve never meditated before, it might feel awkward- that’s normal. You’re building brand new habits, and that takes persistent effort.
The best thing about these methods is that they will serve you well for your entire life. Identifying your priorities, maintaining a schedule, and staying ahead of stress are all fundamental strategies for balancing a busy calendar full of different interests.
Commit to fully trusting the process. Take note of how you feel over time- try keeping a journal for several weeks. How do your energy levels, athletic performance, mood, and grades change after starting these new practices?
Embrace recovery. If you respect your body and mind, it will reflect in your performance and your life.