Understanding the process of recovery
To understand the importance of recovery, it’s imperative to appreciate the process that the body goes through as a result of training. Training is the manipulation of stressors to bring about targeted changes to the body, as it strives to cope with the stress it goes through stages until it reaches a point to what is known as supercompensation. To get there the body goes through some form of stress from training and depletion of the body’s energy stores creates a state of fatigue (see depletion). It then recovers, energy levels and preparedness to perform return back to baseline levels (see restitution). It then goes through a heightened state of energy levels and preparedness. At this point, performance would be at a higher level than normal (see supercompensation). Lastly, from the peak of supercompensation, there’s a decline back to baseline levels if there is no new training stress applied.
The figure above, from Zatsiorsky & Kraemer (2006), shows what happens during and after a training session. The horizontal line is the athlete’s baseline level of preparedness. The vertical axis and curved line characteristics the changes in the athlete’s preparedness as a result of any workout (1).
Train your Recovery
Overtraining is a word that you will hear lots within the fitness industry. Overtraining is pushing your body beyond its limits of recovery. Smart training will allow you to smash each and every training week, prevent injury and keep your body from reaching fatigue. For more on the topic, this link will come in handy stress and its application to training. In the competitive field athletes regularly spend anywhere between 3-5 hours (sometimes more) training a day. Whilst the moto ‘nothing replaces hard work’ is valid, I believe that training hard is fine as long as all the prerequisites are in place. Those that think they can train like an athlete without mastering the basics will fall off the bandwagon until it’s more of a priority.
Although recovery will differ from one individual to another you must recover well if you want to perform on a day to day basis. However, there’s a misconception, just like training to PR a back squat, recovery must be trained. Never think of it as overtrained, rather under recovered. You just need to recover smarter. Below are some hacks that I like to use to aid optimal recovery…
Much the same as you would track weights lifted in the gym or calories for weight loss applications the same goes for recovery. Sometimes, I may ask those that I work with if they have used any of the following to help with recovery (see table). If the answer is no, then I will more than likely get them to participate in practices that have been scientifically backed to help with recovery. It’s super important not to underestimate the small things. Forgetting to spend quality time on yourself (more detail in pillars of recovery) may be the reason why you’re not making progress. However, if you start practicing in these recovery strategies, you’ll quickly see that you’ll be smashing training in no time at all!
|8 hours of sleep|
A tool that fits into this tracking category is wellness monitoring. It’s gold standard stuff! It helps coaches to understand how athletes/clientele are responding to stress placed upon the body. Markers can be dealt with quickly to modify daily loads proactively, prevent injuries and overtraining. This helps to streamline the way a coach and athlete communicate. A peer review looked at performance markers for recovery. They found that those using performance monitoring did so to reduce injury occurrences (29%), to monitoring the effectiveness of a training program (27%), for maintenance of performance (22%) and preventing overtraining (22%). These findings pay a dividend to structure stress and finding optimal recovery (2).
Pillars of recovery
Like it or not, you can’t repeatedly perform well if your sleep sucks. 5-6 hours a night just isn’t enough, nor is 7! If you are looking to maximally recover from bouts of exercise its wise to be aiming for between 8-10 hours a night. A study focused on sleep deprivation in the adolescent population found that athletes who slept less than 8 hours each night were 1.7 times more likely to have an injury compared to athletes who slept 8 or more hours (3). Therefore, a strong correlation exists between sleep deprivation and longevity of performance. The importance of sleep on athletic performance can’t be overstated. Sleep quality can be a predictor of many variables and can affect mental and physical preparedness, that’s the reason why it’s should always be looked at first.
Many underestimate nutrition, I like to think of it more as habits and behaviors, these need to change first in order to get on the right track. This will ensure that you are fully recovered between bouts of exercise. However, of most importance is the absorption of nutrients, your nutrition could be spotless, but if there’s hardly any uptake of nutrients, it’s pointless! Gut health is massive if you are looking to recover well from life’s stressors. There’s a huge amount of digestive issues that individuals are unaware of. These range from sensitivities, bloating, constipation, IBS and even leaky gut. If you aren’t digesting your food your body is not absorbing the nutrients it needs to replenish and ultimately recover. So, if you think that you do have sensitivities with certain food groups or an issue with uptake of nutrients, do your homework!
Another variable of significance is protein! Whenever I look at a food diary or change an individual’s macronutrients protein will always come up trumps. On the subject of recovery, it’s a must. In order for your muscles to repair and adaptation to occur protein intake needs to be sufficient. A study that took place in Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, found that to facilitate the remodeling of our muscle protein athletes should aim for ~1.6 grams per kilogram of body mass each day, based on increasing muscle mass. However, on the flip side, if there’s a restriction in calories protein intake should be anywhere from 1.6 and 2.4 grams per kilogram of body mass a day. Therefore, make sure you concentrate on protein first.
Lastly non-negotiable, cut out the processed food. If you put poor quality food into your body don’t expect to do the things you want it to do well! I witness this time and time again and its cringe. People showing others how to make food and its straight out of a packet…that’s not normal. One thing that resonates with me is from a nutritionist called Stephan Guyenet, he has some simple rules that he likes to use with clientele and its simply ‘work for your food’. For example, you have to chop and open fresh food to cook it, that’s just the basics, don’t forget it!
When you are stressed, you are more than likely inflamed, possibly on the borderline of illness and it’s likely your recovery sucks. When cortisol levels rise and stay heightened your body doesn’t recover very well. Chronic stress from fatigue seeking workouts such as Crossfit impacts the stress hormones. This can lead to the level of testosterone or estrogen to decrease over time, lowered immunity, problems with digestion, plateaus, regression, mood disturbances and generally a lack of spring in your step. To back this up, a study on elite male rowers looked at the effects of increasing training volume on performance, recovery stress and stress hormones over a six-day training camp. Results from a questionnaire (RESTQ-Sport) used indicated changes in stress hormone, somatic components of stress (fatigue, complaints and fitness/injury) and a decrease in recovery factors (success, social relaxation, sleep quality, being in shape, self-efficacy) at the end of a six-day heavy training period (5).
The key to it all is managing your stress, easier said than done! As with many things in life, it’s a process of managing these many things at the same time. That’s why when a routine is in place, it can make all the difference. These are some of my top tips to hacking stress;
- Get to bed earlier, 30 mins more can make a huge difference.
- Get out in daylight/sun, vitamin D is massive, low levels of vitamin D are linked to fatigue.
- Don’t aim to try and give 110% in every workout, it’ll crush you. Program active recovery each week and de-load when needed to maximize benefit.
- Schedule hours in your day which are just for you. Taking time out will do you some good.
- Most importantly, talk about the issue that cause stressors in life. Having a strong network that is willing to listen is important!
Obviously, the above are extremely important for optimal recovery. Conversely, it’s something you probably don’t hear about that often and it’s self care! It’s probably the most fundamental thing we forget as humans, in order to look after others, you must look after yourself first. Some examples, include taking the time out to do the things that make you happy, maintaining good relationships with people in your industry, caring for your family and to love the work you do. In my opinion self care is underrated and should be thought about more when delving deeper into recovery strategies!
- Zatsiorsky, V., & Kraemer, W.J. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Taylor, K. L., Chapman, D. W., Cronin, J. B., Newton, M. J., & Gill, N. D. Fatigue monitoring in high performance sport: A survey of current trends. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning. (2012) 20(1):12-23.
- Milewski MD, Skaggs DL, Bishop GA, et al. Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. J Pediatr Orthop. (2014) 34:129–33.
- Witard OC, Garthe I, Phillips SM. Dietary protein for training adaptation and body composition manipulation in track and field athletes. Int J Sport Nutri Exerc Metab. (2019) 29:165–174.
- Kellmann M, Günther KD. Changes in stress and recovery in elite rowers during preparation for the Olympic games. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2000) 32: 676–683.