Often when we have fitness goals, we focus on the activities getting us there, and neglect the recovery that is needed. When we exercise muscle damage, fluid loss and energy depletion are evident, and the magnitude of these issues correlates directly with the volume and intensity of the exercise session1. Without paying careful attention to recovery, overtraining can become an issue, leading to a decrease in health, wellbeing and performance.
Here are some tips to maximise your gains and avoid the negative effects of overtraining.
An athlete in full training requires between four to ten grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day to satisfy the energy demands of their activities2, and if properly managed, all of the macronutrients required can be gained from a well-balanced diet including lean meats, vegetables, dairy products and fruits. It is advisable that if you are exercising more than once a day, you will require immediate refuelling of your glycogen stores, up to as much as 1g/kg, to ensure sufficient available substrate for your next workout. A great post workout snack may include a mixture of fruits, dairy products and sports drinks. It is important to ensure you are getting enough protein.
It is important to make sure all fluids lost during a bout of exercise are replaced within 2-4 hours. It is recommended that 1.5 times the water lost is consumed to compensate for the continued sweating post effort while the body returns to its resting temperature3. A great way of calculating fluid required is to weigh yourself before and after your session; if you lost .5kg that equates to .5L of water, so replace this with 750ml!
Growth Hormone (hGH) that is responsible for muscle repair and hypertrophy is released during deep sleep. Waking in this time will disrupt the production of hGH, as well as leaving you tired and cranky4. Try to aim for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, in a dark quiet room, and avoid napping during the day. This should be eight hours of sleep, not eight hours in bed. Having a consistent pre-bed routine can help make falling asleep easier, and using technology and bright screens before sleeping can make falling asleep harder. Sleep is important for muscle recovery and hormonal balance.
Ice baths work by making your blood vessels constrict, reducing inflammation and flushing toxins from the body.5 There are a variety of conflicting studies on the effectiveness of ice baths and the temperature and time needed to have an effect.
Warming up for twenty minutes before a session or competition can reduce the muscle soreness you feel afterwards, and can also reduce the chance of sustaining an injury. Your warm up should be specific to the exercise you are about to perform.
Warm down to help gradually lower your core temperature and heartbeat, reducing the chances of muscle soreness and injury.
If you perform the same movement over and over for years and years, there is the potential for injury to occur if you are not performing this movement correctly. Be sure to seek professional advice on your technique in your sport and in any supplementary gym exercises. You may need to build up strength in certain muscles to allow you to perform movements correctly.
It is important to plan your program so that your training provides enough stimulus for improvement, without causing injury or overtraining. You can monitor external load, or training volume, and internal load, or the rate of perceived exertion. Incorporating sufficient rest and recovery periods is an essential part of your program. This includes ‘rest days’ or entire days of complete rest, and light weeks, where your training load is reduced, allowing you to recover from the vigorous training load during previous weeks.
Massage can reduce inflammation in fatigued muscles, and is more effective the sooner after exercise it is administered, according to researchers at Ohio State University6. An experienced massage therapist will identify tight muscles that need a little extra work. If you can’t afford a massage or you can’t find somewhere to have one, there are a number of self massage techniques you can experiment with. It is important to use massage in conjunction with active forms of recovery. There are also a number of other benefits to sports massage.
Exercising at a low intensity can help clear waste products from the muscle and reduce stiffness and soreness, while stretching can help relax the muscle and can also reduce stiffness and soreness7.
Effective recovery can be a matter of trial and error. Keep an open mind and see what works best for you. You may need to use different types of recovery after different sessions to gain the best results. By remembering to balance these variables in your exercise plan, you can expect to be at peak performance!
Find out about fitness courses at the Australian Institute of Fitness.