Recovery is an essential yet often overlooked component when it comes to health and wellness. Whether it’s a good night’s sleep, proper nutrition, or adequate hydration, recovery should be at the forefront of any health or fitness program. It can be recovering from a workout or recovering from the work day. It’s important to understand how to properly recover so that you can present your best self each and every day. And although it might seem like cryotherapy, massage, compression garments, and other fancy tools are needed for proper recovery, the truth is the best recovery methods are often a lot less glamorous. Sleep, nutrition, and movement are three recovery methods that can’t be beaten in terms of impact on the mind and the body. Below, I’ll take you through my 6 Rs for understanding the benefits of proper recovery and give you an explanation of why sleep, nutrition, and movement are my top three methods for recovery.
6 R’s for Understanding Recovery
Replenish energy stores: Energy stores in the muscles (glycogen) along with other key nutrients can become depleted after exercise. It’s important to replace those nutrients and energy stores based on the duration, intensity, type of exercise performed. This will help prevent fatigue and boost performance.
Repair Damaged Tissues: Muscle tissue gets broken down by mechanical stress from training or lifting as well as by hormones in response to training. This puts your body in a catabolic (breaking down) state. Without proper recovery, your body can stay in this state too long and continue to break down muscle and other structures and processes in the body. Rest and nutrition can help push your body into an anabolic state (building up) where you are repair muscles and adapting to training.
Remove Chemical Waste: Exercise and other kinds of stress can lead to the production of metabolic waste products that your body is left to clean up. This waste can come in many different forms and can build up in the body causing trouble in many different systems. It’s important to promote blood flow and circulation in recovery to help your body naturally remove these waste products.
Restore Hormonal and Fluid Balance: Hormone and fluid levels can vary greatly across different people. Restoring homeostasis is always the goal of the body and the amount of work the body has to do depends on the duration, intensity, and type of exercise or stress you encounter. Fluid loss can lead to dehydration and other deleterious effects so make sure to properly hydrate and get your electrolytes. Hormones are always fluctuating but it is vital to get sleep which helps restore hormonal balance.
Reduce Physical and Mental Fatigue: Stress and exercise can cause mental and physical fatigue. Physically this can be beneficial if you exercise and recover properly. Without proper recovery, your physical fatigue will hit harder and last longer preventing you from performing subsequent tasks. Mentally without proper recovery your memory, mood, learning, decision-making will suffer. Sleep and nutrition help right the ship when it comes to all things fatigue.
Rebuild New Tissue: As mentioned early, muscles and other tissues can get broken down during hard training. If you don’t eat the right things and get enough sleep you could be blunting your ability to rebuild new tissue. Leaving your body in a broken-down state that is more susceptible to injury, sickness, or harm. Your nutrition and getting the right amount of sleep can help give you the building blocks to rebuild broken-down tissue so you can adapt to training and become stronger.
Top 3 Recovery Methods
Sleep: Sleep is the holy grail of recovery. Every major system or organ in your body is enhanced by sleep. Sleep boosts cognitive function (memory, learning, decision making), reduces stress (enhances mood), boosts the immune system, protects heart health (lowers BP), controls metabolic state (blood sugar levels), and regulates appetite. There is a reason 1/3 of your life is dedicated to sleep so aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
Nutrition: Getting the proper nutrients pre and post-training is imperative. Nutrition can help in several ways from replenishing energy stores, to aid in muscle growth and repair, to boosting immune function and adaptation to training. Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are all vital to recovery but knowing when to eat them and how much of each to eat can vary greatly depending on the person. Find a balanced nutrition plan that works for you and your goals.
Movement: Movement is one of the best ways to promote recovery. Light movement facilitates blood flow and circulation (helping bring nutrients to the tissues and brain), it helps remove chemical waste and reduces soreness. Try going for a walk, taking a light bike ride, or doing some restorative yoga the day after a hard training session.
Recovery affects everything we do on a day-to-day basis. So it should be planned for and thought out as much as the training itself. The more time and energy we put into recovery, the higher the quality we get out of life. So ask yourself, are you taking your recovery seriously?