A lot has been said about recovery protocols over the years in sport science circles, but for the average Joe it may seem like a complicated affair.
I’ve come to believe that recovery is one of the most important parts of development and growth, whether you’re a serious athlete or a casual CrossFitter. Recovery should be a part of anyone’s exercise routine, as adequate recovery can go a long way in helping us achieve the extra 5% we often feel we lack. Recovery often seems like something only the elite with a team of trainers behind them can do. In this post I will try to introduce you to some essential recovery methods for the keen cyclist jogger or lifter taken from the latest in sport science research.
Why is it Important?
“The combination of exercise-induced inflammation and with dietary-induced inflammation increases the risk of coronary heart problems by 80%.”
Briefly speaking, rest and recovery are as important for increased performance and growth as the workout itself. It’s common knowledge that good conditioning, a good warm-up, good warm-down and some recovery time is the basic cycle for continued athletic performance. But a quick stretch and a bit of ice is often not enough to sufficiently recover from the exercise. Recovery serves a greater purpose in the performance cycle than we may know as it comes down to a lot more than not being sore or stiff. In fact, good recovery methods can help in a number of ways, including:
Reduced injury risk
Reduced cardiac-related problems
Reduced muscle fatigue
Reduced stress and inflammation
The most important point in the list above, and the one that many people may be unaware of, is the cardiac-related problems. Researchers found that people who exercised consistently for many years were more likely to develop coronary artery calcification (CAC). CAC means that calcium-containing plaques are present in the arteries of the heart — a predictor of heart disease. The double whammy on this is that those who exercise rigorously are also taking part in eating patterns that cause fluctuation blood-glucose levels and inflammation. The combination of exercise-induced inflammation and with dietary-induced inflammation increases the risk of coronary heart problems by 80%. This may seem a little extreme, so before I stir the pot too much, let me focus on recovery strategies for those who are simply looking to feel better the next day.
” Magnesium is one of the few minerals that are better absorbed through the skin than through oral ingestion. So the best way to include magnesium in your recovery is not through an effervescent, but through some sort of topical application.”
It goes without saying that a good daily stretch session goes a long way in helping us feel better the next day. Stretching does not only help us recover but can also be good for mobility and overall health. Good sleep and rest is also of paramount importance. However, for this post I will not be focusing only on the stretch-ice-sleep methods as these are common knowledge. I will rather be introducing you to some “bio-hacks” that can spead up the recovery process. First, some products that every active person should have in their house.
1. CBD muscle/oil rub
The anti-inflammatory properties found in CBD oils do an excellent job in recovery after rigorous exercise. The top CrossFit athletes, UFC fighters and triathletes are swearing by it, and the science backs them up too. Muscle rubs that are found on the shelves like deep heat are topical analgesics. What this basically means is that they warm-up the skin. These products do not penetrate the muscle, and if they can, they don’t mean anything to your muscles. (This does not apply to arnica, which is a beneficial product to have around).
2. Magnesium Salts
Magnesium has been shown to be one of the best minerals for replenishing energy and muscle recovery. However, there is a catch. Magnesium is one of the few minerals that are better absorbed through the skin than through oral ingestion. So the best way to include magnesium in your recovery is not through an effervescent, but through some sort of topical application. Magnesium muscle rubs are good, but the best option is probably Epsom bath salts found at any pharmacy or health shop.
3. Turmeric and Cayenne Pepper
These two spices have great anti-inflammatory properties and are excellent for blood circulation. Studies have shown that taking in sufficient amounts can completely eradicate joint and muscle pain. A nice little hack for those who struggle with gout and arthritis is to make a paste by cooking turmeric and cayenne pepper in some olive oil. Save it in a bottle and take a teaspoon ever morning.
Other options for if you’re serious about good recovery can greatly improve your turn around time and overall feeling of wellness. Massages are common knowledge in this domain so I will not be talking about it too much. Here are some additional options:
1. Electric Muscle Stimulation.
I am not a massive fan of these devices as it has been sold as a quickfire muscle grower. They cannot give you better abs or bigger biceps, and probably won’t help you lose that gut, but they can be good for recovery. A bit of shock therapy to a stiff calf muscle can increase blood flow and helps a bit with neural connections (or something like that).
2. Floatation Tank
I have recently become obsessed with sensory deprivation or floatation tanks. They do not only help with muscle relaxation, but are amazing for mental clarity, stress relief and overall chilling. The tanks are filled with about 500kg of magnesium salts, so it does wonders for your stiff muscles and you get an hour of quiet time that feels better than an 8-hour sleep.
3. Massage gun
The jury may still be out on this one, but personally it’s one of the best things I’ve bought to date. This device particularly helps me activate my tight hips and groin when I’ve sat too long or jumped into exercise without a good warm-up. It’s a great way to get a quick massage on the go. They are quite pricey so I ordered mine successfully from Wish.
“That evening I would take a long bath filled with about 1kg of magnesium or Epsom salts. This bath will provide good heat exposure to help relax muscles and blood flow and the salts will get right into your blood stream. ”
1. For isolated muscles
If you have targeted a muscle group or can’t shake a cramp in the calf, a combination of CBD oil/magnesium muscle rub, electric stimulation and ice seems to improve recovery time massively. Apply the muscle rub, attach your EMS device and place an ice pack over it, all at once. Some of the top fitness coaches in the world use this method and it works wonders for myself. If you don’t have an EMS device, the muscle rub with a bit of a massage in combination with an ice pack will still work well.
2. For full body recovery
I recommend a comprehensive static stretch or foam roll after the workout, followed by ice or exposure to cold. If you do not have an ice bath, jump in your pool. Fill your diet post-exercise with CBD oil, turmeric and cayenne pepper. There are also massive benefits to essential amino acids post-exercise so if you can get your hands on these, throw them in there, although a good diet should cover your basic needs. That evening I would take a long bath filled with about 1kg of magnesium or Epsom salts. This bath will provide good heat exposure to help relax muscles and blood flow and the salts will get right into your blood stream. Cold treatment should occur soon after exercise while heat treatment works well for long-term pain and stiffness. If you have the facilities, an ice bath followed by a float in a floating tank would be brilliant, and you can even throw in a sauna session somewhere there.
Notes on Rest and Sleep
” It has been reported that top athletes get copious amounts of sleep, for example, Roger Federer claims to sleep 11 hours a night and Usain Bolt between 8 and 10 hours.”
Sleep is especially important during recovery, not just for mental reasons but physiological reasons as well. A good 8-hour sleep cycle is almost critical for optimal performance, as lack of sleep during recovery has been shown to reduce metabolism by 40%. It has been reported that top athletes get copious amounts of sleep, for example, Roger Federer claims to sleep 11 hours a night and Usain Bolt between 8 and 10 hours. Resting should also be non-negotiable as an athlete, with the latest science showing that a combination of active rest (e.g. light jog, mobility session, light swim/yoga etc) and passive rest (no physical activity) works best. The best timing for these two seem to be a 2-day interval of passive for 24 hours and an active recovery day the next.
Notes on Diet
” Obviously, protein shakes are also always mentioned, but these are more often than not filled with crappy things such as sugar, thickeners, stabilizers, sweeteners, vegetable oils etc.”
I want to briefly emphasize the importance of what you take in post-exercise, as this is where even the top athletes can go wrong. I have already mentioned CBD oil and certain spices and minerals so let’s look at other options. The Essential Amino Acids have recently been shown to be a lot more effective than BCAA’s, although these are early studies and the jury is still out. If you’re looking for supplementation I would recommend EEA’s, although your expert in Dis-chem might still disagree. The bottom line is with a good healthy diet you should be getting enough amounts of both.
Obviously, protein shakes are also always mentioned, but these are more often than not filled with crappy things such as sugar, thickeners, stabilizers, sweeteners, vegetable oils etc. You do find protein powders that are pretty clean, but It’s still best to stick to real food and real protein. I would say specifically animal proteins as the EEA content is significantly higher in animal protein than plant-based protein. Animal protein is also more bio-available than plant-based protein. For those on a plant-based diet it seems that supplementation with Creatine (5g/day) is almost non-negotiable. Creatine, contrary to popular belief, is an excellent supplement for recovery and growth and may even have health benefits for your heart. Along with this, vitamin D, vitamin C and fish oil are also excellent nutrients for aiding our recovery.
The question we seem to always ask ourselves is when we are ready to train again. According to the latest in science it seems that the best measurement of recovery is heart rate variability. This can be done manually or you can get your hands on a device or smart watch that measures it for you. For serious athletes this is extremely important as HR variability is a particularly good indicator for when you should rest. Basically, we want a higher heart rate variability, which means we don’t actually want our heart to beat in perfect rhythm. There should be some variability, otherwise take a break. There is a lot more to say on this topic and I welcome any questions or remarks on this post, should you wish to know more or question one of my claims.
1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109714071745 (overtraining and heart problems)
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6107748/ (Essential Amino Acids for Recovery)
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21847574 (EMS for recovery)
4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2018.00183/full (CBD effectiveness)
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579607/ (Magnesium Application)
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/#__sec16title (Creatine for performance and recovery)