Training and exercise are all about balance between two important factors: stress and workout recovery time. Our bodies can get stronger, faster and leaner because of the stresses we put on them with exercise and training. Once we are exposed to a certain stressor, our bodies gradually adapt so the same level of stress does not disturb our equilibrium again. This is called supercompensation.
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However, supercompensation requires coupling the stress of training with proper recovery strategies. Therefore, if you want to train regularly to accomplish desired performance goals, you need to utilize as many recovery strategies as possible to help your body adapt.
Proper nutrition is critical to recovery. Many articles advise how to eat for training purposes, but the point I want to get across from a recovery aspect is that you must make sure to eat high quality foods in the right proportions and quantities.
Although most people, younger athletes in particular, eat plenty of food, the quality is not always conducive to reducing recovery time. A lot of cheap foods with a high calorie-to-cost ratio are highly processed and stripped of nutrients.
Processed foods not only have little to no micronutrient benefit (low-mineral, low-vitamin, low-phytonutrient content), they also react poorly physiologically with the body. Most of these cheap foods have processed flours, sugars and fats that cause inflammation in the gut, slow or impede digestion and cause a wide variety of other health issues (joint inflammation, lethargy, lack of concentration).
Don’t Eat / Instead Eat
- French Fries / Baked Potatoes
- Cow’s Milk / Free Range Goat’s Milk*
- Eggs / Free Range Eggs*
- Flour Pasta / Quinoa Pasta
- Frozen Veggies / Fresh Produce
* With dairy and meats, free range is usually the best option
2. Foam Rolling and Massage
The secret of foam rolling is out. Most people have added it to their workout routines. Foam rolling helps tight muscles relax after a tough workout and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
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Compression and stimulation of muscles after a workout encourage blood flow, which prevents metabolic waste from accumulating inside the muscle and slowing recovery.
To roll for muscle relaxation you need to actively compress the roller on the muscle and roll it against the muscle’s full length. You can also move that muscle while it is being compressed to stimulate blood flow and help loosen up the muscle. This type of rolling is usually done for 60-90 seconds.
To stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, you need to compress the tensest part of a muscle or the muscle belly (center) if it is tense. Apply steady, uncomfortable (not painful!) pressure for about 3-5 minutes.
Both of these styles of foam rolling and massage can and should be employed regularly throughout your training to help your muscles and nervous system recover.
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Rest seems like the most obvious strategy, but is often the most neglected, especially by those with busy schedules (e.g., scholar athletes, pro athletes, weekend warriors). From a recovery standpoint, rest can mean several things. First is the obvious need for good sleep. Second is regular programming of rest days or cycles in your training. Third is the use of meditation or reflection.
It seems obvious that sleep is necessary to recover from training. However, recent research has shown that there are two critical aspects of sleep necessary to recovery: basal sleep rate and sleep debt.
Basal sleep rate is the regular amount of rest you need every night to operate at your peak the following day. This number varies from person to person. The norm seems to be anywhere from 6-1/2 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Too little or too much will affect your performance in training the following day.
Sleep debt, on the other hand, accumulates if you don’t get enough sleep. For example, if you have a hard training day and only get 6 hours of sleep and need to train the next day, you may need another hour or two before training to perform optimally.
5. Rest Days
The second factor of rest that affects training is making sure you have programmed rest cycles in your training. The basis of any training program is to challenge the body so much that stress disrupts physiology. You need rest days or even weeks to allow your body time and resources to adapt to this stress. The more advanced the athlete, the more he or she needs to program rest days at precise times in the training cycle.
Meditation is extremely beneficial yet almost unheard of as a recovery strategy. When I refer to meditation, I’m not saying you need to practice yoga daily to recover (that actually might be counterproductive to rest). Meditation is when you allot specific time out of your day to stop, do nothing and reflect inwardly. The reason why meditation helps with recovery is because it allows you to stop and focus on your own physiological and psychological awareness. Meditation slows down your heart rate, breathing and nervous system, allowing depressed sympathetic activation and more parasympathetic activation.
If you are new to meditation, just try it for 5 minutes. Pick a place where you are comfortable and can be alone without interruptions. Start by focusing on your breathing for about 3 minutes. After you have become aware of your physiological state, let different thoughts come into your mind and address them as they appear. Don’t fight the way you feel. Allow yourself to look at what you are thinking objectively. More often than not, you will feel calmer and less stressed.