Optimal Recovery for Optimal Performance – Part I
If you’re tired of feeling like this, you need Optimal Recovery!
In today’s post I get into a topic that I feel is essential to achieving your fitness goals. Unfortunately, it is very underrated. Focusing on recovery will help move you towards your goals faster. Whether you want better performance in the gym, at work, or any other category of life, recovery is the key to get you there. So, let’s talk about recovery!
Something that I often think about when it comes to the physiology behind training the human body is the balance between stress and recovery. I remember when I first took notice of this I was reading Mark Rippetoe’s and Lon Kilgore’s book “Practical Programming for Strength Training.” In the book, Rippetoe and Kilgore discuss the topic of training versus overtraining.
What Is Training?
The process of training looks like this: A workout of adequate volume and intensity is performed to impose stress on the body and disrupt homeostasis. Following this, appropriate rest and recovery is required to repair the body, return it to homeostasis, and even allow for super-compensation.
Super-compensation is the phenomenon in which your body adapts to the stress placed on it and becomes even stronger than before. At this point the same amount of stress will no longer be enough to disrupt homeostasis. You must increase the challenge of your workout to continue progressing.
That’s how training the body works. You need enough stress to stimulate change, but you also need enough recovery to allow that change to take place.
Following this formula, you will become stronger, more resilient, and better able to handle the challenges of a workout and the challenges of life.
What Is Overtraining?
In the case of overtraining there is too much stress and too little recovery.
Too much stress in a workout means that the volume or intensity of the workout is too high. In this case you’re asking your body to take on more stress than it can currently handle. This will at least result in significant muscle soreness, but it could also lead to the body breaking down with injury or sickness.
However, even if you’re giving your body a normal amount of stress, decreasing the amount of recovery will also lead to overtraining.
When you’re overtrained, your ability to recover from stress is impaired. This often involves decreased performance in the gym, disrupted sleep, increased chronic pain, abnormal mood swings, elevated heart rate, change in appetite, and other physical and mental abnormalities.
The effects of overtraining can last anywhere from a couple days to several weeks. In this state, you must take steps to decrease stress and increase recovery.
Now, the reason I’m laying out the definitions of training and overtraining is because it’s important to recognize what state your body is in. If you begin experiencing symptoms of overtraining, these indicate that the stress you’re imposing on your body is too much and you need to increase your focus on recovery.
Properly training your body means finding a balance between stress and recovery. If you’re not causing enough stress in your workout to stimulate adaptation, then you won’t have progress. But you must also recognize when you’re taking on too much stress. Failing to do so will result in overtraining and, ultimately, setting you back.
Balancing stress and recovery may sound easy enough when you’re only thinking about stress coming from a workout. But the reality of life is that stress comes in many different ways.
In addition to the physical demands that are placed on our bodies, we encounter a host of mental and emotional challenges throughout daily life. Whether coming from a workout, from your job, or from the relationships in your life, stress is stress, and it all adds up. If you don’t recognize this, then you may underestimate the amount of recovery needed.
So, how can we best balance the stress imposed in the training routine, along with the stress from everyday life, with the appropriate rest and recovery to achieve optimal results and avoid breaking down?
I’m glad you asked.
In the fitness world, there’s so much talk about what happens inside the gym. Things like, the best exercises to do, the best program to follow, how many sets and reps should be done per exercise, etc.
However, when it comes to the importance of recovery outside of the gym, there’s much less talk.
What’s misunderstood is that progress doesn’t happen in the gym during the workout. Progress happens when the body recovers and super-compensates between workouts.
So, without optimal recovery you will never achieve optimal results from your training program.
With that in mind, I would like to step away from talking about what happens inside the gym, and put an emphasis on what should be done outside of the gym to recover.
If optimal recovery leads to optimal results, then let’s talk about some ways to optimize recovery.
First of all, when it comes to getting the rest and recovery that your body needs, there are some rules that don’t change. These include the need to get adequate sleep, eat a quality diet, stay hydrated, and have a balanced work to rest ratio.
These are four aspects of recovery that are essential for everyone.
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your body. Researchers are only now beginning to learn all of the reasons why we need to spend so much of our lives asleep, but suffice it to say that sleep is absolutely essential to maintain our mental, physical, and emotional health.
How much sleep is needed? Well, that will vary for each person based upon the quality of sleep they get each night. However, it seems that our bodies need at least 7-9 hours per night in order to receive the full benefits of sleep.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the more active you are and the more stress you incur throughout the day, the more sleep you will need in order to recover.
For more information on the importance of sleep, take a look at this article by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker: The Work We Do While We Sleep.
Eating a quality diet is a deep rabbit hole that I won’t be going too far into. There’s so much information about diet out there that it’s often hard to figure out what’s best for each person.
However, the best thing you can do when it comes to diet is make sure that you’re sticking to the basics.
This means that you’re following the current recommendations for nutrient intake, eating nutrient dense foods, and eating enough to allow your body to recover. To accomplish this, a majority of your diet should be made up of whole foods from natural sources instead of processed foods filled with sugars and fats.
Often, instead of focusing on eating a diet filled with whole foods, people get caught up in trying to limit their food intake to force weight loss. The biggest problem with this is that they rarely get enough protein, nutrients, or even calories to give their bodies a chance to recover.
On the other hand, some dedicated gym-goers will religiously prepare their pre-workout and post-workout beverages filled with protein, electrolytes, and other healthy-sounding things. But after they drink them, they’ll go home and chow down on some pizza. The bottom line is that you can’t substitute a quality diet for a few short cuts, like drinking a protein shake.
Without enough quality food intake, our bodies don’t have the resources necessary to repair the damage done during a workout and fully recover from the stress placed on them. This won’t allow super-compensation and improvement. It will lead to the body breaking down over time.
If you would like to learn more about current recommendations and find out if your diet matches up with them, then take a look at the USDA’s website choosemyplate.gov.
Along those lines, hydration is also something that many overlook. Our bodies are made up of 50-65% water, and every system in the body relies on water to function properly. However, we constantly lose water throughout the day, which means that it needs to be replaced.
The traditional thought on fluid intake was that you should consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day to stay hydrated, but it turns out there was actually no scientific evidence for this recommendation.
More recently the Institute of Medicine has recommended 11-plus cups of fluid intake for women and 15-plus cups for men. Keep in mind that this is not just limited to water consumption, but any fluid (including coffee or soft drinks) counts.
Now, making the majority of that intake water is a good idea, but the bottom line is that most of us probably don’t get this much fluid intake throughout the day.
Chronic dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, or even increased chronic pain. For those with chronic back pain, staying hydrated can help prevent pain because the disks in your spine need adequate amounts of fluid to avoid compressing and limiting space between the vertebrae.
Dehydration is also a major cause of migraines and other forms of headaches, so simply drinking more water is a great way to avoid pain.
On top of that, hydration will allow the body to remove toxins, function optimally, and recover effectively. Without enough water, the body’s ability to repair itself and function properly is limited, and it will decrease performance.
Work to Rest Ratio
Finally, learning to balance your work to rest ratio is necessary to allow for optimal recovery.
In this case, work is not just referring to your workout routine, but could also be your job or any other activity that you define as work. All of the work we do throughout the day adds up to cause stress on the body.
If you’re working a ton of hours throughout the week, trying to maintain your workout regimen, and not getting enough rest, then you’re simply wearing down your body. In this case, increasing your focus on getting enough sleep is crucial to avoid sickness or injury.
However, rest and rejuvenation can also take place outside of sleeping, but how this happens will look different for each person depending upon their personality. It’s important to realize that the recovery strategy that works best for your friends may not work best for you.
You must find the recovery strategies that work for you and focus on them when you need to optimize your recovery.
Wrapping it up
So, for each person there are a number of keys to optimizing recovery that never change. No one can avoid the need for getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and balancing their work to rest ratio. Simply increasing your focus on these four will dramatically improve your ability to recover and handle more stress without breaking down.
If you have a handle on these four foundational aspects of recovery, and want to learn what else you can do to optimize your recovery, then stay tuned for part II.
In Part II I will dig into the kind of recovery that is optimal for you based upon your personality type. Certain activities may rejuvenate one person, and wear down another. Do you know what activities work for you? We’ll look into that next time.
But until then, make sure you’re sleeping, eating, drinking, and resting!