In today's day and age, we hear a lot about how important "recovery" work is. It quickly became a very popular term, and for good reason. If you perform any type of recovery work on your own, then I applaud you. If you are feeling stuck about what recovery work truly is, then you came to the right place!
We like to use the word "resilient" when describing our athletes:
1. (of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.
But now you might be thinking, "how is a resilient athlete an elite athlete?"
That is a great question to ask. Even if you're performing some sort of recovery work on your own, are you checking all of the boxes you're supposed to be checking? Are you sure you really know what recovery is all about?
Let's think about professional athletes for a second. We can agree that they are physical specimens, but is that the only reason why they get paid? I would argue that they are elite athletes because they take care of their body when competition is over, they have specific rituals they follow pre-game and post-game, and they do the simple savagely well.
What simple things can you control that will allow you to become a resilient athlete?
Sleep, Nutrition, Stress, and Soreness.
At ISP, we call this the ARTOS: Athlete Readiness and Training Optimization Scale. We have positive factors (sleep and nutrition) and negative factors (stress and soreness). To keep things simple, we have athletes score these factors on a scale from 1-10. A high number for a positive factor is good, and a low number for a negative factor is good.
Let's dive into each category of the ARTOS and why it's vital for optimal recovery, turning you into a resilient athlete.
You've probably heard this a million times, but sleep is more important than you realize. It is in our sleep that where all of the gains are made! During your deep sleep, growth hormone is at it's highest secretion rate (the amount that is released into the bloodstream). The longer you are in deep sleep, the longer this hormone is secreted.
No brainer, we all need quality sleep. Not just one night, but every night!
Here are 7 signs that your sleep quality needs work (Anabolic Sleeping, pages 9-10):
- Inconsistent Sleep Pattern: the days where we just can't fall asleep or wake up in morning feeling super groggy
- Sleep Debt: a result of an hour or more of missed sleep every night for multiple nights
- Mood: a lack of sleep can result in irritability
- Inability to shred fat: sleep deprivation causes our hunger hormones to kick in to hyperdrive
- Off your game: having a hard time performing normal day-to-day tasks and making silly mistakes
- Low drive: surely not a direct cause, but is definitely a symptom
- You're weak in the gym: loss of sleep can mess up our nervous system, which is responsible to muscle firing patterns
When your parents tell you to "get a good night of sleep" before a big day, they're not just saying it! There is a whole meaning behind that! But how we get some sleep gainz?
To enhance your sleeping patterns for optimal gains, try these pro tips from Anabolic Sleeping:
1. Get as much direct sunlight as possible. The best time to consistently wake up is between 6:00 am and 8:30 am. This allows our internal clock to be in sync.
2. Give your social devices a curfew. Our sleep hormone, melatonin, is responsible for deep sleep. When we lose sleep, our cortisol levels increase (one of the stress hormones). Turn off your devices 1.5 hours before bedtime. If you are using a device late at night, consider purchasing blue-light blocking glasses. These are the weird glasses you see our ISP coaches use at night!
3. Cut the caffeine. The half-life of caffeine is between 4-6 hours. If you're an athlete that likes to use a pre-workout supplement that has caffeine in it, you might want to reconsider how much you are using this, or cut it out altogether.
4. Cold and dark environment. When we prepare for sleep, our core body temperature drops down. To ensure for a longe,r deep sleep, try setting your room temperature to around 68 degrees. Your room should be a dark as possible, which will set the "alarm" for melatonin to be released as soon as possible to keep your internal clock in sync.
5. Time Sensitivity. The most optimal time to begin your deep sleep is between 9:00-11:00 pm. Nights where you're staying up on Tik Tok, Instagram, and Snap Chat throw off your entire sleep cycle. As mentioned previously, give your social devices a curfew!
This piece is the most puzzling, and one of the most heavily researched areas in sports performance. Ask yourself these simple questions:
Do I skip out on breakfast?
Do I know what carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are?
How many meals do I have in one day?
What are my go-to snacks?
Do I want to gain/lose weight?
You can train as hard and as frequently as you'd like, but if you do not fuel your body properly, then it will all go to waste.
I like to think about performance eating as if I was checking on my inner engine. Using a boat engine for example (because I just put my boat in the water and I'm super excited), there is a specific grade of oil that I need to put in. If I put in a general brand of oil, do you think my engine is going to run to it's full capacity? Probably not, and then that means that I can't take my boat out, which saddens my heart.
Now how do we properly fuel our body? That is with proper carbohydrate, protein, and fat consumption. In case you don't know the answer to what carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are, here is the simplest answer I can give:
Carbohydrates are the primary energy system for our body. There are simple and complex carbohydrates, and both should be in your athletic performance diet. Simple carbs are the ones that are digested quickly, and could be used as a pre- or post-exercise snack. However, most of your diet should include complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and allow for a more gradual energy usage throughout the day.
Proteins are the building blocks for tissue for our body. These are the most essential for recovery purposes, because you need to break down tissue in order to build it back up. Training involves the breakdown of muscle tissue, so eating an ample amount of protein will help you pack on lean tissue in your body.
Fats are the primary insulating and absorption system for our body. They also aid in hormonal production. Yes, you NEED fat in your diet as an athlete. Fat is not the devil. Processed foods are the real devil. Without fat in the diet, how would your body absorb carbohydrates (our fuel) and proteins (our building blocks)? Simply put, it won't!
Every meal that you eat should contain a carbohydrate, a protein, and a fat for optimal performance. Below is a visual breakdown on macronutrient consumption:
Carbohydrates: 2-grams per pound of bodyweight
Protein: 1-gram per pound of bodyweight
Fat: 0.5-grams per pound of bodyweight
Training is a stress on the body. Although there may be times where we have a high stress day or a low stress day in the gym, our stress levels add up. Physiologically, our body cannot tell the difference between stressors. When we get stressed out about other things in life, all of that stress adds up in our body and ultimately delays our recovery time.
We like to have our athletes track their stress score because this will then dictate the amount of stress they put on themselves in the weight room. This score allows the athlete to not quantify what their stress level is, but it forces them to ask questions like, "Why is this stressing me out? How can I handle this stress?"
Being in the weight room itself can be a stress relief for most of us, but there are certain ways we can cope with stress in and out of the gym:
Going back to the sleep portion of recovery, I touched on the hormone cortisol and highlighted it as one of our stress hormones.
Chronically, if your body is in constant stress and this hormone is continually secreted into the blood stream, can you see how all of this stress adds up and affects everything else?
On game day, if you're feeling super stressed out, and your fight-or-flight responses are high, it is going to alter your quick decision making and logical thinking among other things. This is when we go back to the breath work, visualization, and positive self-talk methods to lower your stress levels.
Something as simple as being aware of your stress and facing it head on can go a long way. Self-awareness allows the individual to cope with the stress in a natural, organic way.
There will be days where we get super sore, and that is a part of the recovery process. However, even if you're not sore does not mean that you didn't have a good training session either!
Soreness is an adaptation response from the body. It could either come from unaccustomed movements (higher stress situation in a game, new exercises in the gym), extensive muscle damage, or a build-up of metabolites in surrounding tissues.
The best way to deal with soreness is with proper nutrition and sleep. Taking care of your nutrition is the first step, since soreness comes from muscle damage and metabolite buildup/inflammation in the body. Proper sleep is the next step, to allow for nutrients to be absorbed in your newfound deep sleep pattern.
If on game-day you're still feeling pretty sore, which can be uncomfortable at times, here are a couple of things you can do:
Move! Increasing core body temperature can deliver blood to the effected areas and creating a flushing effect by delivering oxygenated blood.
Take your time in your pre-game warm up. Focusing on your breath and getting as much oxygen into your body as possible will allow for the oxygen to more readily available.
When you start to own the controllable variables in your life, you will quickly realize not only a spike in optimal performance, but your overall well-being will be much better than before.
That is what makes a resilient athlete an elite athlete. They take care of all the smalls things day in and day out. They understand their body better than anyone else, and that knowledge is paramount. If you don't understand your body to the point of fully controlling it, then now is the time to hone in on these factors in your life.
Let's revisit the definition of resilient once more:
1. (of a person or animal) able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.