I never thought much about recovery until I got older. Until then, recovery was simply something I did after getting jacked up. My attitude was always, “Why spend time recovering when you can spend that time training hard?” It’s a good question but also one that has a definitive answer — because you’ll perform better and get injured less. However, despite the facts, the question of recovery is still one that many of us learn the hard way.
Recovery isn’t just something you do when you’re injured — recovery is part of training.
Instead of learning the hard way, here’s how you can make the most of your off days to recover well.
You may or may not be at fault for your injury, setback or even soreness — but you are responsible for your recovery. Taking responsibility means having a game plan for recovery. You likely have a plan for your fitness and your upcoming competition. This may mean seeking professional guidance and expertise and outlining and defining the steps you are responsible for. This may include sports recovery, mindfulness, proper nutrition and optimal rest-to-work ratios.
Recover like the pros.
While sports recovery lounges are a fairly new concept for the general population, these modalities of recovery aren’t new to elite, competitive and professional athletes. The good news is that recovery modalities from trigger point to compression therapy are increasingly more available. The bad news is there is often insufficient or inconclusive data or regulation in justifying some of these treatments. Just because acupuncture worked particularly well in helping me recover from sciatica doesn’t imply that it necessarily will work for you. Alternative recovery modalities should be treated like supplements — proceed with caution and do your homework.
Beware of the bottle.
One common way to relax after a hard day at the gym or grueling competition is to unwind with a couple of cold ones. Unfortunately, when it comes to recovery and tissue repair, booze might not be your best option. “Alcohol should not be ingested after resistance exercise (RE) as this ingestion could potentially hamper the desired muscular adaptations,” says a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Essentially, alcohol inhibits your body’s ability to repair muscle and has a negative effect on the water balance at the cellular level. Boozers, beware — do yourself a favor and limit your alcohol consumption to your off days.
Let food (and hydration) be thy medicine.
We all know that we need fuel to train hard and compete, but food is also an essential part of recovering well. In fact, perhaps the most important component of healing and effective recovery is nutrition.
While rightfully many focus on protein as a primary building block in fitness and performance, we may be neglecting other nutrients essential for recovery. A 2015 study, shows that “without adequate recovery of carbohydrates, protein, fluids and electrolytes, beneficial adaptations and performance may be hampered.” Foods like ginger and blueberries have been shown to help with inflammation as have supplements like turmeric and omega-3s. In short, it’s vital to have a nutritional plan for optimizing recovery.
Another oft-neglected component of nutrition is hydration. To optimize recovery, studies show that “athletes should aim to maintain adequate levels of hydration, and they should minimize fluid losses during exercise to no more than 2 percent of their bodyweight.” Simply put: Drink up.
Culturally, the old-school narrative of “more is better” still defines the realm of sport and fitness. The problem is, scientifically and generally speaking, we need more sleep collectively, not less. In fact, studies correlate lack of sleep with diminished performance, but compromised sleep also may influence learning, memory, cognition, pain perception, immunity and inflammation. Lack of sleep is even correlated with mortality. If sleep when you’re dead is your mantra, be careful what you ask for!
A caveat on recovery modalities.
As in fitness, there are plenty of snake oil salespeople looking to make a quick buck on your recovery. It’s your responsibility to make sure you aren’t a victim — do your due diligence and get referrals from therapists and practitioners. If someone uses high-pressure sales tactics to get you to commit to your recovery, that’s a surefire indication that the person cares more about his or her needs than yours. You can either have a plan for recovery or you can learn the hard way — the choice is yours.