I have previously written about the importance of taking rest days and adaptation weeks. But what about the little things that you can do in between each training session to enhance your recovery and in turn improve your performance?
When you are an athlete looking to perform, every decision you make should reflect that, from what you eat, to how much you sleep, to what you do on a Saturday night. Even if you are not an athlete, there is no reason you can’t apply the same principles to your training for optimal results.
If someone’s goal is power, speed or endurance increase, their priorities should be (not necessarily in this order!):
1. Sleep (7-9 hours per night)
2. Nutrition (an appropriate amount of calories coming from a consistent diet of mostly healthy foods)
3. Weight/strength training
4. Muscle recovery (active recovery, foam rolling, massage, etc)
5. Sport specific training (i.e. swimming, cycling, running – for most readers!)
When someone brags about waking up at 4.30am after only five hours sleep to go smash out a double run or swim session, I am not impressed. If fitting in a workout means cutting into your sleep time, you are always better off choosing sleep over the gym.
That said, obviously some people will have no choice but to wake up early to go and train. If that is the case, make sure you are getting to bed as early as possible the night before and aim for at least seven hours sleep. If someone genuinely does not have time to get sessions in unless they sacrifice sleep, I typically recommend training on both weekend days – when people tend to have more time – and only once or twice during the week.
Everyone should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. The quality of your sleep counts too. Try to sleep in complete darkness and make sure you unwind before bed. I’ve started making sure that I turn off all technology 30 minutes before bed. The light from screens will disturb your sleep, not to mention the constant vibrations of texts, emails and social media notifications will make it difficult to fall asleep. During this “unwind” time, you can read, write, have a cup of tea, have sex, star gaze – anything avoiding technology will drastically improve your quality of sleep.
When you don’t have enough sleep, it has a particularly negative effect on your diet. Your body will naturally crave high-carb/sugar foods when it is sleep-deprived, not to mention that more time spent awake during a day means more time for eating.
Prior to your sessions you should fuel your body with healthy, energising foods. After your workout, you should aim to eat a high protein and high carbohydrate meal as soon as possible. Do not be afraid to eat big – your body needs it!
Many people struggle with eating on rest days, as they don’t believe they have “earned” their calories. I feel that is complete BS. I tend to eat more on rest days, as I feel hungrier.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. I do a lot of my sessions in the evenings, so my body has no idea what’s coming. Once I finish my workout, it wises up and I feel quite hungry. But it isn’t until the next day that I feel particularly famished.
I eat a bit of everything too! While there is a time and a place for those “junky” types of foods, I know that constantly eating like that will not allow me to perform my best. I don’t feel great after eating too much of those kinds of foods.
That said, I also don’t think adhering to a strict chicken, broccoli and pasta diet 100 per cent of the time is good for either your mind or your body. I am still convinced that eating ice cream before competitions gives me magic powers!
Muscle recovery techniques
In between training sessions, you should be doing everything you can to speed up recovery as you do not want your next session to be jeopardised by muscle soreness from your previous session. While straight-up rest and proper nutrition are essential during this period, so is light foam rolling and mobility work. I foam roll after every training session, but also try to sneak in some gentle stretching on rest/recovery days too.
Active recovery techniques can be utilised to enhance recovery. This can be anything from walking to hot yoga, but do make sure you take at least one full rest day per week to allow adequate recovery.
I know this will sound counterproductive, but one of my best secrets to speed up leg recovery is sprinting in your cool down! The idea is to increase blood flow into the muscles to improve recovery. That’s not to say that you need to kill yourself, but if you are running swimming or cycling, 5-10s bursts in your cool down can be of real assistance.
I also think it’s really important to get regular massages. I used to get one half hour massage every two weeks, but recently I switched to having a 60-90 minute massage once a month. Consistently training hard is tough on the muscles, and there’s only so much that foam rolling can help. I know I perform better about 3-4 days after having a nice deep tissue massage.
Do you have any additional tips for recovery?