Top ways to recover so you can train harder for longer
Training breaks the body down, recovery builds it back up. It’s often confused that you get fitter during your physical training and this leads many people to over train, causing themselves mass fatigue which then results in injury. The smart athlete knows training should cause just enough stress on the body that it starts to break down but gives themselves enough recovery to avoid a level of fatigue that causes injury or illness. This can be a hard balance to find and one that can be manipulated in many ways. In this weeks sweattalk, i’m going to cover my top ways to recover so you can train harder for longer!
‘Rest day’, I program this for my athletes because if I leave the calendar blank they will usually fill it with an extra self selected session! Planning a rest day is really important. This day should be as stress free as possible, whether it is stress from training, work or rushing around after family… it is still stress on the body. Rest should be rest. Use these days to chill, catch up on things you can do from the comfort of your sofa and even catch up on sleep!
These days are when you are actually getting fitter from the hard training you have been doing, keep that in mind and rest hard! To know if your rest day is working or not, measuring your mornings resting HR and or heart rate variability is a good idea.
‘Active recovery’, is a term often used by seasoned athletes. The biggest error here is forgetting the recovery part. Active recovery should be the minimum amount of exercise stress to cause the pulse to rise above normal resting levels but stay below aerobic endurance levels for 20mins - 2hrs. Zone 1 is active recovery, below 68% of threshold HR and 55% of FTP for the number nerds. In simple terms, you should be able to hold a long conversation and not have to stop to take a breath. This causes blood to move around the body a little quicker than at rest and allows muscles to squeeze toxins out and allow fresh blood in.
’Pro sleeper’, The biggest difference between a professional athletes week and a weekend warriors week is the professional will sleep a lot more! They aren’t doing any magic sessions, they are simply recovering better than most because they are able to sleep more. Sleep is king for recovery, 7 - 9hrs per night is optimal. Sorry, I know you think you feel great on 5hrs but that's because you’ve made that your default. The horse and cart was revolutionary, until the car was invented. You simply cannot perform to your best unless you are consistently sleeping well. A good nights sleep is your key to acute recovery and getting fitter. Make sure your sleep environment is pitch black, cooler than 20'C degrees and doesn’t have your mobile phone next your head!
Another huge key to recovering is the fuel you put into your body. To recover well from workouts you need to roughly know what the workout did to your physiology. A hard or high intensity workout will cause a large break down of muscle tissue and glycogen stores, therefore refuelling with carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and protein to help with tissue repair is key. A low intensity workout won’t have such an impact on you but depending on duration will still cause a large Kcal deficit. Replacing the Kcals with a balanced meal of protein, carbs and fats is still important to ensure healthy function of the body and to allow optimal recovery to take place. Post exercise meals are not one size fits all, some people cannot eat right after which is fine, you can have your post exercise meal anytime from 10min after up to 2hrs.
Here’s a tip, if you always seem to feel exhausted after harder workouts, try a recovery shake containing a 2:1 ratio of carbs to fats. Something like a recovery shake with 10 - 20g of protein and 20 - 40g of carbs is perfect!
Also to note particularly for athletes training in hot climates is hydration. You should aim to replace 1.5 times the amount of water lost from exercise. So if you typically lose 1L of sweat per hour, you should aim to drink 1.5L of water post session. Adding in electrolytes will also help your body to retain important minerals which help almost every function of the human body!
Extra Recovery Miles
I don't mean swim bike or run miles here, I mean going the extra mile on your recovery. I really like compression gear to help with getting the legs to feel recovered. When recovery tights do what they are designed to do, they aid the body with venous return (the rate of blood flow back to the heart). I use the Compressport leg sleeves after most of my hard runs or rides and always have them on when travelling!
trisouq.com offers an array of Compression gear. Starting from care and compression socks, to the calf sleeves shown above. The benefits of wearing Compression apparel for recovery are extensive, one important one being that it enhances blood flow through the body part aiding quicker muscle repair.
Another way to aid the body only this time to aid removing toxins from the muscles built up from exercise is cold recovery such as ice baths or cryotherapy. This works in a similar way to compression in that the bodies response to cold is to shunt blood back towards the heart and vital organs to protect them. This means blood from the limbs such as your legs and arms is forced away from the aching muscles, you then warm back up and fresh blood returns to the muscles!
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The last recovery mile comes in the form of myofascial release e.g, a sports massage or foam rolling. This works by breaking down tight areas of muscles that aren’t getting good blood supply, once broken down the blood supply can flow optimally again and help to recover the area. A comprehensive sports massage should be done fortnightly at least for hard charging athletes, a good therapist will work into areas that are awkward or too painful for you to do yourself with a roller and help to highlight any trouble areas that might cause problems further down the line.
Following a hard days training or race I will typically do:
- Some light foam rolling and stretching to aid blood flow to muscles followed by an ice bath or cryotherapy treatment.
- A light training session on the bike or in the pool, all in Zone 1 and no longer than 45 mins. Running will still cause impact so go for a light walk if you can't get to a bike or pool. If tired, replace this with a nap or simple quiet time.
- Before bed: 30 - 60mins with compression gear on relaxing, lightly stretch any tight or sore areas.
- Sleep early, in a dark and cold (18'C) bedroom. Mobile phone in another room!
I hope this can help you to recover better and perform to your best!