One of the biggest mistakes I see among our athletes is they forget this core truth: we get fitter not from training, but from recovering from training. Some of the most experienced, hardcore athletes I know fail to heed the importance of recovery.
Genetics is a factor we can’t control.
Researchers have found genetic variants of genes that increase or decrease the rate at which we recover from exercise-induced muscle damage.
Age is another factor out of our direct control.
Living, eating, and training right can stave off many of the worst effects of aging. However, after intense exercises that damage the muscles, like sprints, heavy lifting, intervals, or longer race-pace runs, older athletes recover more slowly than younger athletes.
If you’re sick, you won’t recover as quickly.
Fighting off an illness takes some of the resources that would otherwise be used to recover from training.
If your hormones are out of whack, you’ll likely recover more slowly.
Hormones are the messengers and managers that tell our cells what to do. That includes muscle repair, muscle growth, fuel replenishment, and every other cellular function related to recovery.
Manage your stress.
As far as your body is concerned, stress is stress. Traffic is a stressor. A job you hate is a stressor. Procrastinating until you absolutely must get working is a stressor. And yes, exercise is a stressor. Too much stress impairs our ability to recover from exercise-induced stress. Some stress is unavoidable. But most of us create additional stress in our lives and fail to do enough to counter or manage it.
Sleep debt impairs exercise recovery in many ways: it increases cortisol, decreases testosterone and growth hormone, and slows muscle building/repair. Sleep loss also increases the risk of injuries by decreasing balance coordination, and postural control. If you trip and fall, or throw out your back due to poor form, you won’t even have a workout to recover from.
A bad night of sleep happens to the best of us from time to time, but that isn’t going to significantly effect recovery. The real recovery killer is chronically bad sleep, and that’s the kind most people can avoid. Start a good sleep hygiene routine and stick with it.
Zinc: Zinc is key for the production of testosterone; research indicates that exercise increases the need for zinc.
Magnesium and Other Electrolytes: Magnesium is necessary for a plethora of bodily processes related to workout recovery. Unfortunately, a significant amount of magnesium is lost in sweat during exercise, making magnesium deficiency a common problem that contributes to slower workout recovery.
Iron: Intense exercise diminishes iron stores. Iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to your tissues during training and recovery.
Low Fuel Availability
Working out expends energy. That energy needs to be replaced before you’re fully recovered and prepared to do another workout. If you’re coming off a long WOD that left you gasping on the ground in a puddle of sweat, you have some glycogen stores to refill.
Insufficient calories, coupled with intense exercise puts too much stress on the body, which decreases muscle building hormones. Instead of growing muscle and burning fat, it promotes muscle wasting and body fat retention. This is a common issue for people trying to lose weight through diet and exercise.
Drinking directly reduces muscle building/repair, reduces sleep quality, and puts increased stress on the body. It also decreases the ability of your muscle cells to use testosterone.
Things You Can Try
Get good sleep, minimize (or eliminate) alcohol, get a handle on your stress, eat enough food, eat enough protein, and get your micronutrients. What else?
Massage feels great, and it’s great for recovery from exercise. It alleviates muscle soreness and speeds up the recovery of muscle strength.
Whey protein is generally digested and absorbed extremely well by the body. It speeds up muscle rebuilding and adaptation to exercise.
Although we get creatine from red meat and fish, additional creatine can boost our performance and recovery from exercise. It increases our phosphocreatine stores, which is what our muscles use for quick bursts of maximal effort. It also helps increase muscle glycogen content without increasing insulin resistance.
Fish Oil (or Fatty Fish)
Fish oil can be taken at any time, but has been shown to decrease muscle soreness when taken post workout. It can also enhance muscle recovery from and adaptation to strength training.
I always say eat the amount of carbs that your body needs to fuel your high intensity activity. While that definitely means eating fewer carbs than the USDA’s recommended 45 to 65 percent of the calories in your diet, you still need to eat enough carbs so that your body is ready for your next workout; especially if that workout will be in less than 24 hours.
Focus on the Basics first! Before taking ice baths, dropping $500 on massages every week, taking a long list of expensive supplements, and walking around in a full body compression suit, make sure you’re sleeping, eating enough food, and giving yourself enough time between workouts. For most, handling the basics will be enough, and you’ll certainly get the most bang for your buck from them.
What have you found to be the best way to recover from your workouts? What are the biggest roadblocks? Share your experiences on the Sycamore CrossFit Facebook page or in the HSN group message board!