Where should you invest your time and money when it comes to recovery?
Should you be down at the beach in the middle of winter, jumping in ice baths, getting multiple myotherapy session and regular massages and wearing your compression tights? Or should you just train harder if you want more results?
Once I started researching this post it became clear that there was a lot of information to dig through and therefore, I’ve decided to split the post into 2 parts. Part 1 focusing on the factors that seem to have the most research behind them and part 2 focusing on some of the ‘other stuff’ that you may like to include in your program.
This is by no-means the final word on recovery, just my take on what I’ve uncovered.
Let’s start with the point of recovery.
Recovery is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and where the real training effect takes place. Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. Think of it as a way to effectively make use of, or maximise any training you’ve been doing. It also prepares you to train again and is important from an injury prevention and general health and wellbeing point of view.
Whilst there are almost endless possibilities out there for you to potentially do, and plenty of people making a dollar from selling recovery aids. There are 2 major factors that should be the pillars of any recovery plan and where you should put most of your time. Have these 2 under control and you’re well on the way. You can then think about the ‘other stuff’ (that we cover in part 2), but think of it as bonus if you have the time and money etc…
Let’s get into it!
During training you are probably aiming to produce a stress on the body in the hopes of a specific adaptation (fitter, stronger, faster etc). That specific adaptation does not take place during the actual training, it occurs when the body is resting and sleep is probably about the best rest you can get.
Unfortunately somewhere along the way, functioning on less sleep has become a point of pride. We all know someone who revels in letting you know they don’t need any more than 4 hours a night… Let’s touch base with that person in a few years time and see how they’re going.
Lack of sleep can disrupt every physiological function in the body and we have nothing in our biology that allows us to adapt to this behaviour (coffee doesn’t count unfortunately). Google “lack of sleep” + “(insert disease name here)” and you’ll quickly realise that sleep deprivation interferes with almost all of your bodily systems and can contribute in part to stress, obesity, inflammation, cancer, heart disease and diabetes (apologies, I’m getting off track).
From a recovery point of view, sleep is important for repair and adaptation, it also aids with injury prevention and can increase performance if you get enough of it.
– This study of adolescent athletes showed that “the strongest predictor of injury was ‘less than 8 hours of sleep per night’. Sixty-five percent of athletes who reported sleeping less than 8 hours per night were injured, compared with 31% of athletes who reported sleeping more than 8 hours per night.”
– And this study found that basketball players who increased their sleep to at least 10 hours were able to sprint faster, shoot more accurately, and had improved subjective ratings of physical and mental well-being.
The recommendation is for a solid 8 hrs uninterrupted. I’m more than aware that in certain situations – parenthood and shift work to name a couple this may not be achievable. Aim high when it comes to sleep. It is the number 1 thing you can do to maximise your recovery.
Let’s just say that adequately fuelling your body after exercise and in general will go a long way towards helping you recover from your training and aid you in achieving your goals. It’s definitely more important than wearing some fancy compression tights (although they may be helpful – more on them in part 2).
There is even some data suggesting that “those who met recommendations for eating enough fruits, vegetables and fish were 64% less likely to report injury.” It’s definitely worth ensuring that from a general health point of view and then a recovery point of view that nutritional recommendations are met.
There are definitely increased energy demands after training and when dealing with injury and the main point when considering nutrition and recovery is to make sure you’re fuelling your body with what it needs.
I’m not here to tell you how or what to eat, there are plenty of people far more qualified to do that than me. If you feel you need assistance in this area, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can help out. What I am telling you however, is to actively think about how you fuel yourself as part of your plan.
When I set out to write this post – the main aim was to point out that you don’t need fancy or expensive recovery devices and that by sticking to the basics (quality sleep and nutrition) you’ll achieve most of what you’re setting out to do. I did initially forget one other basic recovery tool – active recovery. It still won’t make up for a lack of sleep and poor nutrition but is a relatively easy and cost effective addition.
According to this study from the American Council on Exercise and Western State Colorado University, active recovery done at moderate intensity is best for the performance of endurance athletes. In the study, researchers had two groups of people either run or cycle at an intensity in which they couldn’t speak until they fatigued. Afterwards, they recovered by either slowing to 50 percent of their max effort or resting completely.
The results were pretty clear: “Runners who used active recovery were able to go three times longer than those who used passive recovery the second time they ran. And cyclists who used active recovery were able to maintain their power output the second time around, whereas the power output of cyclists who used passive recovery decreased.”
I genuinely believe that putting your time and energy into these will yield you results.
Read on here for Part 2, where we have a bit of a look at some of the other recovery aids you may look at considering, including: