Recovery is Key to Improving Fitness and Health: the secret to performing at your highest level
3,2,1..GO! You start your workout feeling good but suddenly realize that you haven’t recovered from your workout 3 days ago..legs still feel really sore from the squats, starting to feel sluggish and that kettlebell weight you used last week with ease is feeling like 1,000 pounds..fatigue has set in. Fatigue is caused by a lack of balance between exposure to stress and recovery. When planning your workouts, strategizing your recovery efforts or just generally thinking about your daily habits, here are some things to consider:
When it comes to your hormones, stress is stress – your hormones do not differentiate between good stress (exercise) and not-so-good stress (mental). Depending on the duration and intensity of your workout, the body releases variable amounts of these stress hormones, like cortisol, as well as feel good hormones. Endorphins, the feel good hormones, help offset the negative effects the hormones released as a result of your autonomic nervous system being simulated, enhance your mood and put a spring in your step. Chronically working out at too high of an intensity, for too long of a duration or both leads to diminishing returns in performance, as well as overall health and wellbeing unless recovery is effectively managed.
Calories are the fuel to your body and one of the most important factors in recovery. If you provide your body with proper fuel, you will be better able to build muscle and recover from workouts. When your body doesn’t have enough fuel, your body may become more susceptible to fat retention and muscle loss. With inadequate nutrition, your body will simply run out of the ‘gas’ it needs to fuel both your workouts and your recovery.
Sleep plays a vital role in almost everything we do. Our brains process and learn, our muscles recover and our hormones reset. Habitually getting less than the optimal 7-10 hours of sleep and/or not getting quality sleep disrupt the body’s natural restorative processes thereby contributing to a lack of recovery.
While you alcohol is enjoyed by many because it tastes good, feels good, and seems to combat emotional and mental stress, if you are having issues with fatigue or recovery, alcohol may be partially to blame. Alcohol impairs sleep quality which, in turn, impairs recovery of your muscles and disrupts all the restorative process that quality sleep stimulates. Alcohol can also stall the absorption of nutrients, is very dehydrating and if consumed post workout, can reduce the rate of protein synthesis by 40%.
Knowing the impact of stress, nutrition, sleep, and alcohol have on recovery can help you avoid cycles of overtraining or under recovering as well as provide some variables to play around with when you are looking to enhance your performance. Do keep in mind:
• The impact of external stress is determined by how intense the stress is for you in your current condition meaning the less prepared (recovered or conditioned) the body is for the workout, the more significant the stress will be.
• People recover at different rates. Two individuals performing the same workout will recover at different rates with recovery being determined by a variety of factors.
• You cannot expect to improve your fitness level and maintain good health without addressing factors that influence your recovery.
Managing your recovery effectively enables a phenomenon called supercompensation which is where the greatest performance gains can be made.
All this to say, through curiosity and experimentation, you may unlock untapped potential. Here are some ideas to consider trying to optimize recovery:
1. Track your sleep – beddit, sense, Oura Ring . . . there are many options out there. These are 3 that we have tried with our favorite being the oura ring for the additional data that it provides but all 3 offer quantitative and qualitative feedback that you can act upon.
2. Measure and track – Basic Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the change in time between successive heartbeats (also called inter-beat intervals, R-R intervals, N-N intervals, etc.). Unlike Heart Rate (HR) that averages the number of heartbeats per minute, HRV looks much closer at the small fluctuations of the heart that occur in response to internal and external events. HRV is a direct link to your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and can therefore be used to gain insights into your nervous system, stress and recovery activity. Elite HRV (iOS, Android) using a bluetooth heart rate strap or Oura Ring are super user friendly tools enabling you to easily and efficiently measure HRV. Keep in mind that you are looking to gauge trends rather than attending to one measurement at a time so you need to track consistently for a period of time – a month is a good place to start.
4. Incorporate a contrast shower (hot/cold) or a cold bath into your weekly routine.
YOU are the best test subject for yourself. Always be trying different mini experiments on yourself to see what works best for you. Everyone will be different in how they react to certain experiments. Become the expert of your own body. What are some things you have tried in the past that improved your recovery? What are you going to experiment with to see how much your performance benefits?