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How to use recovery effectively in endurance sports.

Updated: Mar 4



   How to Boost Your Recovery as an Athlete

Recovery is one of the most underused advantages for most athletes. Many athletes do very little to use this paramount tool to get faster and become stronger. However, if you want to achieve your best performance and have longevity in your sport, recovery is essential.

Recovery involves many modalities that can help you achieve supercompensation, which is the objective of any athlete. Supercompensation is the process of adapting to a higher level of fitness after a period of stress and recovery. The following are some of the methods that can help you with recovery.

Sleep

Sleep is the golden nugget of any recovery program. It is the most effective and free tool that you can use to improve your recovery. Sleep supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and improves every bodily function.

Sleep is especially important for muscle growth and repair. During sleep, your body releases human growth hormone (HGH), which promotes protein synthesis and tissue growth. HGH is a natural hormone produced by the pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream. It rebuilds damaged tissue and builds stronger muscles. This reparative process prepares your body for the next workout.

Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, hitting the higher numbers when your training load and intensity increase. Naps also count to this total number, so don’t be afraid to grab some sleep whenever you can.

Rest Days

Every endurance program should include adequate rest days (passive recovery). These days should be carefully built into the weekly cycles of your training plan. These rest days are essential to allow the basic physiological and mental processes to recover and cool down. This way, you can come back and re-engage in heavier and more vigorous bouts of training.

One of the greatest triathletes of all time, Chrissie Wellington, put it this way: “Many of us find it hard to take days/time off. This was anathema to me and tantamount to weakness – especially if people were always asking what I’d done. To respond with ‘I haven’t trained today’ was like admitting I was weak or a failure. Rest/recovery is NOT weakness or failure. It’s fundamental to success. It’s not the swim/bike/run sessions that will make you fitter, it’s the recovery – the adaptation and regeneration from the stress caused by those activities. And it is not just about physical recovery; it’s mental recovery/relaxation too.”

Nutrition

Nutrition is the backbone of living a healthy and productive life. For an athlete, nutrition is even more important to improve performance and recovery. Nutrition can provide you with the energy and nutrients you need to fuel your workouts and replenish your body after them.

A sound nutritional strategy must include pre, during, and post-fuel and nutrition plans that take into consideration the replacement of lost nutrients immediately following strenuous bouts of training. Luckily, there are many products in the market today that can make it easier for you to choose what works best for you. However, nothing can replace real, whole, nourishing food to help drive recovery.

Some of the key nutrients that you should focus on for recovery are:

  • Protein: Protein is the building block of your muscles and tissues. It helps repair the damage caused by exercise and stimulates muscle growth. Research has found that 20 to 40 grams of protein, or roughly 0.4 to 0.5 g/kg (0.18 to 0.22g/lb) of body weight, is enough to maximize muscle growth. You should consume protein both before and after your workout to optimize your recovery.

  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your muscles and brain. They are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. During short-duration and intense exercise, your muscles use glycogen as their primary form of energy. If you deplete your glycogen stores, you will feel fatigued and your performance will suffer. Therefore, you need to replenish your glycogen levels after exercise to restore your energy and prepare for the next workout. If you need to rapidly restore glycogen levels in less than four hours, such as when performing back-to-back workouts, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming 1.2 g/kg of body weight per hour with a focus on carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI). These are carbohydrates that are quickly digested and absorbed by your body, such as white rice, potatoes, and sugar.

  • Fluids and electrolytes: Fluids and electrolytes are essential for regulating your body temperature, blood pressure, and organ function. You lose a lot of fluids and electrolytes through sweat during exercise, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. These can impair your performance, recovery, and health. Therefore, you need to drink enough fluids and electrolytes before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration and replenish your losses. The amount and type of fluids and electrolytes you need depend on several factors, such as the duration, intensity, and environment of your exercise, as well as your individual sweat rate and composition. A general guideline is to drink 0.5 to 1 liter of water or sports drink per hour of exercise, and to weigh yourself before and after exercise to monitor your fluid losses. You should aim to drink 1.5 times the amount of weight you lost during exercise.

Massage

Massage is a popular and enjoyable way to relieve muscle soreness and tension after exercise. Massage can improve blood flow, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation. It can also help you recover faster by breaking up scar tissue and adhesions that may limit your range of motion and flexibility.

There are many types of massage, such as Swedish, deep tissue, sports, and trigger point. You can choose the one that suits your needs and preferences. You can also use self-massage tools, such as foam rollers, massage balls, and massage guns, to apply pressure and release tight spots in your muscles.

Compression socks and devices:

Compression socks and devices are tight-fitting clothes or electronic devices that apply pressure to your muscles and veins. They are designed to improve blood circulation, reduce muscle vibration, and enhance recovery. Compression garments can be worn during or after exercise, depending on your goals and preferences.

Some of the benefits of compression socks and devices for recovery are:

  • They can reduce muscle soreness and fatigue by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to your muscles, and by removing metabolic waste products, such as lactate, that cause pain and stiffness.

  • They can reduce swelling and inflammation by preventing fluid accumulation in your tissues and by enhancing lymphatic drainage.

  • They can prevent or reduce muscle damage by stabilizing your muscles and reducing micro-tears that occur during exercise.

Active Recovery

Active recovery is a low-intensity and low-impact exercise that you perform on your rest days or after a hard workout. The purpose of active recovery is to stimulate blood flow, enhance mobility, and reduce stiffness in your muscles and joints. Active recovery can also help you mentally by relieving stress and boredom.

Some examples of active recovery activities are:

  • Walking

  • Cycling

  • Swimming

  • Yoga

  • Stretching

  • Foam rolling

The key to active recovery is to keep it easy and enjoyable. You should not feel any pain, discomfort, or fatigue during or after active recovery. The intensity and duration of active recovery should be much lower than your regular workouts. A general guideline is to keep your heart rate below 60% of your maximum heart rate and to limit your active recovery session to 30 to 60 minutes.

Conclusion

Recovery is a vital component of any athlete’s training program. It allows your body and mind to adapt to the stress of exercise and to prepare for the next challenge. By following the methods discussed in this article, you can boost your recovery and enhance your performance. Remember, recovery is not a luxury, it is a necessity.



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