Coaches Corner: Improve your recovery, care for your body - Part 1
When it comes to diet and exercise, there are a lot of quick fix schemes out there. But I’m here to burst your bubble: hard work, eating good, whole foods, and actually caring for your body is the only scheme worth buying into, and it isn’t talked about as much as it should. And I think that’s a shame.
Today, let’s talk about how to consistently stay healthy, and decrease recovery time after working hard in the gym. You’ve put in the time, and the payoff should be maximized by your lifestyle.
Getting a good night of rest is not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s important! During sleep, our bodies basically reset themselves. The stage called “deep sleep” is specifically where muscle recovery happens. During deep sleep, your blood pressure lowers and your brain is resting, which means more blood can be circulating to your other muscles and organs¹.
During deep sleep, the Growth Hormone is released, which then runs to your muscles to begin repairing them. Less deep sleep means less Growth Hormone, and slower recovery². Prolactin (also released in deep sleep) helps reduce inflammation! Inflammation in your muscles inhibits recovery and also puts you more at risk for injuries as you continue to exercise².
As far as general health and sleep go, getting adequate sleep keeps your immune system healthy. While you are sleeping, cytokines (or infection fighters for all of us non-scientists) are released. You’ve gotta sleep to let those lil guys do their job! On the opposite side of this, lack of sleep causes the body to produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, which is directly inhibiting your recovery³.
Lastly, and very related to today’s COVID life, studies have found that adequate sleep leads to more effective preventative health measures. For example, if you got a flu vaccine, those who were sleeping like they should showed more antibodies in their systems than those with poor sleep habits³!
A fun little phrase we like to use around Renew is “you can’t work your way out of a bad diet”. Let’s unpack that.
A good diet is going to consist of a combination of carbs, healthy fats, and proteins. The goal of this good diet is to fill yourself with nutrients that will help your muscles rebuild quickly, keep inflammation at a minimum, and boost your immune system.
It’s simple really. If you aren’t fueling your body properly, it’s not going to work like you want it to. Protein is needed for your muscle recovery. Fast acting carbs are needed to fill your glycogen tank. Good fats are needed to reduce inflammation and keep your joints working like they should⁴.
On the other hand, sugars decrease your metabolism, alcohol dehydrates your cells that are trying their hardest to rebuild your muscles, and bad fats clog your arteries⁴.
Check out this blog from MarcPro for the top 5 best and worst foods to eat during your recovery period, and why they are helpful or harmful!
In order to build muscle back up, your body goes through a process called “protein synthesis”, but if your cells are dehydrated, this process is slowed down big time. So no matter how hard you just went in the gym, if your cells can’t rebuild after you just broke them down, your efforts have gone to waste.
Proper hydration also aids in your digestive process. Similarly to that grueling workout in the gym being a waste of time, that good, nutrient filled salad you just ate also might not have been as worth it as you think either. If your digestion isn’t working like it should, your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs.
Dehydration can also lead to fatigue because your blood levels are literally lower than they should be, and your heart has to work harder to get blood and oxygen to your organs⁵!! Hi, hello, go grab a bottle of water and chug it now. For your heart’s sake.
“Alcohol makes you sleep better, right? And we just talked about how important sleep is, so alcohol should be great for my recovery, right?”
In the words of Head coach, Becky Wickes – “Neeeerrrrrrppp”
Alcohol might make you physically fall asleep faster, but it also causes a more disrupted night of sleep. Specifically, it disrupts your REM cycles where your brain is resetting and being restored for the next day. Without good REM sleep, you are likely to be drowsy the next day, find it hard to concentrate, and live in an overall fog⁶.
There’s also a cute little belief out there that beer is good for recovery because it has carbs and electrolytes in it. Sure, it has some, but not the kind of carbs your body is screaming for (please refer back to MarcPro for a reminder of what kind of carbs you need). Beer (and all alcohol) is dehydrating, and like we just learned about water, dehydration inhibits the production of muscle proteins⁷. Beer is also filling (or makes you snacky and less likely to fuel well), and could cause you to skip out on enough of the good nutrients your body actually wants, which will slow your recovery time significantly⁷.
Lastly, alcohol causes inflammation in the intestines, which can then lead to other organ dysfunction in the body. If things like your intestines, kidneys, and liver are affected, you will not be able to process the food you ingest like you should – no matter how good or bad it is for you⁸. If your organs ain’t workin’, you ain’t workin’. For way more details on this, check out this article from RiaHealth.
Let’s talk about NSAIDs, aka Advil, Ibuprofen and anti-inflammatory medication. In today’s world, and especially in America, we are all about quick fixes. That’s exactly what these over the counter medications are for. Just a quick fix. Nothing long term. Sometimes that’s a great solution for a stress headache, or a swollen ankle, or a fever, but there is cause for concern when this becomes a chronic solution to your inflamed body.
The way these medicines work is they keep your body from producing chemicals associated with whatever pain and inflammation you are experiencing⁹. Again, these can be a huge help for things that your body can repair within a week or so. If your ankle is swollen, ibuprofen can help reduce swelling and actually give your body a chance to heal. However, a swollen ankle isn’t a chronic, lifelong thing.
Long term effects of popping these anti-inflammatory meds can include things like easy bruising, damage to your stomach, and long term damage to kidneys⁹. All muscle recovery talk aside, I would prefer my stomach and kidneys do their job. And when it comes to recovery, you need these major organs to help you absorb the nutrients you’re putting in your body, and filter out all the other garbage that your body doesn’t want.
Chronic use of NSAIDs is not the answer. Luckily, there are lots of natural anti-inflammatories that you can incorporate into your diet! Check out this graphic below for some things to pick up on your next grocery run.
What do I do now?
Right now, at your computer or phone, pause for a second and think about what you just read. Are there areas of your life that need some change? Maybe a little extra sleep? One more glass of water before bed? On that computer or phone, write down 3 small things that you would like to improve about how you care for your body.
In part 2 of this blog, I’ll go in depth about some very practical steps to improve some of those things you just wrote down! For now, decide what is realistic to improve on right now and work on forming some habits around those!