The best athletes in the world all know how to train like champions. They also know how to recover like champions. They are experts at working hard, pushing themselves to the limit in hard training sessions, but they also have their recovery down to a fine art. I think this is something we can all learn from, and I think it's something often neglected by the weekend warrior. The amateur athlete may be pushing himself hard in his ski or run intervals, or maxing out during his hill workouts, but is he optimising his training by paying attention to recovery with such focus and effort? And really that’s what it comes down to. Don’t dilute your training with mediocre recovery strategies. Our workouts break down our tissues, our recovery rebuilds us, and rebuilds us stronger.
Here are three simple things you can do to optimise your recovery, and obtain the maximum benefit from your workouts.
The recovery drink. We talk about the 20 minute window. This is the immediate post-workout period when our muscles are primed to replenish their glycogen stores. The effect diminishes with time. Studies show that consumption of a carbohydrate containing beverage in the first 20 minutes after a hard session ends is ideal. The addition of protein to that recovery drink seems to improve muscle glycogen uptake. 1-1.2g of carbs per kg body weight, plus 15-25g protein seems the ideal mix for adults.
Sleep. Sleep has been shown to be an absolute predictor of human performance. The more sleep we get, the better our performance. A night of bad sleep isn't a big deal, but chronic poor sleep habits and patterns will ruin our recovery. What about pre race jitters - well fortunately poor sleep due to nerves the night before an important race doesn’t seem to matter much, but in general we need to maximise our rest. What do elite kenyan runners do every afternoon? They take to their beds and nap. During sleep our muscles rebuild and our nervous sytem recuperates. If you can take a nap, I highly recommend it!
Nutrition. Of course nutrition plays a huge part in our ability to be the best athlete we can be. We need to really question what we put into our bodies. The average American consumes over 44 gallons of soda per year! We should ensure we consume large amounts of fresh nutrient dense produce, and we should drink water primarily during the day. Stay as close to the source as possible. The more processed a food is, the more you should avoid it; and stay away from alcohol to maximise your recovery. Getting drunk may negate as much as 2 weeks of training effect according to John Underwood at http://www.lifeofanathlete.us
There are a lot of other strategies utilized by elite athletes, some proven, some not; strategies such as compression-wear, ice baths and regular massage may help in recovery. I use compression products from Compressport and find them the best on the market - http://compressport.ca
These things may make a small difference to the high end athlete - the difference between first and second place, but for the average amateur, perfecting the sleep routine, optimising daily and post workout nutrition are the simple and most important things that will ensure you get the most from your workouts.
(this article is modified from a piece I wrote for SkiTrax magazine)