This is by no means a comprehensive list on recovery, but rather a series of informative notes that you may find useful. There is too much to expand on for a single post, so expect another post in the Recovery series on nutrition, as well as one on supplementation in the near future.
Athletes: You should be sleeping at least 8 hours per night. In a 24 hour day, that's 1/3 of your life. Making sure you're getting the most out of your sleep is an often overlooked, but vitally important part of your training journey. it isn't enough to simply get "enough" sleep. The quality of your sleep needs to be addressed. Here's how:
The basic principle of sleep:
Your sleep and wake cycle should be as well aligned with the rising and setting sun as possible, as permitted by the constraints of your job. See: the natural circadian rhythm.
If you work second shift, you should get up early to eat, train, and prepare for the day. After work, go home to tie up loose ends, and then get to bed. Staying up late, especially when unnecessary, will harm the effectiveness of your sleep. Even if you're sleeping in the following day, the effect of the sun may very well negatively impact the quality of your sleep in the latter hours.
Ideally, you're waking with the sun or shortly thereafter. That also means winding down when the sun sets and being ready for bed in time to get a minimum of 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Great training and a great diet can easily be derailed by poor sleep.
If time permits, you should spend a few minutes outside in the sun each morning. Not on your phone, just in the sun. Be mindful, organize your thoughts, and make sure you're ready for the day. This is an often overlooked aspect of training optimization.
Next, we'll outline a few things to help you optimize your sleep.
At minimum, you should be doing the following:
- Get sun exposure during the day and avoid using sunglasses as often as you can. Your eyes absorb natural UV rays from the sun, which affects hormone production related to your natural circadian rhythm.
- Weather permitting, try and spend 10 minutes barefoot on either dirt or grass (a process called grounding).
- Avoid consuming stimulants (caffeine, etc) in the late afternoon. A lot of people don't know this, but caffeine stays active in your body for a lot longer than you feel the buzz of the coffee, and WILL affect your ability to achieve a deep sleep at night.
- To make sure your digestive system gets a rest overnight, try to have your last meal finished at least an hour before you intend to go to bed.
- Plan to wind down about 45 minutes before bed. This should include cessation of computer, phone and tv usage because the artificial light negatively interferes with the body's normal processes when the sun sets.
- As best you can, make sure your room is cool (68-72°F) and dark. This means covering up small led lights on devices, etc.
- Unplug wifi or put the plug in an analog timer so it's not transmitting while you sleep.
- Sleep away from your phone, and if you use it as an alarm, switch to a cheap analog clock for your alarm.
(For more information on avoiding signals emitted by your charging phone and wireless router at night, check out this link.)
Other notable post-training recovery tools:
- Sauna: 180-200°F 3x per week, for 10-20 minutes per session. There are benefits to be had doing two sessions on successive days, but there is no added benefit to doing them more often than that. We're talking traditional sauna, not that goofy infrared stuff.
- Epsom salt baths: Throw a pound of Epsom salt into as hot of a bath as you can stand, and sit for 20 minutes. I try to limit my frequency for these to as-needed to mitigate side effects of excessive magnesium. If you find yourself getting nauseous during or immediately after, you've had too much. I use these when I have knots that I cant get to loosen up in other ways. When selecting Epsom salt, use only pure Epsom salt, NOT lavender "fragrance" etc.
- Ice baths - This is another strategy I'd use sparingly in a recovery context as its primary use is for knocking down inflammation. Inflammation is a normal response to training and part of the recovery process. That being said, there are still instances in which ice baths are beneficial. For more info, see: Wim Hof.
Stay tuned for the next installment in our recovery series, nutrition!