Improving strength and performance requires much more than showing up and working hard in the gym. "Recovery" is a word many of us equate with drinking some protein powder after a hard workout and getting on with our day. We each have jobs, responsibilities, and families to take care of. However, enhancing our ability to recover involves much more than sipping the right recovery drink. Getting back to a relatively stable equilibrium (called homeostasis) is our bodies primary objective and this is the state where our body recovers and prepares for what’s next. This involves a multifaceted interaction with the environment. The easier it is for our bodies to get back to and maintain a state of homeostasis, the better we will all recover from workouts and the more we will get out of them. The following are some basic lifestyle guidelines to help you help your own body. These suggestions lie on a continuum. Start where you're at and make incremental changes that will add up over time.
Let's start with sleep. Sleep is a biological imperative. Sleep is the opposite of stress. Our bodies are “stressed” any time their state of homeostasis has been thrown out of balance. This can be caused by physical, mental, and emotional triggers. As we sleep, we rebuild and replace our material structure at the cellular level. Sleep deprivation is killer, yet some amount of sleep loss is a reality we all face. Even as we live hectic lives there are some ways we can help our bodies go to sleep and sleep better when it’s time. Avoid stimulation from electronic devices. As you are going to bed, dim the lights in your room, put your phone in another room, and turn off the TV. Aim for an hour before you plan to go to bed. Light literally tells your brain to wake up and get ready for activity at a hormonal level. Try to finish your dinner a couple hours before you lay down to give your stomach time to settle. If you drink caffeine, stop consuming it at least 6 hours before your usual bedtime. Set the stage for rest before bedtime so that you can fall asleep quickly once you lay down. We are creatures of habit and your body likes consistency; if you can, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Even if you aren’t getting more hours of sleep, the sleep you get will be more restful and restorative.
Once you wake up, begin to hydrate your body. Space your water intake evenly throughout the day. Track the water you’re drinking and try to consume half your bodyweight in ounces per day. Don't count juice, coffee, or alcohol towards your daily needs. Assess your hourly hydration level using the color of urine as a guide. Light straw color is best, so try to avoid going too far to the clear or dark yellow side. Frequency should be roughly every couple of hours. A small amount of salts/electrolytes will ensure your body retains the water you are drinking. If you're going clear every hour you may be overdoing it and your body is not retaining the water you are drinking. Lifestyle and environment play a significant role in your daily needs, so an active person in a hot climate needs more water than the sedentary air-conditioned office worker. Consider half your bodyweight in ounces a minimum. Rehydrating during and after physical activity will enhance performance and recovery.
How we eat is nearly as important as what we eat in many ways. Proper "Food Hygiene" starts with the first bite. The entire digestive process takes between 36-44 hours so make sure to chew twenty or so times per bite to assist your digestive enzymes. Eat slowly. Meals should be a break from work and activity so sit down and enjoy your food. Keep fluid intake low during the meal as well.
Move your body daily. This seems like a no brainer to us gym-goers. Many jobs are sedentary. Even on days you don’t make it to the gym, try to get up and take small walks away from your desk every hour or so. Stretch or take a walk after meals. Moving around aids the detoxification process by moving lymph and blood around the body. Walking, swimming, biking or playing with the kids all help to keep joints mobile and healthy.
Get your vitamin D when you can! The sun is the source of all life on earth. In the Pacific Northwest we are sun-starved much of the year, however it is possible to absorb vitamin D when the sky is overcast. It’s crucial that we take advantage of any opportunity to synthesize our own vitamin D. Get out in the sun but of course be sensible with your exposure. The minimum dose doesn't leave a burn but DOES result in vitamin D synthesis. Research is continuing to uncover all the positive effects of Vitamin D, in addition to bone health. So we will all have more reasons to take advantage of this free resource whenever it’s available.
When our bodies are stressed, adrenaline is pumping, our heart rate is higher, we are in that state of “fight or flight”. We spend our time are the gym like this, as well as other times throughout the day. We need to do what we can to help our bodies get to a resting state. This is the opposite place of “rest and digest”. This is when we fully recover and prepare our bodies to be more efficient the next time they are stressed. Use these tips to feel what your body needs and learn to give it what it wants so that you can coax your body into a useful recovery.