4 Recovery Tips for Optimal Performance

It’s 24-48 hours after your last training session or sporting event and you’ve been sitting on the couch watching Food Network (or maybe that’s just me who watches Food Network for fun...?) in hopes of giving your body a little break from the all the work you’ve been putting in this season. We all know that lounging around is the best way to recover, right?

WRONG!

Recovery is something that is often overlooked by athletes because many are unaware of the role recovery plays in their performance. In order for the body to perform at its best, it must fully recuperate from the stress that’s been placed on it. One of the best analogies I’ve heard in regards to longevity of performance is that training is like taking money out of the bank and recovery is your savings account. If you continue to take money out of the bank without replacing it, you’ll eventually have no money left. Likewise, if you continue to train without allowing your body time to regenerate, you’ll have no energy left to perform. If you feel like you have been consistently working hard but you’re not getting the results you want, you should consider spending as much effort recovering as you do training.

 

1. STAY MOBILE

Mobility not only plays a huge role in performance recovery but also is important for day-to-day activities. If you continue to strength train without working on mobility, your body will become tight and simple movements, such as standing up from the couch you think you’re recovering on, will become painful. Mobility emphasizes adequate movement patterns and soft tissue extensibility and is not to be confused with flexibility. Flexibility is loosely defined as the position an athlete is capable of achieving during an athletic movement, whereas mobility is considered a more functional construct describing an athlete’s ability (or inability) to reach a desired position and is heavily dependent on upon stability and coordination of multiple joints functioning simultaneously (Brooks, 2013).

The majority of injuries sustained during an athletic event occur while athletes are going through rapid changes in range of motion, rather than while stationary or moving slowly through a range of motion. Additionally, injuries typically occur when multiple joints are moving simultaneously and when athletes are in weight-bearing positions. With that being said, mobility routines should focus primarily on weight-bearing, multi-joint movements and should force an athlete to progressively move through a full range of motion. A mobility program that is incorporated either as a warm-up or on its own as a recovery routine should be of importance in any athlete's training regimen to both reduce the risk of injury and increase performance.

How do you stay mobile?

  • Foam rolling/mechanical stimulation
  • Stretching: PNF or active release
  • Get up and MOVE: if it's halfway through the day and you realize you haven’t moved much (happens to me every Sunday), get up and move around to get blood flowing through your body and to your muscles!

 

2. FUEL UP

Everyone loves to eat, right? (Please tell me I’m not alone in this one again...) Often times we get caught up in our busy lives and forget to eat—not knowing that missing a meal can have a detrimental effect on our training and performance. Our body does an excellent job of storing glucose, a substrate that is used for energy during exercise, in the muscles and in the liver. Unfortunately, glucose levels are depleted during exercise. This is why it is important to eat to fuel your workouts. Keeping your glucose levels high will help avoid fatigue, which can lead to an increased risk of injury. Food should be seen as fuel for the body and we should want to fuel our body optimally. This means eating foods that are high in nutrient quality. Think of your body like a high-performance sports car. You would not want to put low-grade gas into a Corvette because it could cause the car not to function properly. Likewise, you don’t want to eat foods low in nutrient quality (or no foods at all) because it could lead to a decrease in your performance.

Fueling your body with water is just as important as fueling it with food. Would you believe me if I told you our bodies are about 60% water?! Water is an important part of almost every function our body performs. Water is lost in the body by breathing, sweating, and digestion, so it is important that we replace the water that is lost so our bodies can perform optimally. Performance decrements have been seen at just 2% dehydration, meaning if your body mass drops just 2% during exercise due to dehydration, you can only perform at or about 90% of what you are capable of. It’s recommended that individuals drink between one half ounce and one ounce of water per pound of body weight—so if you weigh 140 pounds, your water intake would be between 70 and 140 ounces of water a day. If you find yourself to be sweating a lot more in your workouts, you should be consuming the upper limits of the suggested water intake.

FUEL UP Tips:

  • Eat regularly throughout the day
  • Eat foods high in nutrient quality
  • Try to eat before and after your workout
  • Carry a water bottle around at all times
  • Personalize/decorate your water bottle so it’s more fun to carry around

 

3. CATCH SOME ZZZ’s

Believe it or not, sleep is one of the most influential factors on performance. While you may think nothing goes on while you sleep, your body performs multiple functions related to recovery when your eyes are closed. Studies show that sleep deprivation leads to poor performance, reduced motivation and arousal levels, and reduced cognitive processes leading to poor attention and concentration and heightened levels of perceived exertion and pain perception (Halson, 2014). Sleep provides an opportunity for the body to recover from training and prepare for the subsequent training or competition day by promoting hormone activity that is essential for muscle repair, muscle building, and bone growth.

To get the most out of your sleeping habits, you should try to get between 7-9 hours of sleep every night and should try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day. The hormone activity that goes on during your sleep that promotes muscle repair and bone growth is optimized when you have a normal sleeping pattern. If you’ve started following a normal sleeping pattern but felt like you had a bad night of sleep, don’t be afraid to take a power nap during the day. The term “power nap” implies that your nap shouldn’t be much longer than 30 minutes. Naps lasting longer than about 30 minutes could leave you feeling tired and sluggish for the remainder of the day, resulting in poor performance in training or competition. A 30-minute nap, after a night of just 4 hours of sleep, has been seen to improve alertness and both mental and physical performance (Waterhouse, 2007). Extended periods of sleep are more ideal for athletic performance, but if not possible, napping may be a valuable alternative.

Tips for adopting healthier sleeping patterns:

  • Try setting an alarm for the same time every morning—even if you don’t have to be up that early every day, wake up and try to knock out some chores or other things you may have been putting off
  • Turn off all devices (smart phone, tv, tablets, etc.) by a certain time every night
  • Lie down in bed at least an hour before you plan on falling asleep to promote tiredness
  • If you feel like you need a nap, take one!

 

4. Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Your daily lifestyle choices also play significant role in how well you recover (or don’t recover) from training. Exercise itself is a stressor—meaning it causes an acute disturbance to the body’s normal functions. Additional stressors will lead to increased fatigue, which in turn, can lead to an increased injury risk. Things you may be doing that lead to additional stress placed on the body include: trying to sneak in extra workouts (they don’t always pay off in the long run), consuming too much food/not enough food, and not drinking enough water. Even emotional stress can lead to a decrease in performance—so it’s important to live a healthy, happy, and balanced lifestyle.

Lifestyle management tips:

  • Eat more nutritious foods
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Don’t over-exercise
  • Get the sleep you need
  • Rid of unhealthy habits
  • Take your vitamins!

 

REMEMBER: Sweat/fatigue is not always result of good workout—it could likely be due to poor recovery!


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Whitney Tramel, CSCS is a CSCS-certified strength coach, a former member of Volt's Sport Performance team, and a guest contributor to the Volt blog. She holds a B.S. from Texas Christian University, and is working on her M.S. Learn more about Whitney and follow her on Twitter at @Whittram25.