I don’t care how often you train.
I don’t care how hard you train.
None of it matters if you’re not able to recover properly…
As I said in a recent Instagram post, “an athlete’s best quality is availability.”
We all know that guy or girl who has all the skill and athleticism in the world, but can’t seem to stay in one piece.
“He could’ve been great…”
Why not actually BE great?
If you can’t show up day in and day out ready to perform when it counts, now amount of skill, sprint speed, vertical jump, or strength will save you.
Even if you can muster up the willpower to “push through it” and “suck it up…”
By no means is that optimal. And if you’re putting in all of this time and effort, don’t you want to get the most out of it?
Good; I thought so.
Now, I’m not telling you to wrap yourself in bubblewrap and never step foot in the gym. That would be just as pointless.
The real magic happens when you are able to recover well enough to be able to train with intensity and sustain that over the course of your career.
You don’t need ice baths; you don’t need fancy supplements; you don’t need a float tank; you don’t need fancy supplements…
You don’t need any of that.
In this article, I’m going to teach you five EASY strategies that you can implement right now to optimize your recovery so you can push yourself as hard as you truly want to.
Strategy #1: Eat enough damn food.
You have no idea how many athletes come to me under eating.
While 2500 calories may be enough to sustain someone with a light to moderate activity load and no serious performance goals, it is by no means enough to support optimal performance (especially in high intensity modalities).
Just to put it in perspective, back when I was playing basketball I was eating ~4000 calories a day and losing weight.
A D1 offensive lineman that I worked with was eating upwards of 5500 calories per day and maintaining.
Now, that’s an extreme example but it proves the point.
Quite literally, food is fuel. The calories that your body derives from food is used as energy to fuel activities like your sport.
If your not giving yourself enough fuel, you’re not going to perform optimally.
You’ll lack energy in your training session(s).
You’ll lack the raw materials to rebuild and recover between training sessions and competitions.
Not only that, but being in a calorie deficit is a stressor to your body. Why add another list to the plethora of stressors that your body endures as an athlete?
Also, worth noting: YOU GET TO EAT MORE FOOD!
Take advantage of that instead of unnecessarily restricting yourself!
How many calories do you actually need to be eating to achieve peak performance?
As always, it depends. However, a good starting point is to take your bodyweight and multiply it by 16.
For example, a 200lb individual would be eating 3200 calories per day, minimum.
Honestly, this is on the lower end of the range. After monitoring your performance (strength in lifts, times, endurance, etc) over a couple of days, reassess and decide if you need to increase.
If you’re losing weight, increase the calories methodically until you’re at least maintaining. I would recommend 100-200 calories every one to two weeks until you find that point.
Of course, over the course of the year you’ll periodize your nutrition. This article is referring to when performance is priority number one.
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Step #2: Eat enough of the RIGHT food.
Eating enough is the first step.
Now you need to make sure to eat enough of the right food for YOU and YOUR performance.
I really want to emphasize the importance of carbohydrates in this section. Far too many well-meaning athletes forsake carbs because some social media guru convinced them that they were evil.
When it comes to performance, carbs are king.
They are your body’s primary fuel for high intensity activity. They are stored in your muscles as glycogen and are essentially rocket fuel for your performance. When you deprive yourself of them, you will not perform optimally in your workouts and your recovery will suffer.
Not only are they your body’s preferred fuel source, but they also play a key role in recovery. As I mentioned previously, training is a stressor.
Carbs directly combat that stress response by lowering levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone. By eating enough carbs and timing them correctly around your training sessions, you can usher your body from a state of stress and catabolism to a state of recovery at a much quicker pace.
The more quickly you’re able to transition into a recovery state after your training or competitions, the more of any opportunity your body will have to recover properly.
Now, when I say carbs, I don’t mean relying on bread, donuts, and cheesecake to fuel your recovery.
This seaways us nicely into the next point I want to make when it comes to eating the right food, which is regarding food quality.
While energy balance may trump food quality in terms of fueling performance, it cannot be forgotten if you hope to achieve peak performance.
Training intensely and frequently creates high amounts of stress and inflammation in the body.
When inflammation runs rampant, this leads to joint pain, injuries, illness… all of which you want to minimize to enjoy long term success as an athlete.
By eating a variety of high quality, micronutrient-dense foods you will provide your body with the tools to fight off this inflammation in the form of antioxidants.
On the other hand, if you’re relying on mostly processed junk, you’re adding wood to the fire.
As always, the 80/20 rule applies. If you’re truly looking to maximize performance, aim to get the vast majority of your food from high quality sources.
Look, some people can tolerate eating s****y and still seem to perform well. We all know that one guy. If that’s you, congrats (although I would ask the question, what if you did eat mostly high quality foods? Imagine how much better your performance could be).
If it’s not, you can keep trying to force the issue and complain about how you keep getting injured and just can’t seem to progress. Or you can make the necessary changes that will support your performance. The choice is yours…
As for how you can do this?
A simple (and cheesy) guideline to follow is to “eat the rainbow.”
The presence of certain colors in food indicates the presence of specific micronutrients. By eating a wide variety of colorful foods (fruits and veggies especially), you’ll ensure that you’re getting a wide variety of necessary micronutrients in your diet.
So, do yourself a favor and work with your body rather than against it!
Step #3: Get 8 hours of sleep every night.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best macro prescription or training program in the world…
If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re not maximizing performance.
If there was a drug or supplement that did everything for our body that sleep does, it would be priceless.
It impacts everything from physical recovery, muscle gain, fat loss, memory, mental health, mood, hunger/cravings, and soooo much more…
There are whole books written on the benefits of sleep.
In this article, I’m going to provide you with a few actionable strategies to get more of it.
If you’re only getting 5-6 hours a night, don’t worry. I don’t expect you to make the jump up to 8 right away.
All I want you to do this week is to get in bed 30 minutes earlier than you usually do. That’s it. I don’t care if you lay there wide awake, as long as your in bed (no phones, though).
If you have trouble falling asleep, try some of these tips:
-Limit screen time/electronics before bed. The blue light suppresses melatonin and the stimulation makes it difficult for your brain to calm down.
-Wear blue light blocking glasses in the evening. If you’re like me, banishing your phone simply isn’t going to happen. To combat this, I highly recommend ordering a pair of blue blockers to wear at night when you’re home chilling on the couch.
-Meditate 15 minutes before bed. This will allow you to calm yourself and get into bed relaxed, making it much easier to fall asleep.
-Take a warm shower 60 minutes before bed. Oddly enough, this helps to lower your body temperature and makes it easier for you to fall asleep.
-Keep you room cool (65-70 degrees Fahrenheit).
Each week, move your bedtime up 30 minutes until you’ve hit that 8 hour mark. Trust me, you’ll notice the difference.
Speaking from experience, when I prioritize sleep I simply feel so much better and perform better in the gym It’s no coincidence…
Step #4: Manage Lifestyle Stressors
Yes, arguing with your girlfriend is impacting your ability to perform in the gym, on the court, on the field, etc…
So is that project at work…
So is the credit card payment that you still need to make…
Just as we talked about how eating too little and training too much are stressors, so are all of these other lifestyle aspects.
Your body registers them all the same. Think of it like a bucket. Each stressor, no matter the source, fills up that bucket.
An inability to manage them properly will cause the bucket to overflow and undoubtedly harm your performance.
It’s important to note that some stressors simply cannot be gotten rid of. As much as I wish I could tell you to just forget about that difficult work project, that likely isn’t a possibility. Instead, focus on developing effective coping skills to manage these stressors.
Interestingly, your perception of stress greatly affects the impact it has on the body. For example, while you may be freaking out about that project, your coworker may not even blink an eye. And those two different perceptions will impact the way your body is affected.
Learning how to cope with lifestyle stressors will be a powerful tool that you can use to your advantage in terms of recovery. In this article, I’ll provide you with a toolbox from which you can select your tool, or tools, of choice:
–Meditate. I promise, it works. It’s a little overhyped nowadays, but if you are consistent with it, it works wonders in managing stress and slowing down your mind. If you need help getting started, consider using an app like Headspace. Aim to start with just 5 minutes per day and then increase if desired. Honestly, I currently just do 5 minutes. It gets the job done for me; as always, it’s very individual.
–Journal. Another cheesy one, I know. But, the cheesy stuff works. Just like with meditation, you don’t need to devote hours a day to journaling. It can be something that simply takes 5-10 minutes. Often times, getting your stresses out of your mind and onto a piece of paper will make a big difference in your perception of the stress.
–Go for a walk. I do this every morning. Not only does it help get some low intensity movement in, but it’s also great for stress management. Vitamin D from the sun has a number of benefits for mental health. Some studies have indicated that the color green of plants also plays a role in stress management. From personal experience, starting my day with a walk outside has done wonders for me in terms of keeping a positive outlook the rest of the day.
–Schedule fun time for yourself at least once a week. This one’s huge. I don’t do it nearly as much as I should (partly because working on stuff like this is fun for me lol). Nonetheless, taking time to do something that you truly enjoy that’s not at all related to work, school, or your sport is crucial for stress management. Hang out with a friend, go see a movie, binge watch Game of Thrones (personal favorite of mine), play vide games, etc..
–Make a to-do list of 3-5 items each night. By being on top of what tasks you need to get done, you can avoid the stress and anxiety of overwhelm. Make this list at night before going to sleep, so you can rest easy knowing that you’re ready to kick ass the next day.
As you’ll notice, none of this have anything specifically to do with your particular sport or event.
But, they have everything to do with it.
Not only from a physiological perspective, but if you’re burnt out and frustrated all the time…
Good luck performing.
So, pick 1-2 of these tools and add them to your own stress management toolbox. Now, let’s get into the final strategy for today…
Step #5 Manage your training intensity intelligently.
You can’t only focus on training hard.
You must train smart as well.
I’ve left this one for the end because if you’ve implemented the previous four steps, you should be able to handle a relatively high training load. If you hope to achieve high levels of success in any sport, it’s a must.
However, running yourself into the ground will do you no good either.
It’s a very fine balance that you must strike between stress and recovery.
In some sense, you do have to push a little too far to know what that limit is for you (and to be able to expand that limit).
But I’m here to say that it’s okay (and necessary) to give yourself a break sometimes as well.
As an athlete, it’s really easy to get caught up in the “grind.”
Spending hours and hours in the gym, early mornings and late nights…
In today’s society, it’s pretty much glorified.
I’m here to challenge that.
To truly succeed, you need to be efficient with your time.
More is not better. Better is better.
By that second, and third, hour in the gym whatever reps you have left are typically half-assed and low quality. At that point you’re not getting much out of the training and probably harming your long term progress.
Instead, be in the gym 1-2 hours. But in those 1-2 hours be laser focused on the task at hand. Get the absolute most out of every single rep. By the end of those 2 hours, you’ll be far better off than if you’d have stayed another 2 hours going half-speed.
Also, you need to periodize your training. There are times in the year to go hard and times to pull back. I’m not going to speak too much on that because that is outside of my expertise; but simply be aware that it’s necessary.
Lastly, I suggest taking one complete off day per week.
In most cases, I recommend that you stay completely out of the gym. if you want to do “active recovery,” just go for a walk. For most athletes, an “active recovery” day in the gym leads to them overdoing it…
By taking a day off, you’re setting yourself up for success in the coming days. if you feel any guilt creeping in due to being out of the gym, remind yourself of that.
Remember, you’re playing the long game.
Wrapping It Up
I hope that by the end of this article, you have a solid foundation that will allow you to recover effectively from your training. As you’ll notice, none of these strategies are insanely complicated.
Sure, there are some supplements that may help recovery, you could do ice baths, contrast therapy, blah blah blah…
They all have some merit (I’ll definitely do an article on them in the future).
But, far too many athletes skip over the foundation to get to the fancy stuff. If you do that, your body becomes a house of cards that can collapse at any minute…
If you have any questions at all about the strategies outlined in this article or if you need help setting up your own blueprint to get you to the performance you’ve been after, don’t hesitate to shoot me a message! As always, I’m more than happy to help out :)
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