Words by Rebecca Parsons
Time passes slowly when you're recovering from injury. For athletes in the healing process, every day can feel like the last day of school before summer. Can't I just go play already?
Unfortunately, the smart answer is usually no. Allowing muscles sufficient time to recover between workouts is crucial for health and overall performance. Here we break down some fundamental lifestyle choices that will both increase recovery speed and keep muscles in peak condition to prevent further injury.
Athletes, especially those performing at the elite level, require more sleep than the average person. According to a 2009 study conducted by the National Sleep Society, athletes who extended their sleep to 10 hours a night reported improved performance and mood. In addition to the number of hours slept, sleep quality and sleep phase can have a huge impact on the regenerative properties of sleep.
In order to ensure the best sleep possible, sleep in a cool, dark room, avoid screen-time an hour prior to bed, and do intense workouts early in the day with more relaxing ones in the evenings. Try monitoring your sleep with a sleep-tracking app, such as SleepBot or Sleep Time, to find out what works best for you.
We may sound like a broken record, but we'll say it again—proper nutrition is critical for overall performance and recovery time. Make sure you're not going into your workouts on empty and try to replenish your fluids, electrolytes, carbs and proteins within 30 minutes of completing a hard workout. For restoring electrolytes, coconut water is a great alternative to sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, which contain excessive amounts of sugar. But good ole fashion H2O is still our favorite way to go.
One rule of thumb is to weigh yourself before and after exercise and drink 16 to 24 oz. for every pound lost during the workout. Another rule of thumb is to consume 0.36g of carbs per pound of body weight and 0.1g of protein per pound of body weight to restore muscle glycogen and properly promote protein synthesis in the body after a lengthy endurance workout. Two to three hours after your workout, consume a well-balanced meal that includes carbs, protein, and some fat. Stick to a healthy nutrition plan throughout the day to ensure total recovery.
Not only can stretching help prevent injury, it can speed up recovery time as well. Kick off your workout with dynamic stretching (active stretching with controlled movements) to loosen your muscles and wrap up your workout with static stretching (stationary stretching that involves holding a position for 30 seconds or more).
Post-workout stretching helps to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness, allowing you to get back on the water faster. During static stretching, blood flow to the muscles is reduced, but immediately after blood flow increases to higher levels than before stretching. This increase in blood flow may work to speed up recovery time as it increases the amount of nutrients being delivered to the muscles.
Wearing compression gear during a workout increases blood flow, which in turn helps restore muscle glycogen levels and clear metabolic waste. Additionally, compression gear helps to prevent muscle damage because it holds tissue in place. Sleeping or resting in compression gear can also help prevent your muscles from getting stiff and sore due to the increased blood flow.
Compression gear comes in many form including tights, shorts, jackets, socks, and sleeves and is made from a form-fitting spandex material. Popular brands include 2XU, Second Skin, CEP, and SKINS. Compression gear is safe to use, just be sure your clothing isn't so tight as to make you breathless and be careful not to overheat when wearing on a hot day.
While it is important to train hard, it is equally as important to rest and take your recovery days seriously. During rest days, your body has the opportunity to adapt to the stress of the exercise, replenish muscle glycogen levels, and repair body tissue. There are two types of recovery days: passive and active.
Passive recovery days are complete rest days and are ideal for beginner or less serious athletes. Active recovery days involve light exercise in the form of an easy cross-training workout and are better suited for more advanced athletes. Keeping a training log can be a useful tool for monitoring how your body reacts to your workouts and allows for easy adjustments to your overall training plan.