Intense workouts or athletic training and the positive changes the body undergoes in response to training is due to putting the body and its muscles through controlled periods of stress and tension. It may be a GOOD form of stress, but is stress nonetheless. So, it is important to provide the body with opportunities to recover from the stress.
Good recovery includes components such as sleep, hydration, fuel and nutrients, replenishing glycogen to muscles and managing inflammation.
Some people recover with the sleep they currently get while others need to add 15-30 minutes (or more) of sleep per night or a nap after a workout. For athletes who struggle with quality sleep, make it a priority to explore the reasons for the poor quality and make a plan to improve. For example, do you have a standard sleep time and bedtime ritual, do you cut electronics 1 hour prior to going to bed, do you sleep in a cool(er), dark room, do you have a condition that impedes sleep such as apnea? All these are areas of opportunity to improve the quality of sleep and will, in turn, improve your athletic performance!
Normal water intake for a male is 4 L or 16 cups per day and for females is 3 L or 12 cups per day. When you are training, working out or practicing you need to increase this intake. Limiting caffeine, sugary drinks and alcohol will help your body recover as well.
So let’s talk food and how to make it work for you.
Workout nutrition has two goals: to improve recovery and improve performance. Often athletes skip the first and focus on the second. But the truth is, if the body does not recover well, it cannot perform well.
For most athletes it is enough to eat regularly scheduled meals every 3-4 hours. Those meals should include protein, slow-digesting carbohydrates, healthy fats and vegetables. This balance of macro nutrients keeps blood sugar stable over the course of the day and gives the body what it needs to build cells involved in: muscle building, transporting oxygen, blood vessels, immunity and so on.
Another way to give your body the nutrients it needs every day is to eat the “rainbow” of plants and fruits every day. Each color is representative of a type of nutrient or vitamin so eating the rainbow helps your body get the variety of nutrients it needs to build and maintain your cells and organs.
For some athletes they may need to add nutrition prior to, during and after workouts to maximize glycogen replenishment. Or added supplementation to help muscles maximize protein synthesis or energy production. Some athletes may need to use nutrition to put on weight or muscle. Some athletes may need to manipulate nutrition to cut weight or lean out.
So while training is subjecting the body to periods of controlled stress, it is good stress and has so many benefits. Recovery should be a part of your performance goals along with nutrition. And nutrition can be used in a variety of ways to support an athlete in whatever their goals! Work smarter not harder! And make your food work for you, not against you!