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The Importance of Recovery

The Importance of Recovery

As athletes, we often push to our limits when we workout thinking that this is where we can make the most fitness gains.  While the hard work does pay off, it is also important to focus on the post-workout recovery.

Stretch

Studies have shown that stretching post-workout can decrease recovery time, as well as the risk of injury, and can increase flexibility and range of motion.  According to the American College of Sports Medicine, stretches should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds, and no longer than 2 minutes. It is important to stretch immediately following a workout, while the muscles are still warm.  Use slow and steady application of pressure (static stretching) versus short, extreme, bouncing movements.  Be sure to control your breathing, and allow the stretch to deepen as you exhale.

Refuel

During exercise, the body utilizes glycogen stores as fuel.  What is glycogen? Glycogen is composed of mostly carbohydrates, and is stored within muscle tissue as an immediate, reserve fuel during exercise lasting longer than 45 minutes. It is important to replace these carbohydrates within 30 minutes to 2 hours post workout to maximize recovery.  It is during this period when glycogen replenishment occurs at roughly 50% above the normal rate. Anything between 2 and 4 hours will slowly taper to normal level of glycogen replacement.

So how do we replenish our glycogen stores?  Since many athletes have little or no appetite following workouts, it is wise to use liquids.  While glycogen is primarily carbohydrate in its makeup, most studies suggest that athletes replenish with a mix of carbohydrate and protein.  This can be done in various manners, however, low fat chocolate milk, with its mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat, is a favorite among many endurance athletes.  For those who are lactose intolerant, there is a lactose free alternative, Mootopia, available at HEB.

How much you need to replenish can be calculated using your bodyweight in kilograms. For every one kilogram of body mass, consume 0.4 grams of protein, and 0.8 grams of carbohydrate.

Rest

Sleep is one of the most often ignored tools of recovery.  Most studies agree that most people need 6-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.  A study conducted on college runners getting an extra hour or more of sleep a night found  significant improvement in performance while their training levels stayed the same. As athletes leading busy lives, it is easy to go to bed late and get up early.  This robs the body of its most important recovery tool.  During sleep, the body releases Human Growth Hormone which helps repair broken muscle tissue.  It is in sleep that our muscles grow stronger, not during the workouts!  Napping can be used as a supplement to insufficient sleep, and even a nap of 20 minutes can do wonders for your energy levels during the day.

Ice

Probably the most avoided of recovery tools, ice has amazing rehabilitative power.  Many elite and professional athletes testify to the power of ice water or cold water baths in decreasing recovery time, joint and muscle inflammation, and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  It may sound crazy, but it works!  A five minute soak of the legs in cold/ice water after long run or workout will reduce the swelling in the knees, hips and ankles, as well as muscle inflammation.  Ice can also be applied directly to any sore joints or muscles, such as the knees or low back.

Compression

We’ve all seen the athlete wearing knee high socks while out on a run, and many of us think to ourselves, “Hey buddy, the ‘70’s called, and they want their socks back!” Well, as it turns out, the latest fashion craze to hit endurance sports is more than just a fad.  Compression is a real and effective tool for recovery.  Compression on skeletal muscle increases blood flow, thereby speeding recovery.  Some athletes swear that wearing compression during exercise enhances their performance.  This may be a placebo effect, but know that compression does work after exercise.  There are various brands and apparel available, from compression socks and calf sleeves, to full body compression suits, so it important for each athlete to experiment for one’s self.

Elevation

Another useful tool to help reduce inflammation is elevation. It is often used along with the various other forms of recovery.  For runners, laying on your back, with pillows or a box propping your legs at a 90 degree angle often feels good and can help relieve some stress from our primary source of locomotion.



Recovery Workouts

Recovery workouts are often done the day following a long or hard workout.  Recovery workouts are usually done at a very easy pace for a short period of time.  The benefit of a recovery workout is that it helps increase blood flow to the muscle, allowing for removal of waste product and delivery of oxygen and glucose, to facilitate muscle recovery.  Swimming can be a great recovery tool for runners.  The cool water will help reduce muscle and joint inflammation, while the slow gentle movements and zero impact will help with muscle recovery.

Massage

Massage is a great tool to release tension from hard to reach muscles.  There are a variety of massage methods, and they must employ the massage therapists using his/her hands on bare skin.  An alternative is self massage, which can be done with a variety of tools such as tennis balls, foam rollers, rolling pins, and your own hands.

You can use one or all of these tools to help in your recovery.  Experiment and find the one that is right for you!

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