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Recover and Regenerate

Track Your Recovery

Track Your Recovery

The Sport Science Program Home Page

The nervous system is connected to every other system in the human body. The muscles, the lymphatic system, the digestive system, the eyes and the other sense organs are all hard-wired to the brain. You can take advantage of this connectivity to monitor your recovery status in various situations—for example, when travelling across time zones or starting an altitude-training camp. 

You can monitor your response to stress or training by using the connection between the nervous system and the body to determine whether you're adapting positively or negatively to your environment. This monitoring works because the nervous system detects stress in the body and then sends these signals to the brain. The brain then activates either the parasympathetic nervous system via the vagus nerve, or the sympathetic nervous system via the sympathetic ganglia.

If the body is recovering nicely and is in a rested/adaptation condition, then the parasympathetic system dominates and the vagus nerve will slow your heartbeat. Alternatively, if signals are being sent back to the brain indicating that the body is under-recovered, stressed or even trying to fight an infection, then the sympathetic ganglia will increase their activity and your heart rate will increase.

Heart rate can be measured easily with little or no equipment. A simple heart-rate monitor works really well, or you can just take your pulse. This techniques can also predict illness several days before symptoms become visible. So if you do monitor consistently over time, you can detect patterns, and if your heart-rate response is increased, then you can take action—such as choosing an easy workout instead of an interval session—to prevent getting sick. 

The easiest, lowest-cost and possibly most effective tool you can use to track your recovery status is to measure your resting heart rate. Simply take your pulse for 60 seconds first thing in the morning. Make sure you do this as soon as you wake up and while still lying in bed; even sitting up will increase your heart rate. If you take this measurement every morning, you should notice a relatively constant resting heart rate.

Once you have collected some data continually over a few weeks, then you will notice that your resting heart rate changes slightly from day to day. If there’s increased stress in your life, or if you had a particularly hard workout the day before, your resting heart rate will likely be higher.

If you are doing a training program, as your cardiovascular fitness improves, your resting heart rate will gradually decrease. This decrease in heart rate is a good thing because it shows that the parasympathetic system is starting to gain dominance; your body is letting you know that it is adapting positively to the exercise stimulus.

Today's POWER-UP

Retake the Recovery Survey to see how you've improved over the past month

Name *
Name
Over the past week, I needed little effort to complete my training. *
Over the past week, I needed little effort to complete my training.
Over the past week, I was recovered between training sessions. *
Over the past week, I was recovered between training sessions.
Over the past week, I focused on strategies to help me recover. *
Over the past week, I focused on strategies to help me recover.
Over the past week, I felt relaxed before going to sleep. *
Over the past week, I felt relaxed before going to sleep.
Over the past week, I felt recovered physically. *
Over the past week, I felt recovered physically.
Over the past week, I enjoyed my training. *
Over the past week, I enjoyed my training.
Over the past week, I felt confident. *
Over the past week, I felt confident.

Compression Gear

Compression Gear

The Sport Science Program Home Page

A tool in the athlete’s arsenal for speeding recovery has recently gained popularity: wearing very tight compression garments. The current generation of such compression gear has its roots in the treatment of medical conditions such as blood clots or peripheral circulatory disease. Doctors found that wearing compression socks improved blood flow from the periphery back to the heart.

Compression socks or arm garments are designed to become tighter the farther away from the heart; for example, they’re tighter around the ankle than the knee. Athletes often wear compression garments or sports tights after training sessions.

A group of scientists had volunteers perform 10 sets of 10 plyometric jumps to induce muscle damage and soreness. Half the volunteers wore compression garments on their legs for 12 hours. All the participants returned to the lab the next day for retesting. Interestingly, those who wore the compression pants had less of a decrement in their ability to jump—the non-compression group could jump only 85% of their height from the previous day, while the compression group was able to reach 95% of their initial test results.

Imagine the impact such a tool could have on a sport like volleyball, which demands explosive jumps repeatedly during a game and over the several days that make up a tournament. Furthermore, the more successful teams are, the more they have to play—and the more explosive jumping they do. The same can be said for other court-based sports like basketball.

But again, the recently discovered advantage is that using this gear reduces inflammation and swelling. This is great if you have to compete again in a matter of hours, but highly problematic if you want to stimulate the body to adapt positively over the long term. So, while the gear can be helpful in competition, or during a critical high-intensity training block, it should not be used regularly.

Interestingly, it appears that compression gear does not improve endurance performance. Some experts have suggested that compression gear could act like an extra pump, improving blood flow through the veins and back to the heart. Three research studies tested the effects of compression gear on cycling and running, and none showed that performance was improved.

So for now it looks like using compression gear for recovery after muscle-damaging exercise is the way to go, but only if you have to perform at a high level again within a relatively short time frame.

Step 5: Massage

Step 5: Massage

The Sport Science Program Home Page

STEP 5: MASSAGE

Everyone I know loves a good massage. Elite athletes are heavy users of massage therapy, especially at major games. I think that if given the choice, most would prefer to have their massage therapist with them at the Olympics over any other type of sport science or sports medicine practitioner. The research supporting the use of massage therapy is less than conclusive, but if we apply our inflammation theory to this discipline, an understanding of how massage can help you emerges quite clearly.

In the past it was thought that massage helped speed recovery from exercise by “flushing out” our muscle tissue and thereby speeding the removal of lactic acid after exercise. Some recent work by Michael Tschakovsky, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, has shown this is probably not the case. In fact, his research indicated that massage decreased blood flow in the forearm muscle following exercise, and also decreased the rate of lactic-acid removal.   

But there are aspects of massage therapy other than lactate removal. Further research has shown that massage therapy decreases levels of cortisol (the hormone associated with the stress response). And most people report feeling better and more recovered after a massage. Reduced muscle soreness and decreased inflammation may therefore be the biological mechanism that explains why people swear by massage therapy.

Brand new studies by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky’s research group at McMaster University has confirmed these findings in humans. Graduate student Justin Crane found that, despite not having an effect on lactate or glycogen levels, massage decreased inflammatory markers and cellular stress.

It appears that massage therapy is not ideal for lactic acid removal, but is excellent for reducing tissue inflammation and physiological markers of stress. Plus it feels great!

Today's POWER-UP: How Athletes Use Massage Therapy

Pre-event

Involves light, rapid strokes that work as part of a warm-up to loosen muscles and activate the nervous system. Often done over clothing.

Post-event

Involves slower, more relaxing strokes, moving from distal toward the heart to encourage tissue drainage. May also help move fluid through the lymphatic system.

During training

Known more commonly as “sport massage,” this is deep-tissue massage that’s often quite uncomfortable. Helpful in the treatment of injuries and for decreasing muscle tension patterns.

Step 4: Manage Inflammation and Stimulate Adaptation

Step 4: Manage Inflammation and Stimulate Adaptation

STEP 4: MANAGE INFLAMMATION AND STIMULATE ADAPTATION

As an athlete, you push yourself to the limit as often as possible. You do long endurance-training sessions, where the aerobic system is maxed out for hours; anaerobic interval training, where high intensity is mixed with lower-intensity recovery; and strength-training sessions, where your muscles are put under so much pressure they literally tear at the microscopic level.

So far in this module, I’ve talked about recovery techniques that deal mostly with removing waste products formed during the training session, and with refuelling the body with sugars for energy and proteins for rebuilding and adaptation. But the rebuilding and adaptation process takes more work and time than simply removing lactate from the muscle and blood and replenishing muscle glycogen.

When muscle fibres are damaged—for example, after a hard weights session when your muscles are sore—inflammatory cells rush to the area to clean up the damaged tissue and stimulate new fibres to regenerate. These inflammatory cells are called macrophages. They are present in the blood, and when a tissue is injured these cells are often first on the scene. The macrophages literally eat up the damaged tissues. Gaps in the damaged cell walls open, allowing fluids to rush in and causing inflammation and swelling.

Meanwhile, the inflammatory process stimulates production of a substance called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). This powerful hormone circulates through the body and works on areas such as damaged muscle fibres that have been cleaned up by macrophages. The IGF-1 signals growth cells in the muscle tissue (called satellite cells) to build new muscle fibres and repair damaged ones. The end results are newer, stronger and more numerous muscle fibres. The benefit of this process is that it stimulates new and stronger tissues. The drawback is that it is very painful, and it takes some time for this process to run its natural course. In fact, the healing process I’ve just described can take as much as 72 hours for muscles or even longer for tendons and other soft tissues.

Until very recently, we thought that the faster you could return the body to its baseline homeostasis point, the better—because this condition was most conducive to the next training session. This process involved applying techniques to minimize inflammation in the body as quickly as possible. But recent research has highlighted how helpful tissue inflammation is in stimulating the body to rebuild itself to be stronger.

Most of the time as an athlete you don’t have 72 hours to heal—you usually have two practice sessions a day. So we are currently attempting a balanced approach. We allow healing to occur on its own as often as possible, but if you're in competition, or absolutely have to have another quality practice session within 12 to 24 hours, then we use techniques like cold therapy or compression clothing to reduce inflammation as quickly as possible.

Today's POWER-UP: Try a Cold Bath!

Research indicates that cold-water immersion seems to reduce inflammation and improve nervous-system function to facilitate the processes in the body that are governed by the parasympathetic nervous system (e.g., digestion and circulation).

The best support for the effectiveness of this technique comes from the large numbers of athletes who continue to use cold-water immersion—athletes and their coaches are often years ahead of researchers in figuring out what works best for improving human performance and health.

For example, Peter Brukner of the University of Melbourne, one of the researchers who published results that show no benefits for recovery of muscle strength after cold therapy, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that “Even though our research [on ice baths] was unconvincing, I still encourage their use.”

The simplest thing to do is to have a very cold shower or bath after exercising. Make sure that you keep the water flowing on an area of your skin until it is cold to the touch, and that you cover as much of your body as possible. Try to keep this up for about 5 minutes—this should activate your parasympathetic nervous system and speed your recovery from your workout.

Step 3: Refuel

Step 3: Refuel

Step 3: Refuel

Refuelling means getting some carbohydrate and protein back in your system so that you can replenish energy stores and repair your muscles. We used to worry about nutrient timing and recommend that you had to eat within about 20 minutes of finishing your workout, but more recent research shows that as long as you have a well-balanced and reasonable meal within 1-2 hours after your workout or practice you’ll be fine. That meal should have some healthy, nutrient dense foods that have complex carbohydrates and lean, organic proteins.  

I believe that post-workout nutrition should improve your overall health. Stick to any of the healthy foods we already discussed in the Eat Smarter module: complex carbohydrates and high-quality proteins and fats. If your workout is more aerobic, try a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. If you’re doing strength training or higher-intensity intervals, eat closer to a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein.

I’ve developed some simple rules for my athletes that help determine what type of carbohydrate to use, and when. Basically, the closer the next exercise bout, the more you can rely on simple carbohydrates. For example, during a basketball game simple carbohydrates are the best option because you are trying to keep blood-glucose levels high. In this case, a sports drink would be a good option. If you have to perform another exercise within a couple of hours, such as during a tennis tournament, then carbohydrates that are easy to digest are your best bet. In this case, a whole-wheat bagel would be a good option. But if the next training or competition session is more than a few hours away, then you should rely on complex carbohydrates, proteins and even some fats to supply a sustained level of consistent energy, and nutrients to help rebuild body tissues.

For athletes, making wise nutritional choices is vital for success. As someone who is exercising regularly, you have different nutritional needs than the average person. You need to fuel your body for the work it is about to do (sometimes multiple workouts per day!).  Not only will good everyday nutrition ensure that your body is healthy and ready to perform, but careful consideration of the timing of that pre-workout snack or the composition of that recovery bar after your training could help boost your performance to new levels.

Today's POWER-UP: What's the best snack bar for post-workout recovery? 

What’s the best choice for a cardio workout or a weight-training session? The key to picking the right post-workout snack is to check the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. Here are a few examples:

> Power Bar Protein Plus. 300 calories, 37g carb, 24g protein. 1.5 carbs to protein. Good for post–strength training workout.

> Power Bar Recovery. 260 calories, 30g carb, 12g protein. 3:1 carbs to protein. Good for interval workout or circuits in the gym.

> Lara Bar. 240 calories, 23g carb, 6g protein. 4:1 carbs to protein. Good for after cardio workout.

> Cliff Bar. 250 calories, 46g carb, 11g protein. 4+:1 carbs to protein. Good for during cardio exercise.

> Life Sport Zone. 300 calories, 39g carb, 24g protein. 2:1 carbs to protein. Good for after strength-training session.

Step 2: Rehydrate

Step 2: Rehydrate

The Sport Science Program Home Page

Step 2: Rehydrate

As we discussed in the Eat Smarter module, perhaps the most important factor for recovery during or post-workout, is rehydrating. You sweat when you participate in sports or exercise. You sweat in order to remove heat from your body, but water is also consumed within the cell itself. When you break down fuels such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats for energy, your body uses water in the process. Additionally, many of the vitamins the body employs are dissolved in water for transportation and other uses.   

Proper hydration is critical to sports performance. Decreases in hydration can cause decreases in plasma volume (the fluid part of your blood), making it harder for your heart to pump blood. A fluid loss of just 2% has been shown to lower muscle performance by 10-20%, and disturbingly, this decrease in hydration is typical for a 90-minute to 2-hour workout, which you probably complete daily. Decreasing hydration also has a negative impact on cognitive function. This makes hydration critical for sports where decision-making is important.

Finding the right amount of fluid to drink during and after exercise depends on the type and intensity of the workout. In general, you should drink 1 litre of fluid for each kilogram of weight lost during exercise. You should stick to water for any training session lasting up to one hour, and then a sports drinks for training or competition lasting longer than that. However, try to stay away from commercial sports drinks as they have a lot of added sugar. Instead try coconut water or watermelon juice.

Dehydration is cumulative. This means that if you don’t replace the lost fluid, the next time you compete you are going to be further in fluid debt!

Today's POWER-UP: How to monitor your hydration levels

In order to stay properly hydrated, you need to recognize the symptoms of dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include sluggishness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, feeling excessively hot, feeling light headed and nausea. 

You can also monitor your hydration levels by paying attention to the colour of urine. A large amount of light-coloured, diluted urine probably means you are hydrated; dark-coloured, concentrated urine probably means you are dehydrated.

Step 1: Active Recovery

Step 1: Active Recovery

The Sport Science Program Home Page

Want to know one of the greatest secrets to being stronger, swifter and fitter? Hint: it’s not about lifting more, running faster or adding extra workouts!

The healing and repair process is as important, if not more important, than the actual exercise or training. To raise your endurance, increase your muscle mass, develop stronger bones and even build a better brain, you need time to rest and recover. Your body will adapt faster, you’ll have fewer injuries and you’ll be healthier.

Here are my steps to getting the most out of your workouts – after your workouts

Step 1: Active Recovery

Most people have heard that it is important to “cool down” after a workout. Well, for athletes it is critical. During competition, athletes produce tremendous amounts of lactic acid because of the high intensity of the exercise. In most sports, an event is rarely won in a single race. Many events require athletes to perform heats, semi-finals and finals on their way to a possible medal. Also, in many cases athletes perform in more than one event, or may have their individual events and then also team events such as relays. Of course, the ultimate example of recovery is Michael Phelps, who swam 17 times on his way to winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics.

So, removing metabolic by-products as quickly as possible after racing or competing is important; it ensures you start the next event in a rested state. The primary role of the coaching staff during actual competition is helping you recover as quickly as possible by optimizing the “cool-downs” or “active recovery.”

Removing metabolic waste quickly has been shown to improve the speed of glycogen re-synthesis. Basically, if you recover passively by resting, then the rate of lactate removal from the muscle is extremely slow, and the mitochondria (the structure in the cell that produces energy) have to keep working to process the lactate. However, exercising at a low-to-moderate intensity speeds up the removal of metabolic waste products like lactate. And as soon as your muscle and blood lactate levels are back to baseline, your muscles can start using glucose to restock its energy stores, ensuring that when you start the next race you have a full tank of muscle fuel.

In a study conducted by Dr. Argyris Toubekis in Greece, swimmers completed a 100-metre time trial. They then either rested for 15 minutes or performed 5 minutes of light exercise at 60% of their maximum heart rates and then rested for 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes after the initial time trial, the athletes completed a second time trial. The athletes who performed the 5 minutes of active recovery swam 1.4 seconds faster than when they simply rested.

So if you have to perform multiple events in a single day, or are involved in competitions where you're required to perform on several occasions over a tournament, I suggest active recovery after each performance.

The question then becomes how to optimize the removal of waste products. This is accomplished by exercising at the highest intensity without producing lactate. This procedure ensures that the amount of blood flow circulating through the body is maximized, but with minimal anaerobic stress on the muscle. 

To exercise in this target zone, first estimate your maximum heart rate using this equation:

Maximum heart rate = 217 – ____ (0.85 x your age) = ____ beats per minute minute (b/m)

Dr. W.C. McMaster, from the University of Virginia, has determined that active recovery at 55 to 65% of maximum intensity is the most effective way to enhance the clearance of blood lactate after exercise. You can implement this intensity by taking your maximum heart rate and multiplying by 0.55 to 0.65.

Today's POWER-UP: How long should my active recovery be?

The question that I’m always asked by athletes during active recovery is “How long do I have to do this for?” The answer depends on the intensity of the exercise you just finished. My research team analyzed the lactate clearance rates of 100 athletes after races to determine how much active recovery was needed following competition. We found that, in general, it takes about 1 minute of active recovery to clear 1 mmol/L of blood lactate. So we now have the following recommendations for active recovery times after exercise:

EXERCISE TIME     ESTIMATED BLOOD-LACTATE     RECOMMENDED RECOVERY TIME

30 seconds                  6–8 mmol/L                                         6–8 minutes

1 minute                       10–16 mmol/L                                       10–16 minutes

2 minutes                     10–16 mmol/L                                       10–16 minutes

4 minutes                     8–12 mmol/L                                         8–12 minutes

8–15 minutes                6–8 mmol/L                                          6–8 minutes

30–60 minutes             4–6 mmol/L                                          10 minutes*

Strength training       6–10 mmol/L                                        15 minutes**

* Longer aerobic sessions are physiologically stressful in ways that are not always related to blood-lactate concentration. To ensure adequate clearance of all waste products, recover for 10 minutes at light intensity following any interval of cardio workout.

** Similarly, during weights sessions, the stress on muscle fibres is significant. To ensure adequate clearance of waste products, we recommend active recovery at 55 to 65% of maximum heart rate for at least 10 minutes.

Welcome to Recover and Regenerate Faster!

Welcome to Recover and Regenerate Faster!

The Sport Science Program Home Page

Leading up to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, I had the opportunity to work as a physiologist with the Canadian synchronized swimming team. “Synchro” is a sport that puts tremendous demands on an athlete. The swimmers have to be incredibly fit to perform a high-intensity routine that’s four minutes long and requires near maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) cardiovascular system intensity, alternated with periods of extended breath-holding and explosive elements like jumps.

Furthermore, the athletes need extraordinary flexibility, strength, balance, precision and timing, plus a myriad of other physical and mental skills to be able to compete effectively. Typical days for these women consisted of water-based physical training, routine practice, ballet, stretching and weights, and land-based cardio. And this was done six days a week for the four years leading up to the Olympics, with only a couple of weeks a year for the athletes to take a break. I'm sure you can relate to a demanding training schedule like this.

The ability to recover within the day and between workouts defined the difference between those swimmers who could manage the training load and keep improving and those who couldn’t and, ultimately, failed to qualify for the Olympics.

But hard training, work and practice cause mental and physical fatigue and distress—and stressors stimulate the body to adapt. The inductors that cause fatigue—for example, lactic acid, and muscle-breakdown products such as creatine kinase —all stimulate the body to rebuild itself stronger. This adaptation also occurs in the brain, where new neural connections are made and neurotransmitter levels increase or decrease in response to the mental or physical training stimulus.

But the real key to adaptation is the recovery period after the exercise is completed. This is when the refueling, repair and growth of the body’s systems take place. Train too hard, too often, and there won’t be enough time for recovery. Instead of improving, your body deteriorates and you get sick.

In this module we’ll be exploring how to recover and regenerate better so that you can train better, more often and get healthier at the same time.

Today's POWER-UP: Take the Recovery Survey

Please answer the following questions regarding your training and recovery over the past week. This will help us to give you some feedback on how you're doing.

Name *
Name
Over the past week, I needed little effort to complete my training. *
Over the past week, I needed little effort to complete my training.
Over the past week, I was recovered between training sessions. *
Over the past week, I was recovered between training sessions.
Over the past week, I focused on strategies to help me recover. *
Over the past week, I focused on strategies to help me recover.
Over the past week, I felt relaxed before going to sleep. *
Over the past week, I felt relaxed before going to sleep.
Over the past week, I felt recovered physically. *
Over the past week, I felt recovered physically.
Over the past week, I enjoyed my training. *
Over the past week, I enjoyed my training.
Over the past week, I felt confident. *
Over the past week, I felt confident.