In his weekly health and fitness column in the Limerick Leader, Peter Francis examines what you should do when you’re not training.
Whether a recreational weekend tri-athlete or a professional rugby player most individuals cannot train for more than four hours a day. As we have discussed previously training initially impacts negatively until suitable recovery accrues to allow improvement.
That leaves us with potentially 20 remaining hours to harvest the fruits of our labour. Therefore it would seem logical to suggest that those who live an athletic lifestyle optimised for regeneration will improve performance faster and at a greater rate over time than those who ignore this process.
This week we take a look at regenerative strategies used to optimise recovery and improve performance in an attempt to identify those most effective.
Cool Down and Stretch
The aim of the game is to get the greatest return from the energy we have used in training. This process starts as soon as training stops. Begin with your cool down. In team sports this is best accomplished with a light jog to gradually reduce the intensity at which you were training at.
Follow this with some stretching of all the major muscle groups, holding at the point of mild tension for a period of 30 seconds. Do not over stretch. How many people do we see when being asked to stretch trying to pull their ankle over their head?
This is not effective as messages are being sent to your brain warning of over-stretch; the outcome being as soon as you let go the muscles shorten. Your aim is to gradually lengthen muscles to pre-exercise lengths if not slightly better.
Refuel and Rehydrate
Immediately after training our focus must switch to refuelling. Carbohydrate known as glycogen in muscle and liver is the body’s equivalent of diesel. On average the body can only store about 500g of this vital fuel. This is enough to last about 90 minutes of moderate exercise. In a sporting context replacement of this fuel will have a massive impact on regeneration and the ability to train effectively the following day.
The first 30 minutes provides us with an opportunity to get some fast release carbohydrate into the muscles before our main meal within the next two hours. Examples would be a handful of sweets, a cereal bar, fruit, flavoured milk.
This bridges the gap between finishing training, showering and getting to our main meal which should contain a mixture of carbohydrate (i.e. brown pasta), protein (ie lean meat) and vegetables.
Often forgotten is the need to rehydrate. Physical activity depends on a supply of oxygen to the muscles in order to burn our diesel “glycogen”. This oxygen is delivered by blood which is made up of over 75% water.
If through sweating the amount of blood we have becomes less then our heart rate must increase to deliver the same amount oxygen. Eventually we cannot supply enough oxygen and we start to tire and slow down. Fluid replacement is as important as fuel replacement for exercise performance.
We should aim to drink 1.5 times the amount we lose. So if I lose 1kg of weight during a training session I should aim to replace 1.5 litres of water. This is to allow for the amount we lose as urine.
Of course we do not always have the opportunity to weigh ourselves before and after training. In this case the best advice is to gradually sip water until our urine becomes relatively clear. Google “pee chart” to see the optimum.
At this point we have made a significant contribution to our musculoskeletal health and refuelling our bodies. We have created the right environment for adaptation (improved fitness) to occur. However, crucially adaptation occurs during sleep. Sleep is the most undervalued and mismanaged regenerative strategy. By simply improving the quality of your sleep you can improve the rate of your improvement. There are five stages during sleep which occur in a cycle on average 4-6 times a night.
It is during stages 3 and 4 that growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates growth, repair and generation of new cells. An individual involved in sport is therefore required to get between 8 – 10 hours sleep per night in order to get through the 5 stages between 4 and 6 times. It now becomes easy to see how if we if we do not get enough sleep or if the cycle is interrupted several times we do not feel we are at our best the next day.
Improve Blood Flow
The above forms the core of our athletic lifestyle. This core program can be complimented by other regenerative strategies such as pool based activities (hydrotherapy) and sports massage. Massage aims to improve blood to muscle tissue, remove waste products and break down any knots which have built up in our muscles.
Hydrotherapy aids the regenerative process in a similar way. In water we are weightless because gravity has been removed. Therefore when exercising in water we can generate blood flow without the impact on our tired sore muscles. Hydrotherapy and sports massage can be seen as something which helps to speed up the regenerative processes outlined above.
In recent years the regenerative industry has become big business as athletes strive to gain a regenerative advantage over one another. Cryotherapy the process by which athletes stand in chambers at -100° has been made famous in Ireland through chambers such as those in Wexford and Ennis. However, research to date, much of it conducted at our own University of Limerick suggests little evidence for a reduction in recovery time or an improvement in performance.
There is no doubt that application of cold devices or water baths help reduce inflammation and soreness. This may be useful after particularly strenuous training sessions or during injury but has little merit to warrant recommending it as daily regenerative strategy.
So next time you are pouring large amounts of effort into training remember it is after training you need to focus on maximising the benefits of your hard work. For many of us this leaves 22 hours to maximise regeneration.
>>> To contact Peter Francis, visit www.midwestsportsclinic.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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