Follow any athlete or fitness expert/influencer on social media and you’ll know that recovery is something they talk about pretty extensively.
But what is recovery? Does it apply only to elite athletes, or to anyone who exercises? Here's what you need to know, from what it is to the supplements and tools that can help you recover.
What is Recovery?
Recovery is just that - a chance for your body to recover after a workout. It’s the process of allowing your body to repair and adapt to the physical stress and damage caused by exercise. It is an essential part of any fitness routine as it helps optimise performance, prevent injuries, and promote overall well-being.
There are two kinds of recovery: short-term recovery and active recovery.
Short term recovery happens in the hours soon after intense exercise and research indicates that low-intensity exercise during this cool down phase can boost overall performance.
Active recovery is a little more intense: this involves an increase in blood circulation, which helps remove waste from your soft tissues which broke down during intense exercise. Increased (fresh) blood flow delivers nutrients to those tissues and helps repair and rebuild muscles. Active recovery requires light physical activity that can raise the heart rate. Stretching and massages are good to have in the active recovery phase.
Why Recovery Matters
You might think that pushing harder at the gym or training more is how to get fitter and faster - but no. Rest and recovery are important for your overall well being, and when it comes to athletes, plays a critical role in ensuring physiological and psychological well being.
Muscle repair and growth: After intense exercise, your muscles experience micro-tears, which is a natural part of the muscle-building process. Proper post-workout recovery, including rest and adequate nutrition, allows your body to repair these micro-tears, leading to stronger and larger muscles over time.
Reduced soreness: Engaging in recovery practices like stretching, foam rolling, and light movement can help alleviate muscle soreness (known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS) that often follows a challenging workout. These activities promote blood flow, which aids in the removal of metabolic waste products and reduces inflammation, ultimately leading to quicker recovery.
Improved performance: Consistent post-workout recovery allows your body to bounce back more effectively from intense workouts. This means you'll be able to perform better during subsequent workouts and avoid overtraining, which can lead to burnout and decreased performance.
- Injury prevention: Adequate recovery time gives your joints, ligaments, and tendons a chance to rest and repair. Failing to allow these structures to recover can increase the risk of overuse injuries and chronic conditions. By focusing on recovery, you can help prevent injuries and maintain long-term exercise consistency.
Mental and emotional wellbeing: Recovery isn't just physical; it also benefits your mental health. Engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and gentle stretching can reduce stress levels and promote a sense of calm. This holistic approach to recovery contributes to your overall well-being and enjoyment of your fitness journey.
Supplements for Recovery
When it comes to supporting your bones and joints during recovery, several nutrients and strategies can be beneficial:
Protein: Adequate protein intake is crucial for muscle repair and recovery. Include good sources of protein in your post-workout meals such as lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, or plant-based alternatives like tofu or tempeh.
Omega-3 fatty acids: These healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce joint pain and inflammation. Good sources of omega-3s include fatty fish like salmon or mackerel, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts.
Vitamin D and Calcium: These nutrients are essential for maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, while calcium is a key component of bone structure. Food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks. Calcium can be obtained from dairy products, leafy green vegetables, fortified plant-based milk, and tofu.
Collagen: Collagen is a protein that forms the structure of your bones, tendons, and ligaments. Consuming collagen supplements or foods rich in collagen, such as bone broth or gelatin, may support joint health and recovery.
- Hydration: Staying properly hydrated is important for overall recovery. Water helps transport nutrients to your cells, flush out metabolic waste, and maintain joint lubrication. Aim to drink enough water throughout the day, and increase your intake after workouts.
Other Recovery Tools
Recovery also requires some TLC so your body gets a chance to wind down and prepare for your next sweat session.
Rest and Sleep: Giving your body adequate rest and sleep is vital for recovery. Allow for sufficient rest between workouts and aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Stretching and Mobility Exercises: Incorporating stretching and mobility exercises into your routine can help improve flexibility, joint range of motion, and reduce muscle soreness. Consider activities like yoga or gentle stretching to enhance recovery.
It’s worth noting that if you have any specific health conditions or concerns, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who can provide personalised advice based on your individual needs.