To get the best out of your body and mind at the right times, both on and off the sports field, involves investing in a healthy and consistent recovery protocol. This would include some simple but vitally important building blocks that form a base to help you perform at peak and create a habit of wellness for years to come.
There are recovery fads that pop up every so often, of new and improved ways to keep the body stronger, fitter, faster, healthier and more energized for longer. While some do have merit and are worth a try or atleast some further research, there are 5 basic ‘must haves or must do’s’ one needs to sustain and maintain to balance and energize the body, inorder to successfully perform as an athlete or at a personal best in any exercise and sporting level.
The first building block to a successful recovery protocol is:
1. Sleep and relaxation - a healthy and consistent sleeping practice of between 7 to 10 hours depending on athlete and sport, aswell as well timed afternoon naps of between 20 to 90 minutes. This not only improves the bodies immunity, regulates bodily functions, regenerates cells and repairs muscle function, but also aids in reduced muscle fatigue, anxiety and stress, while improving mood, concentration, focus and stamina during sport and exercise. A healthy relaxation time away from doing and thinking about your sport, spending time with friends, family, pets or doing something else you love, also allows for a mental recharge, rejuvenation and a renewed vigour and passion for your chosen sports longevity.
2. Nutrition and hydration – we deplete our bodies of these important building blocks in different ways during exercise or sport. When we sweat we lose a substantial amount of minerals, nutrients and water that the body needs to maintain maximum performance function. Restrictive diets to lose or maintain weight and sometimes the inability to eat or want to eat before or after a sport (due to nerves or fatigue), can cause imbalances that lead to muscle cramping, stiffness, soft tissue injury, muscle and mental fatigue, dizziness, nausea, dehydration and in severe cases worse. By replenishing our electrolytes, carbohydrates, protein, hydration and minerals with the water we drink, healthy supplements we take orally or trans-dermally and healthy foods we put back into our bodies, will allow the body to rebalance itself physiologically.
3. Water immersion – There have been numerous studies done on the benefits to the body and mind of both cold and hot water immersion or hot/cold therapy. The combination of the two after an intense training session or sport will allow for increased recovery rates. Though an injured muscle or limb - once medically assessed would benefit from the effects of cold immersion initially, a healthy body in a regular training and recovery protocol after training, would benefit first from the relaxing, blood stimulating effects of hot water either in a bath or shower. This will ease muscle tension, spasms and stress. Following with the cold water immersion, this will help heal micro fibre tears in the muscles and cause an anti-inflammatory response in the body should there be any inflammations, while also rejuvenating the mind, reduce anxiety and improve mood. Each immersion should be done up to three times, starting out slowly with 5 to 10 minutes hot immersion and then 3- 5 minutes cold immersion, building it up by atleast 5 minutes or to a comfortable individual preference. This will also help to regulate the bodily functions, body temperature and overall wellness.
4. Active recovery/stretching and compression – all three of these options are to help the body increase blood flow and oxygenation to the muscles, reducing toxins and lactic acid build up in the body. This helps to reduce post training stiffness and soreness in muscles while also speeding ones recovery time. Active recovery and stretching means doing low- intensity, light cardio aerobic workouts like walking, swimming, gentle cycling or yoga. Active recovery, stretching and wearing compression garments can all be done after a heavy work out or on the day after a high intensity training session. The benefit of active as opposed to passive recovery or doing nothing on a ‘rest day’ is to improve recovery time and prevent soft tissue/muscle or mobility injuries from occurring when high intensity training begins again.
5. Massage – after exercise, intense training, a game or race (once any injury assessments have been done) massage is the fastest way to help improve and speed up muscle and overall recovery. Massage aids in reducing lactic acid build up or DOMS (delayed muscle soreness) that causes stiffness for a few days after physical exertion. It lengthens tight muscles and improves muscle flexibility to prevent soft tissue injuries from occurring. It also allows for better joint and body mobility, and releases muscle spasms brought on by intense, excessive use of muscles. It alleviates and sometimes prevents cramping and reduces muscle fatigue. It regulates heart rate and other bodily functions, improves immunity and helps the body release feel good hormones like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine which aid in reducing pain, alleviating anxiety and light depression, improving sleep, enhances mood and recharges both body and mind for overall wellness and longevity.
A balanced and consistent dedication to maintaining these 5 recovery building blocks will see improved sports performance and overall wellbeing for professional athletes, part time sports enthusiasts and anyone who has an interest in both physical and mentally good health.
* The knowledge in this blog comes from 24 years working as a professional sports massage therapists in the international world of professional sport, with numerous sporting teams and sporting codes - alongside many doctors, physios, athletic trainers, sports and conditioning coaches, sports scientists, nutritionists, athletes and players who have all added to my experience as well as any article I have done for Wintergreen in the past and the bibliographies attached to each for extra academic or scientific knowledge.
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