How should Athletes recover?
As a Strength and Conditioning Coach who has had the pleasure of working with college bound basketball athletes, I wonder what impact can be made outside of training.
Although I frequently meet with athletes eager to learn and improve, a 60-minute session 3 times a week does not address ALL the factors that can enable an athlete to reach optimum athletic performance.
There is more that can be done at home – after a training session — to enhance the training taking place in our sessions.
This is important for one simple, but critical reason: As much as 50% of athletic performance and progress is determined (or heavily influenced by) what goes on in between training sessions.
Below I describe five essential factors that are key components of athletic performance that take place outside of formal training sessions.
Numerous studies have shown that adequate sleep, specifically deep sleep, has positive implications in athletic performance. Sleep is where we not only process the motor skills we learn during practice, and store them into our memory, but also where we begin to repair and restore muscle tissue and micro traumas induced through training.
Many doctors recommend 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and if nothing else, this may be the most essential component of recovery.
Maintaining a low level of stress is essential for balancing the hormones necessary for muscle growth and physical repair. When we train, we induce physical stress and trauma, breaking down muscle tissue through controlled stress.
Recovery relies upon the relaxation from stress. Having elevated levels of hormones associated with stress, negatively impacts our hormonal balance, including our levels of cortisol and testosterone. Testosterone is key to muscle growth.
Stress also negatively impacts our REM sleep, meaning we are less likely to remember what we train in practice. Finally, stress affects our memory and attention span.
To reduce stress, engaging in walking, meditation, yoga, or other light stretching may be helpful. Also, setting realistic weekly and monthly goals can help athletes keep track of their progress and feel in control.
We all know stretching is important, but few people understand why. Mobility training and stretching for recovery bring blood flow to the muscles. This is essential for active recovery, the ideal form of movement after workouts or on rest days.
Additionally, athletes who are more flexible are less likely to get injured. It gives your body more room for error.
Stretching helps your mind focus, increasing body awareness (proprioception), as well as calming the mind, thus reducing stress.
When athletes have certain tight body parts their athletic posture is affected, restricting fast and fluid movement. Stretching helps to correct posture, allowing for more efficient movement. Efficient movement means moving with balance, strength, and stability, and thus stretching is a pillar of which athletic performance stands upon.
We all know that eating healthy foods is important, but I find that few people truly understand what healthy eating really means. Food is about two main things: Calories and nutrients. Most people tend to consume too many calories and neglect nutrients.
Nutrient dense foods have plenty of healthy proteins, antioxidants, fats, and slow digesting carbs that are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Examples of these foods include spinach, avocadoes, salmon, carrots, and broccoli.
Caloric dense foods are foods like French fries, hamburger buns, sugary drinks, and cookies. These foods have virtually no nutrients relative to their caloric content.
It is important to note that we need both calories and nutrients. Some foods, such as salmon, cashews, almonds, olive oil, coconuts, and cassava have both.
My eating habits are such that I generally try to obtain 80% of my calories from nutrient dense foods, while I still leave a little room for flexibility.
#5 Days Off – Time-Out
The last component of recovery are days off. All athletes need breaks, but what we do on those days off is important. Getting the blood flowing is important, as well as light stretching and little physical or mental stress.
When we train, we cause damage, and letting our bodies recover is what is the difference between getting weaker, or stronger.
What you do on a day off determines how much you recover. Ideally using the five principles above, sleep at least 8 hours, go on a hike or a walk, do some light stretches, eat a few super healthy meals, and spend time with friends or family!
Summing it Up
Pick one or two of these elements to focus on a time, beginning with sleep. Also, never ignore pain. If you feel pain, let a qualified athletic trainer or health professional know and help distinguish between muscular soreness and pain indicating ligament, tendon, or bone damage. Cheers!