Let’s say that you have one of the following goals – to get strong, to be faster, to have more endurance, feel good or to look good. It is generally agreed upon that sitting on the couch is probably not the easiest path to reach any of these goals. Instead you find a good program, and work your butt off. Example: you want to get stronger, you lift progressively heavier weights (with a smart program and good form) and you see change. It even feels like you are getting stronger while you are lifting, but are you? All of this is critical to reaching that goal, but there is a piece that often is missing from the process that has the potential to maximize your performance and help you reach your goals quicker without burning out. This piece is being intentional about your recovery. Again, using strength as an example, many of the physiological changes that occur to make you stronger (like adding contractile proteins) happen during recovery, not during the exercise itself. The exercise is the stimulus that causes your body to adapt and optimizing that adaptation means optimizing recovery. This is a three part series that explores different aspects of recovery so that you can feel and perform your best. We will look at every day recovery, the de-load and injury recovery.

When your day to day recovery is good, you get the hormonal, neurological and muscle changes you are looking for and you feel good. When your recovery is not as good, you will still see change, but often it is slower change and you may feel more tired, less focused or just more burnt out. So, what are the key areas to help maximize your recovery?

1. Sleep – Why not start with the toughest for many of us. While there is not an absolute amount that is agreed upon, most sleep experts believe that we need between 7 and 10 hours per night. Tissue healing and growth peek at night with the release of growth hormone. And, when sleep is inadequate we see a host of problems, including insulin resistance, decreased immunity, cortisol disregulation, and lower testosterone among others. One researcher even described poor sleep as looking a lot like mild traumatic brain injury on scans. Sleep is often the first thing to go when we get busy, so do your best to prioritize it – adequate sleep helps just about everything. If you are having trouble sleeping you can try these sleep hygiene tips.
•Get to be earlier – try shifting back the time you get to bed by 15 minutes every couple of days until you have reached your desired goal. Say, 8 hours before you have to get up.
•Black out your room – make sure no light gets in, even from digital sources like alarm clocks. Use black out shades especially as we enter spring and summer and it is light later.
•Try to turn off any screens at least an hour before bed.
•Foam roll – Foam rolling before bed seems to switch on the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system which can significantly improve your sleep.
•Sleep supplements – (Standard disclaimer – this is not medical advice and if you are interested in any of these supplements it is a good idea to check in with your doctor.) The big three supplements for sleep are Melatonin, 5-HTP and ZMA. My experience is that effectiveness of any of these is pretty individual. And, I have seen melatonin cause some depression problems for a few people so it is a good idea to get professional advice.

2.Stress reduction – When we talk about stress reduction we are really talking about reducing chronic stress. Our response to stress is adaptive. It evolved to help us get out of dangerous situations effectively. Chronic stress however is maladaptive and ultimately causes breakdown of most of our body systems. So, finding ways to manage stress might just be one of the most important tools you can develop for better overall health. Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to combat chronic stress, but lets look at some others that can complement your training. Other movement disciplines are fantastic; yoga, qi gong, martial arts, dance etc… Meditation and massage are two more powerful ways to address your stress.

3.Take care of your body – Being able to work on those tight, painful or sticky spots can make a big contribution to your overall recovery. It can help you move better which often translates in the ability to move more. There are a variety of methods you can use for this. The foam roller, when used correctly, has great benefits. What is correct usage? Consensus is that the best way to use the foam roller is to find areas of tenderness, sit on that spot until it starts to feel less tender (or if you want a little extra mobility, move the body part through its range of motion), and then move to another spot. The less effective way is to speed roll over muscles. The lacrosse ball is another great tool especially when you need a little more targeted action (like in the glutes). And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention massage. It is one of the best ways to take care of problem areas, improve your mobility and reduce stress.

4. Nutrition – This is clearly a topic that could take a lot of time to dig into but there are a few easy things to do to help with your recovery.
•Eat enough – Especially when people are trying to lean out it is easy to not get enough food. In the short term this can be effective but can cause long term problems, especially with hormone balance. This begs the question, what is enough. This will depend on your goals, your current body composition, your age, your sleep etc…, so it is impossible to give exact counts. But, if you are doing heavy calorie restriction or feel fatigued and hungry all the time, these may be indicators that you are not eating enough.
•Get adequate protein – Try to get some protein at every meal and it is not a bad idea to have a protein shake after working out.
•Drink enough water – Again, what is enough varies but shoot for 8+ cups a day. One helpful tip is to put a pinch of sea salt in water you drink between meals. It will help with absorption. There are lots of different hydration tablets you can add, so if the salt trick is not to your liking experiment with these. Just make sure they are low sugar.
•Think quality – Probably one of the best things you can do for your nutrition is to eat unprocessed whole foods when ever possible. Processed food is high in salt, sugar and poor quality fats. All of which are trouble for your health.

5.Supplementation – While this is another area to consult your physician about, there are several supplements that can help promote recovery. A quality protein powder with branch chain amino acids will help make sure you have the appropriate building blocks. Creatine monohydrate is another one that is one of the most studied supplements for recovery. Just type creatine into pubmed or even Dr. Google if you want to geek out on the science a bit. And, ZMA (good for muscle recovery, sleep and hormone balance) is another one that many people have found helpful in recovery.

On a final note, the ultimate tool for recovery is awareness. The more aware of how your body is feeling you are, the more you can tailor both your training and recovery. Feeling a little wrecked today? Try spending a little more time on one of the ideas above and see how it helps you. Maybe 30 minutes of foam rolling before bed while you watch a show. Pay attention to what works for you and what doesn’t. Awareness helps you make good choices. Being intentional about your recovery will help you feel better and be able to do more and have better performance.

Matthew Sorlie lmp, cpt