Recovery and the Ying and Yang of Sports Preparation
Training to reach a specific goal consists of two opposite yet equally important components, these are practice/ training and recovery. Finding the balance between the two is essential to ensure you maximise your results or in the case of competition to enable you to perform optimaly at an event. This comes down to you juggling the constant interplay between fitness and fatigue.
However, most of us focus on only half of the picture and as a result may be hindering our bodies ability to reach its true potential. When you think about preparing for an event or fitness goal, what is the first the first thing you focus on? It will probably be the practice/ training element and how much you can do to maximise your effort, adherence and the time you can spend training.
As you move through your training cycles you will have noticed that there are times you will have felt ready, full of energy and excited about your training or competition. Equally, there will be those times you have felt tired, lethargic and indifferent. Most likely these are ignored and put down to having an “off day” being something that is out with your area of control. Fortunately, this is not always the case and with a few simple recovery steps, you can take control over your readiness to perform.
Before discussing the recovery steps it is important to understand some of the science behind the training process. Training is essentially adaptation due to stresses placed on the body. This occurs when you apply a stressor to your body this can be either a physical, emotional or mental stressor. The effect of this is an acute reaction normally resulting in some sort of damage or breakdown. After which, given sufficient fuel and recovery the system (your body) will then adapt to those stresses and then in classical Darwinian style evolve becoming better suited to meet the new environment and stresses. Concurrently without appropriate fueling and rest this damage will not fully repair and over time the body will become broken, ill and potentially lead to overtraining or burnout.
What is stress? stress can be either physical, mental, emotional or indeed a combination of all of these. It is a product of everything you have going on in your life, not just sport and exercise. Being aware of this is vital as your recovery need should take into account external stressors such as exams, emotions (did you fall out with someone?), do you have bills to pay, basically everything you do will have an effect on your stress levels. So in order to perform optimally, all of these stresses need to be taken into account as they have an accumulative effect.
To counteract these, you will need to take control over your recovery. This starts by forming a strategy. To get the most from your recovery you should target 3 broad areas; fuelling, physical recovery and mental recovery. You should formulate to have a short and long term plan for each of these and in this article for this article, we will focus on the short term strategy giving you steps you can take away and put into practice from your next session.
Your short term recovery window starts immediately you stop your session and lasts up to up to 2 hours following any training event or competition you take part in. Your primary focus here is to return your body to a rested state as quickly as possible. So that you are ready for your next session by allowing your body to build or repair muscle and replenish energy stores.
Fuelling or nutrition covers what you eat and drink following your training event. This should contain water for hydration, carbohydrate for energy and protein to help repair muscle damage. A simple way to look at hydration need is to weigh yourself before and after a session. The weight you have lost will mostly be down to fluid loss which you should replace at a ratio of 1litre for every 1kilogram; this should consist mostly of water, although the addition of a little-diluted sports drink may help. For your other macronutrients (protein & carbohydrate) a good tip is to try chocolate milk shake (no more than 500ml) as this will give you protein and carbohydrate and the perfect ratio. Otherwise, a small snack containing carbohydrate and protein, however, remember to match this to the intensity and duration of your activity.
Physiological recovery should involve a cool down in this you are looking to do moderate intensity exercise that tapers in intensity to near rest, for example, light jogging, walking or a swimming (dependant on your session). This should take no longer than 5min alternatively contrast bathing using hot and cold immersion. The idea here is that hot water increases blood flow and cold water reduces inflammation. As part of your physical recovery, you should be aware of your body and then focus on those areas where you are tight or sore then do some foam rolling and stretching for those areas. This will help to loosen you off, stimulate blood flow and allow you relax.
Psychological relaxation is probably the least thought of but can be the most important. It is also important to be aware of what constitutes recovery and what doesn’t. To help with this you must remember the aim for recovery, which as previously mentioned is to return your body to a rested state. To do this you must reduce or remove mental stress. This, in turn, will minimise the release chemicals into the blood that can prevent repair and complete rest. With this in mind, activities such as nights out, movies or video games are not true recovery as they can cause a degree stress, anxiety in themselves and therefore are counterproductive to the process. Instead, you could spend some time listening to relaxing music or find a quiet space where you can close your eyes and focus on your breathing working through some meditation. Possibly taking some time to reflect on your training and sessions and generating a plan for what you will focus on during your next session.
Having read this article you should spend some time to think about your recovery and then discuss this with your coach, team or family to generate a plan for your short term recovery then aim to put this into practice as soon as possible after your next session. Once you have started utilising your strategy take a little time to reflect on how different you feel having completed your recovery.