Recovering from Exercise and Exertion like an Olympian
Training at your best is all about managing fatigue and being able to perform to your best whenever it is needed. Recovery is an essential part of everything that you do as an athlete – managing volume and preventing injury is an essential part of making consistent, rapid progress to achieve your goals. This article is going to cover some of the most effective methods for improving your recovery, derived from the training regimens of Olympic athletes and world champions.
There are non-optional parts of recovery that will necessarily be part of your life because they are so closely tied to health and continued survival: sleep, nutrition and hydration are essential to life but they’re also necessary considerations for peak performance.
Living and recovering like the best of the best starts before you even wake up: getting enough, high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in achieving your health and fitness goals. Sleep is a fantastic mechanism by which the body repairs itself and regulates hormones – more time asleep generally means more recovery and better opportunities to grow and develop.
How to do it: Good sleep is restful – you can achieve high-quality sleep by ensuring that you’re well-fed and hydrated before bed, with additional benefits from green tea, certain vitamin/mineral supplements and active relaxation (see below). Cut out computer and television screens closer to bed and spend 15-30 minutes reading before bed for maximum recovery benefits.
If you’ve ever seen a day in the life of any elite athlete, you’ll know that nutrition plays a big part. Whilst nutrition is a great way to improve your physique and health, it is also a key part of the recovery process. Consuming high-quality proteins, healthy carbohydrates and good fats will all contribute to proper recovery, especially when combined with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals from high-quality plant sources.
How to do it: Nutrition is a complex subject for athletes, but there are some simple principles that you should be abiding by. I’ve already explained the basics of dieting for weight loss and how that works, and if you’re looking to lose weight and improve your health that may cover everything you need to know. The basics are still true for recovering like an elite athlete: eat high-quality protein and fats, with complex carbs based on how much activity you do, and as many vegetables as you can stand!
Your body needs you to drink fluids throughout the day to keep you healthy and performing at your best – whether you’re an elite athlete or a beginner looking to start as you mean to go on, hydration is an essential part of nutrition and recovery.
How to do it: Drinking water is often as simple as keeping a water bottle on your person and filling it up every time it empties: if you make this one simple change you’ll see improvements in athletic performance and many markers of overall health. Consider infusing your water with multivitamin effervescent’s, fruits or hydration aids to gain even greater health and performance benefits.
Boosting your performance with recovery
Stretching and rolling
Stretching and foam rolling aren’t seen in the gym as often as bicep curls and bench press, but they are essential parts of keeping the body healthy and balancing the health of joints. Tight muscles contribute to imbalanced demands on the joint, which can contribute to impingement, pain and long-term injuries. Reducing the tightness of certain muscles will contribute to the development of a healthy and well-rounded body. Stretching and foam rolling also contribute to reducing muscle soreness and the removal of waste products from the limbs, allowing you to return to training sooner and with less inhibitions or limitations.
How to do it: Focus on tight or sore areas, stretching as often as possible if only for 5-10 minutes. It’s not always easy to fit in an hour’s stretching everyday so focus on stretching more often in short bursts: when you’re watching TV, for example, you could stretch on the floor rather than slumping on the sofa.
These are exactly what you’d expect – baths and showers that are either cold throughout or switch between hot and cold. These are used to improve muscle circulation and reduce inflammation. The benefits aren’t huge – even if they feel useful – but you have to shower anyway, so it’s worth investing your time in recovery when you’re performing everyday tasks.
Dietary suppements and nutrition aids are interesting for recovery. The best types of supplements are those that address common deficiencies and provide a base of solid, balanced nutrition. Miracle supplements don’t exist and the nutritional science has been consistent on the importance of consistently perfecting the basics.
How to do it: Supplementing additional dietary protein, creatine, omega-3 fats, Vitamins and minerals will provide you with the necessary basics to keep your diet on track and recovery along with it. On top of this, supplements should aim at metabolic and digestive support, keeping you at optimum function and supporting the body’s own processes to improve health and performance.
Active recovery is simply doing gentle exercise to keep the body ticking over and allow the muscles to stay active. Active recovery keeps circulation and drainage consistent on rest days and has been shown to reduce the symptoms of muscle soreness. Aside from the physiological effects, active recovery time gives you a chance to focus on relaxation and de-stressing, which actually boosts nervous-system recovery and health markers.
How to do it: Active recovery is as simple as taking a walk through the park on a rest day, or swimming occasionally during the week. The point is to do some form of relaxing, stress-free exercise that keeps you healthy: choose something that fits into your life and gives you some peace of mind.
As with eating, sleeping, drinking and showering, you have to wear clothes and these are a relatively small investment considering that they are easily hand-washed and dry in hours. The research on compression clothing is inconclusive right now but they’re huge among elite athletes and it definitely doesn’t hurt – they definitely make you feel better and that’s a big part of performance according to sport psychology.