(Reproduced & adapted from a three part series I wrote for Martial Arts Illustrated in 2016)
Part 2 – Maximising Your Recovery
In the first of this three part series I posted last Friday, we looked at training programs and how to use them to best effect. If applicable, you will hopefully have been able to implement some of those strategies contained in order to really streamline your own training workflow and get the best of both worlds – progressive adaptation to the specific demands placed on the body and of course optimising recovery. In actual fact adaptation will not really happen until full recovery has taken place and this again really highlights the interdependence or synergy within all of the bodily systems; the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. Here in part two we will take a look at how we can really maximise recovery so we are primed and ready to continue on a run of uninterrupted training.
Firstly, it needs to be emphasised that the vast subject of training recovery cannot ever come close to being fully discussed in such a small blog. The real purpose of these short posts are to highlight some concepts, principles and of course a few key strategies in order for you to further investigate the subject and tailor it to your own specific needs. The two main components of recovery are Nutrition which provide the nutrients such as energy substrates and building blocks in order for our bodies to actually repair and develop and Rest, which will include sleep, relaxation as well as restorative modalities. Both of them are as important as each other and we will take a brief look at them in sequence to see how we can optimise our own recovery process.
Ok, so you have just done an intense session, perhaps it could have been 2 hours of hard jurus practice, eight rounds of all out sparring or a session of power weight training. Whatever it was, you certainly gave it 100% effort and are now wiped out. If it was highly aerobic or endurance based then you might be swayed to taking on board some extra carbohydrates which is absolutely fine but a key focus should always be on muscle tissue protection. This crucial post work stage called Acute Recovery is where all of this should begin to take place. In actual fact the most knowledgeable of martial artists and combat athletes will know that this acute recovery process is even more effective by what you eat before and during training. A liquid pre work out meal can dramatically increase muscle blood flow as well as protein synthesis and could be as much as up to 200% more effective than by not using this strategy. Also it might be good practice to wait up to an hour before ingesting your first post workout meal rather than straight after the session as doing the latter may well lower effectiveness by up to 30%. The meal would preferably be liquid with a very fast acting protein such as a Whey Protein Hydrolysate or Pure Amino Acids combined with a fast acting sugar which will increase the production of the hormone Insulin and drive these key recovery nutrients into the muscle cells.
Sorry about the science but there is just too much information around that’s touted as “holistic” which has very little effectiveness regarding recovery and in fact is nothing more than nutritional quackery. Remember, for a martial artist who follows a holistic approach, no stone will be left unturned and everything will be in balance. Up to forty-eight hours post your hard training sessions, especially resistance training, your protein synthesis is still in overdrive so small but regular feedings of protein and carbohydrates is a good strategy. However, if you are a proponent of the food combining method of eating then stick to it because again the mantra here is “nothing is set in stone and every person is an individual”. All I would say is to be open to these ideas if they are new to you. Also as your mum might have said “do not skip breakfast” as your are in fact breaking a mini fast during which there is tissue breakdown going on. One caveat of course is if you are following an intermittent fasting protocol. Just steer clear of the boxed cereals and go for eggs, meat, natural muesli and fresh fruit. On a final note in this section a slower acting protein such as Micellar Casein before sleep has been shown to be effective at ‘drip feeding’ your muscles and bodily tissues at night, again enhancing your recovery process.
I want to talk more about the importance of sleep and the issues with insomnia in the third and final instalment of ‘Going the Distance’ but I will offer a few simple strategies here. Every single one of us has had bad or no sleep at one time or another and we all know just how wrecked it can make us feel. If I was forced to choose just one thing that had an overwhelming impact on recovery then sleep would definitely be it. Insomnia has affected me off and on for years but what I do know is when I am more disciplined in turning off electrical equipment, and to keep mobile phone in another room thus limiting blue light exposure, I have a far better chance of getting a good nights sleep and getting into a good sleep cycle. Be ruthless about your sleep hygiene because it’s where so much of the exciting biological ‘alchemy’ takes place. People do differ in amounts needed; some really feel fresh on six hours while others need at least eight but just don’t oversleep as it’s pretty non-productive. Those rules often change when you are ill or injured. The body will often need more sleep then as internal processes just force it to work that much more.
A decent little bio-feedback tool that can signal any potential for overtraining is taking your pulse the moment you wake up in the morning. While still in bed take your pulse for a full minute and keep a note of it. Over the course of a week or two do the same thing every morning. You will often find that the morning after a very strenuous training session that your pulse is up from its usual resting rate as the body is in a process of recovery, however if there are several continuous days where you pulse is ten beats or over what it usually is then this could be a sign your heading into a stage of overtraining or coming down with something. With that feedback you can then taper off your training or change it and hopefully avoid having to take days off of your structured plan. Of course if you need an extra day or two off then do it. Common sense should always prevail.
With everything hopefully in place; an optimised diet with specific supplementation as well as deep and consistent sleep, you have pretty much done everything you can to allow for the magic of nature and the human body to perform its own internal miracles. There are however a few other tools in the box that every now and then might provide additional recovery and here we will briefly look at a few.
With more positive research data emerging, a seven to twelve minute ice bath after intense exercise may help you recover faster by reducing muscle soreness via reduction of inflammation and the constricting of blood vessels. Unless you are at a facility that provides the ice and bath specific for the purpose, then two other alternatives that may or may not help are cold water showers or hot and cold water contrast bathing with supposedly flush out waste products from the muscle tissues. Many have noted that cold water immersion has revolutionsed their lives. Check out Wim Hoff and his methods for a deep dive into this fascinating subject.
Compression garments may indirectly help recovery from the moment you work out in them. It’s claimed they help to thermo-regulate the body, in other words to keep it at its optimum temperature. They might also increase blood circulation which theoretically could transport essential nutrients to working muscles and other tissues more effectively. Finally they claim to be able to support the body and reduce micro trauma to the muscle tissues. Often times if we think things help us then perhaps that’s enough. Compression garments for the most part certainly won’t hurt.
Most definitely something that does work is massage and its associated physical therapies. There is tons of great information out there as well as amazing therapists. Depending on the type performed such as deep tissue, trigger point, myofascial release and Graston technique, massage can help to break down adhesions and scar tissue, increase circulation which in turn helps to rid the body of local metabolic by products. A relaxing massage especially later at night is something that can also help us drift into a deep sleep. I would recommend massage as much as possible to those that can afford it. Self massage techniques such as the use of thera-guns, foam rollers, rolling pin rollers and various types of rubber and spiked balls to target specific areas and trigger points of the body are also extremely useful to invest in if paid treatments are cost prohibitive.
We have literally skimmed the surface on this vast and deep subject. Whole books have been written on it and every year new and exciting finds are helping martial artists and combat athletes recover faster in order to be able to train harder and for longer. Always be aware of fads or unproven products, especially in the area of sports nutrition. On the flip side never be afraid of reliable anecdotal evidence as many people I am sure have discovered their own successful formulas for maximising their training recovery. Also the world of botanicals and herbs is yet another area where great discoveries have been found to the benefit of active people. Overall we really do have pretty much everything at our disposal to be fully rested and recuperated.