With winter training cranking up, now is the time to focus on how you can improve your recovery from workouts and games.
For those athletes who have been competing in fall sports or have been immersed in off-season training; winter break can be a great time for recovery. If approached with balance and a bit of discipline, you can come back from break stronger and healthier than before.
Let's begin by defining what is meant when we say recovery from workouts and games. Recovery by definition is "the process of combating a disorder or a real or perceived problem." So, for anyone who participates in competitive sports, there are many "real or perceived" problems that can arise from the physical, mental and emotional demands of training and competing on a daily basis.
In my years of experience working with athletes and being a former athlete myself, the most common problems I've observed or experienced that arise from training has been ones pertaining to muscle fatigue and soreness. Sometimes this muscle fatigue and soreness persists even when workloads and intensity are reduced in order for more adequate muscle recovery. If not addressed properly, persistent muscle fatigue and soreness can develop from minor problem into a major issue like overtraining. Now, muscle fatigue and soreness is a natural by-product of appropriate training stress necessary for physical adaptation but when it develops into a chronic issue, fatigue and soreness can definitely hinder the athlete's ability to train during a crucial development period.
When it comes to problems that arise from in-season competition, many of the same issues that occur during training are can also be prevalent when competing in a sport. The main difference between off-season training and in-season competition when it comes to managing fatigue and soreness, is that there are less options to reduce workloads and intensity when you're competing as part of a team or individually. But if fatigue and soreness isn't properly managed, it can quickly turn into soft tissue injuries that can force the athlete to miss time in order to heal/rehab.
Factors That Influence Recovery
So what are some of the main contributing factors that can lead to prolonged/chronic muscle fatigue and soreness from training or competition? For one, when muscle and connective tissue is repeatedly stressed, the body's natural response is to repair and remodel the tissue to accommodate for that stress. If adequate time and resources are provided, then muscles and tissue can become stronger and more resilient to the stress over time. The unfortunate reality for many athletes is that there can be an insufficient amount of time for recovery due to game/practice/training schedules as well as other factors like inadequate sleep patterns and insufficient nutrition intake, that can greatly hinder recovery.
Now when you're competing in-season, there's not much that can be done about the amount of time you have available between games and practice schedules to promote better recovery. What can be done though is, make sure that you're consuming foods and beverages that provide your body the nutrients necessary to recover and refuel from the stress of games, practices and workouts. Through a consistent and balanced nutritional approach, one can enhance the body's ability to repair and rebuild quicker. Also important to know, is that when the body is under stress or in an injured state, more energy and nutrients are needed. (1)
Sleep is another factor that can have a tremendous impact the body's ability to recover. A lot more research has been conducted in recent years on the impact sleep has on overall health and in particular, sports performance. A study at Stanford University by Mah (2011) on 18-20 year old college basketball players found that by increasing the nightly sleep pattern to at least 10 hours, for a duration of 5-7 weeks led to increased accuracy, faster sprint times and improved overall ratings of physical and mental well-being during games and practices. (2)
When we sleep, our body goes through a series of sleep stages in which during this physical inactivity, there's a release of hormones along with other physiological and neurological functions, that are essential for the body to function properly. Studies have shown that when athletes don't get sufficient quality and quantity of sleep, it can negatively effect reaction time, energy stores, focus and emotional state, hence sleep can have a huge impact on overall health and performance. (3)
How To Improve Recovery
While schedules, travel and finances may have an impact on nutrition, sleep and other factors influencing recovery; here's some practical information you can use to aid in your recovery or the recovery of athletes you work with.
Carbohydrates and protein post training or competition can help replenish muscle glycogen stores and aid in muscle repair through protein synthesis.
Bright, colorful fruits and vegetables like prunes, strawberries, spinach and broccoli, contain anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals that can aid in combating physiological stress from workouts and games.
Essential fatty acids like ALA, EPA, DHA found in foods like salmon, avocados, and nuts, help with metabolism but also fat is necessary for the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
For adult athletes, certain dietary supplements may be beneficial for those who's diet is deficient in certain nutrients due to physical demands or diet.
Seek assistance from a Registered Dietitian for any specific medical nutritional needs, meal planning and/or nutrition analysis.
Be consistent with a time in which you prepare for sleep daily and that allows for 8+ hours of sleep.
Try hot shower/bath before bed to relax and reduce core temperature.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark to help with the onset of sleep and sleep quality.
Try jotting notes or to do's in a bedside journal prior to going to sleep in order to reduce racing thoughts and anxiousness.
Stay away from consuming alcohol, caffeine and nicotine products, close to bedtime.
Restrict phone use when in bed in order to reduce blue light exposure which can disrupt the natural onset of sleep.
Take mid-day naps with a duration of 30 minutes or less.
Utilize trigger point and foam roller myofascial release techniques to promote soft tissue recovery. For routines, check out the Peak303 Performance YouTube channel
Engage in light activity during scheduled breaks and days off, like getting a massage; low intensity recreation sports; contrast hot/cold therapy; float tank treatment, etc..
For more information and in-depth look at nutrition, sleep and it's impact on recovery, check out the references listed below.
Thanks for reading!
1) Tipton K, D: Nutrition for Acute Exercise-Induced Injuries. Ann Nutr Metab 2010;57(suppl:43-53. doi: 10.1159/000322703
2) Mah CD, Mah KE, Kezirian EJ, Dement WC. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep 2011;34(7):943-950
3) Halson SL. Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Med. 2014 May;44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S13-23. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0147-0. PMID: 24791913; PMCID: PMC4008810.
4) Blue light has a dark side
5) Bird, Stephen P. PhD, CSCS1,2. Sleep, Recovery, and Athletic Performance: A Brief Review and Recommendations. Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2013 - Volume 35 - Issue 5 - p 43-47