Many athletes have an excellent training program. A lot of these same athletes may even have a quality nutrition program. These same athletes are also working hard at their specific sport and craft. However, the biggest separator within this group of athletes is their priority and attention to detail toward their recovery. Recovery is the secret weapon that is overlooked often times in sports. Many athletes are pushing themselves harder and harder during their training sessions.
But, it’s important to remember that training is a stressor and too much training without the recovery to match up to it leads to higher incidences of injury. When your recovery is compromised, a few potential issues arise such as a decrease in appetite, poor exercise performance, gut issues, muscle weakness, and higher likelihoods of infection to name a few.
While this may seem dire, the steps to ensure proper recovery isn’t complicated by any means. In fact, committing to these six habits will help you prevent injury while improving your daily recovery.
Before directing your attention anywhere else, it’s pivotal to have your sleep dialed in before addressing any other area. Sleep is your most potent recovery weapon and performance enhancer.
Sleep deprivation slows down the recovery process after working out, impairs muscle glycogen repletion, decreases your cognition, and leads to more mental fatigue accumulating.
During sleep, growth hormone is released which stimulates growth, helps cellular reproduction, and regulates your body’s metabolism to repair itself. Another noteworthy hormone to mention is Prolactin which is released during deep sleep and is beneficial due to its anti-inflammatory properties helping your achy joints from your training session.
In fact, in a 2014 study out of the Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, student-athletes who slept fewer hours had increased rates of injuries. An adequate amount of rest looks different to all of us, but sticking to a range of 7-9 hours per night is key.
- Pay attention to your body signals
When it comes to preventing long-term injuries, self-awareness is a big factor. Athletes often fail to recognize the signals that their bodies are giving them because they haven’t learned how to recognize the difference between pain and discomfort.
Pain, usually a feeling that is sharp, shooting, aching, pointed, or irritating is our body’s way of signaling that there is a problem. This pain often catches our attention, but in the heat of the moment, athletes ignore it due to endorphins kicking in or them justifying their pain. This is risky and is how a more serious injury can come to fruition.
When thinking of discomfort, this is something like experiencing muscle fatigue, muscle soreness, or being out of breath. Discomfort is mostly located within the muscles while pain is located in the joints or deep in our bones.
As you train and play in your sport, keep in mind that participating shouldn’t cause pain. If it does, then something isn’t right and needs to be brought up.
- Load up on micronutrients
If you mention nutrition to someone, odds are, they will start talking about carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Essentially, they will address the macronutrients and sometimes break down how much of each they should be eating. While those are important, there’s a time and natural hierarchy for those things.
Before worrying about complicated formulas and minute strategies, it’s important that you have the habit of flooding your body with micronutrients. Your micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals which come from fruits and vegetables.
Micronutrients are critical because they help supercharge your recovery and serve as conductors for numerous processes inside your body. For young athletes, consuming proper amounts of calcium, iron, and vitamin D were of critical importance according to this 2013 report in Pediatrics Child Health.
Another tool to add to your recovery box is to use tart cherry juice, as research has shown it to be useful in preventing inflammation from rising after intense exercising.
- Epsom salt baths
This technique is a simple and (cost) effective way to relax your muscles while decreasing inflammation. According to studies soaking in the bath for 10 to 12 minutes is more than enough time to get the benefits of this technique.
Magnesium is a mineral that athletes are often deficient in. These Epsom salt baths increase your rate of perspiration which is beneficial as it leads to you getting rid of toxins in your body. Lastly, these salt baths facilitate blood flow to your muscles which leads to the process of reducing inflammation.
Use this technique two to three times per week, preferably after your toughest sessions of the week.
- Dynamic stretching
This type of stretching is slowly becoming more popular compared to the typical static stretching that you may have heard about. Dynamic stretching is essentially using movements to warm up particular muscle groups and ready you for the training session.
This is essentially serving as a critical tool for lowering your rate of injury. Static stretching can temporarily lengthen the collagen fibers in the muscle fascia and tendon which can actually lower your overall performance for the training session due to the weakening of the internal structure of those fibers.
Therefore, it’s better to use dynamic stretching at the beginning as it not only improves your mobility in the short term but also reduces the probability of an injury occurring.
- Foam rolling/self-myofascial release
This is an effective type of soft tissue therapy that predominately focuses on your nerve and connective tissues. Some of the benefits of incorporating this into a consistent habit include correcting muscle imbalances, improving range of motion, relieving muscles soreness, and relaxing your muscles.
To get started with foam rolling, simply target key areas such as your calves, quads, hamstrings, adductors, glutes, thoracic spine, and your tensor fasciae latae (TFL) to name a few.
Recovery is a strategy and a key ingredient to maximizing your potential. If you’re looking for an edge over the competition, approach your recovery with as much intensity as you do your training sessions.