What is the best way to recover?

It’s no surprise that we all love to workout. Whether our goals are to look good on the beach, carry our groceries home without help, live longer, be healthier or just feel better, we all chase that endorphin high that comes after a good sweat sesh.

But, then what happens?

Most of us will continue to work, or eat, sleep and repeat. Allowing exercise to be a necessary part of our daily routine.
And the same should be said about recovery!

If your goal is to train harder and smarter than the day before, you will need to make sure your body has adapted and recovered from the stressors placed on it from the previous days. Because without proper recovery, you’re stuck with an uphill battle that over time can lead to injury, fatigue, overtraining and/or lack of motivation. 
A common question we get asked alot is: what is the best (and quickest) way to recover?

The answer is not in the new, fancy technologies plastered all over the internet, such as :

  • Compex/PowerDot muscle stimulators
  • Scrapers
  • Theragun
  • Compression boots

… the list goes on! 

But the truth of it is, unless you are a professional athlete, you can give your body what it needs to recover for a minimal overhead expense. In fact, you shouldn’t even consider purchasing recovery tools until you have developed proper lifestyle recovery habits. Recovery tools are like supplements: they shouldn’t be integrated into your lifestyle until you have a solid foundation in place. 

Picture

Graphic obtained from reference 1.

How to create a solid recovery foundation

When we exercise, our muscles fatigue, body temperature increases, we become dehydrated, we lose muscle glycogen stores and damage soft tissue (see Figure above). Additionally, our nervous, cardiovascular, thermoregulatory, renal, endocrine and immune systems are all impacted by intense exercise (1). So, if the training is too intense and/or the recovery is not adequate, your mind and body will not be able to perform optimally, and overtime, this can have more negative compounded effects. 

At this point, you likely don’t need to be convinced that recovery is essential to optimal performance. 

So, let’s talk about how to make it happen! 

1. Nutrition 

To restore the lost glycogen in your muscles and to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, make sure that you’re properly fueling your body before and after your workout. Check out our blog post here to learn how to do this!

Try this: Consume protein + carbs around your workout, low fibre and fat. Aim for complex carbs as a pre-workout and more simple carbs afterwards.

2. Hydration

Changes in blood volume during exercise strongly influence cardiovascular function, so hydration before during and after your workout is key to recovering well (1). While water is the most convenient fluid to drink after exercise, fluids with 400-900 mg/L sodium has been shown to be the most effective for achieving positive fluid balance (e.g. reducing how much is excreted) (2). A good option? Coconut water! If you’re able to, continually drink moderate amounts of fluids over 4-5 hours rather than chugging a huge amount right after your workout.

Try this: Aim to combine proper post-workout nutrition with water or an electrolyte drink within 2 hours of working out. This is the critical period for replacing muscle glycogen, as studies have shown that consuming carbs immediately after exercise can lead to faster muscle glycogen re-synthesis (3). 

3. Sleep

While everyone is different, a good rule of thumb is 7-9 hours of sleep per night. For the weekend warrior, this should be plenty for recovery! If you’re a professional athlete, you may also be adding in naps.

Studies have shown that increasing total sleep duration for at least one week can lead to improved physical performance, reaction times, mood and fatigue levels (4). If that’s not motivation to sleep more, I’m not sure what is! If you’re serious about recovery and performance, you should continually strive to get adequate sleep!

Try this: Avoid all screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime, engage in meditation techniques or reading to calm the mind, avoid drinking too many fluids close to bedtime, and be disciplined with your bedtime. Your mind and body will thank you the next day! 

4. Stretching

Stretching is one of the oldest tools in the books and probably one of the hardest to actually do. Not because it is physically challenging, but because actually doing it requires time and discipline. While stretching programs like ROMWOD and GOWOD have begun to make stretching sexier, this is something we can all do on our own!

Try this: Set aside 3-5 minutes each day to stretch. Attack the areas you feel are most tight/sore (usually hips and shoulders). If you’re struggling to find the time, do this when you first wake up so that you don’t have to think about it during the rest of the day! Start small and then as you get into this habit, 5 minutes may become 10. 

5. Massage

While stretching has been shown to offer some benefits such as reducing soreness and inflammation, benefits have been shown to be enhanced when combined with other recovery strategies (e.g. massage). Massage – manipulating tissues either manually (using hands) or mechanically (lacrosse balls or foam rollers) – is proposed to increase range of motion, skin and muscle temperature and circulation (1) and has been shown to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (5,6) and inflammation (5).

If you’re on your own, combine stretching with foam rolling and/or lacrosse ball work post-workout. 

Oh and don’t forget about regular check-ups with your therapist. They’ll catch imbalances, tightness and inefficiencies in your movement pattern that you likely won’t. They’ll be able to get deeper into the tissue than you can, getting done what would take you probably hours in a span of minutes. Again, seeing a chiro, massage or athletic therapist is not the be-all-end-all solution, but another tool you should consider using if you are serious about performing and recovering at your best! Don’t wait until you’re injured to ask for help!

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

No piece of technology can provide you with the rest and nutrition needed to REPAIR torn tissue.

Once you’ve developed a consistent recovery routine, then maybe you can consider spending money on fancy tools.

Of course, this discussion is a bit different for high-level, elite athletes…but if you are one of them, come and chat with me and I would be happy to offer my guidance and support!

Blog written by:  Julia Bayne, Co-Founder of CrossFit 6S, PhD Chemistry, University of Toronto

References:

  1. Peake, J. M. Recovery after exercise: what is the state of play?. Current Opinion in Physiology, 2019, 10, 17–26
  2. Shirreffs, S. M., and Maughan, R. J. Restoration of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration: effects of alcohol consumption. J. Appl. Physiol. 1997, 83, 1152–1158.
  3.  Ivy, J. L.; Katz, A. L.; Cutler, C. L.; Sherman, W. M and Coyle, E. F. Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: effect of time of carbohydrate ingestion. J Appl. Physiol., 1988, 64, 1480-1485.
  4. Bonnar, D.; Bartel, K.; Kakoschke, N. and Lang, C. Sleep Interventions Designed to Improve Athletic Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review of Current Approaches. Sports Med., 2018, 48, 683-703.
  5. Dupuy, O.; Douzi, W.; Theurot, D.; Bosquet, L. and Dugue, B. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front. Physiol., 2018, 9, 403.
  6. Guo, J.; Li, L.; Gong, Y.; Zhu, R.; Xu, J.; Zou, J. and Chen, X. Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front. Physiol., 2017, 8, 747.
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