Recovery is one of the most important components of training.
There is no point training hard, pushing load or running as hard as you can, if you are not are going to allow your body to completely recover.
There is ample evidence out there that some very very simple recovery strategies are the best tools to help optimise how your body functions, be it for sporting performance, or for just day to day living (Vitale et al, 2021; Kirschen et al, 2020). It should not be underestimated, that taking the simplest of steps to incorporate recovery into our routine, not only allows us to feel better and function better but is also imperative in avoiding illness and injury. At Mayfair Health we often discuss optimising people’s health, whether that be on the sporting field, in the boardroom or time with family. One of the biggest parts of health optimisation is people recovery.
Recovery takes many differing forms, some of which start in the first few minutes after you stop that particular activity, but others are viewed to be more short-term interventions and some longer term recovery tools.
Arguably the most critical, and well documented recovery tool is sleep. (Vyazovskiy, 2015). It has been widely researched and agreed that a minimum of seven hours sleep is what we need, although most of the time people function on significantly less than this. When the work life balance isn’t even, the candle is being burnt at both ends, or you are training hard for an event like the London Marathon you need to ensure that you are well rested. Even when the intentions are good, training to manage stress, or to keep fit for the demands of life, if you are pushing yourself with insufficient sleep, it is not unstainable.
Why do we talk so much about the importance of sleep?
Well sleep is the part of the day when our bodies recovery for the demands of the day. Many biological processes happen during sleep. Our brain stores new information and gets rid of toxic waste, nerve cells communicate and reorganize, which supports healthy brain function. The body repairs cells, restores energy, and releases molecules like hormones and proteins. So simply put if we do not get adequate sleep, we are not giving ourselves adequate opportunity to repair (Worley, 2018). Or, put another way, if you have short or broken sleep, and your body has arguably only achieved sub optimal repair, to say 80%, how can you expect to perform at 100%?
Now not everyone is a good sleeper, nor do they have a circadian rhythm that expects sleep between the hours of 10pm to 6am, and if this is you, do not be alarmed. Sleep is one method of recovery, but there are others (Goel et al, 2013). Rest, as simple as it sounds can have the same physiological effect. Building time into your day, or evening, and making simple lifestyle changes, can help to not only minimise stresses on the body, but also help to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating body functions (Chennaoui et al, 2021).
Well documented actions, such as eating at regular and consistent mealtimes, avoiding excessive alcohol or caffeine, having time away from screens, time spent outside, or engaging with people in person or verbally (again away from screens) are all proven methods to achieve a state of relaxation and repair that in the short term can help our recovery, and in the long term help to improve sleep quality.
And for these unsure how good their sleep or recovery is, or how effective the measures they are putting in place to improve their recovery are, there is tech to help. Apple watches, Whoop or the Aura Ring all monitor sleep and give a level of feedback and information that can be useful. But this is only part of the puzzle of recovery.
It was noted above that regular mealtimes are important in helping your body to regular function, but what we eat is also important. Especially when training regularly, or for an event, ensuring that you are eating sufficient, and the right mix of nutrients is essential. Protein is essential in helping cellular and muscle repair, fats help reduce inflammation and carbs can support Glycogen replenishment. It can be challenging ensuring that you are getting all the right things, in the right quantises, at the right time, and this is where supplements can play an important role. If you notice that your performance is plateauing despite training efforts, or are suffering with fatigue or you are picking up little niggles, it could be a sign that you are under fuelling. Nutrition is probably one of the most important components in ensuring that you take on board some protein and glycogen after or carbohydrate after the events to help to restore your levels within your system this is crucial You’ve got a feeding window of perhaps 45 minutes to two hours after an event like this that can allow your system to recover adequately. If you notice these symptoms or are struggling with getting your diet right and are unsure how much or what you should be eating, we recommend consulting a Nutritionist. You can click here to view the nutrition services offered by our partner at Evolution Matt Roberts Personal Training.
Then there is the more ‘active’ approach to recovery. Active recovery includes low intensity exercise, such as Pilates or yoga, and tissue work, be it sprots massage, mobility exercises, use of a foam roller or release ball. All have the focus to increase blood flow around the muscles, which helps to reduce lactate, eliminate toxins, maintain muscle length and reduce soreness. With active recovery you can still exercise and we in fact encourage you to keep moving, but at a lower intensity than is demanded from your usual training routine.
Pilates is a great way to move the body in all directions, work to lengthen the muscles, and focus on the core whilst the bigger muscles rest. It is an essential work out tool in injury prevention and should be incorporated regular in your training routine. Click here to see our pilates services.
Massage is also a great way to help support the bodies recovery. Seeing a qualified sports massage therapist or physiotherapist for a sports massage session can help to boost circulation into deeper tissue that can often be missed in stretching, stimulates the lymphatic system, can help to reduce stress hormones and reduce muscle tension (David et al, 2020). Hard to argue a reason not to include tissue work as part of your training routine! We offer Physiotherapist led sports massage at both our Evolution sites in Mayfair and South Kensington
Cold water immersion or cryotherapy is also getting a lot of airtime in the press and via social media and is another tool of active recovery. The evidence is anecdotal but is has been reported by those who use it, that there is a lower perception of the levels of fatigue and pain in their body. We do know however that specific testing, biopsies and blood work showed no clear difference between the inflammatory markers if you are undertaking cold water therapy, but athletes and studies have reported subjective benefits.
And finally, we should not forget about the use of compression garments. Supported by evidence, they are shown to aid venous return and can help to accelerate the healing process and drain any mild inflammatory markers from the system and especially good if you are travelling after endurance-based events such as the London Marathon.
We hope this gives you a little bit of insight into the importance of recovery, and offers some useful tools and parameters, which can be built into our day to day or training routine. For more information on how we help you plan your recovery please drop us a line here.
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Davis HL, Alabed S, Chico TJA. Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sp Ex Med 2020;6
Goel N, Basner M, Rao H, Dinges DF. Circadian rhythms, sleep deprivation, and human performance. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2013;119:155-90. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-396971-2.00007-5.
Kirschen GW, Jones JJ, Hale L. The Impact of Sleep Duration on Performance Among Competitive Athletes: A Systematic Literature Review. Clin J Sport Med. 2020 Sep;30(5):503-512. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000622.
Recovery after exercise: what is the current state of play? Current Opinion in Physiology. Volume 10, August 2019, Pages 17-26.
Vitale KC, Owens R, Hopkins SR, Malhotra A. Sleep Hygiene for Optimizing Recovery in Athletes: Review and Recommendations. Int J Sports Med. 2019 Aug;40(8):535-543. doi: 10.1055/a-0905-3103. Epub 2019 Jul 9.
Vyazovskiy VV. Sleep, recovery, and metaregulation: explaining the benefits of sleep. Nat Sci Sleep. 2015 Dec 17;7:171-84. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S54036.