When I began CrossFit 18 months ago, I would take a bath after every workout. It was my reward for making a hard change in my life. Using my heavy, awkward body to step up on a box or to drop to the floor for a burpee was difficult, even embarrassing. But afterwards, with a pile of sweaty clothes next to the tub, I would soak and semi-float in hot water and forgive myself for all the weight I had gained. I would remind myself that I was taking the right steps to undo damage to my body and self-esteem. My bath was my mental recovery.
But as the weight started to come off and I could move easier, my focus turned to other things: a tight hip that made overhead squats impossible; a sore shoulder after pull ups; a diet made up of frozen dinners for weight loss instead of whole foods for performance. What had worked for me at the on-start of a healthy lifestyle needed to be reevaluated. How could I best prepare my body for its next workout immediately after the present workout?
Recovery. It can be an overwhelming topic. Most of us don’t have time to spend hours on the foam roller, or the resources for a professional analysis of our nutritional needs. Here, four coaches help get you started on the basics of recovery: Nutrition, Supplements, Mobility and Sleep.
Nutrition for Recovery – Rob Vasels
Consistent performance is often the result of not how hard you trained, but how well you recover. When it comes to the athlete and performance-based nutrition, there are certain ways of eating that are critical to an athlete’s recovery process.
Replace Fuels: After work is completed, we need to replenish several components: electrolytes, water, sugar (in the form of glycogen), and amino acids – and maybe our self-confidence. While diet may not help with self-confidence, we can tackle the other items.
Right after your workout, replenish glycogen stores with high glycemic fruits, such as a banana or raisins.
Eat a protein meal within an hour after training. If that’s not possible, supplement with high quality protein powders that have high contents of Branch Chain Amio Acids (BCAAs. 4-6 grams). Chicken, lean grass-fed beef, pork eggs are all good examples of protein. Add in some carbohydrates – starch-rich foods like rice, potatoes, quinoa, legumes, parsnips or cooked plantains.
The types of carbohydrates you eat are important and when you eat them is also critical. If you train or compete, you must replenish the glycogen you just burned. So, higher glycemic, glucose rich whole foods are great options post training.
Favoring high potassium foods with salt – like vegetables – helps replenish electrolytes. Eating plenty of fruits and veggies replaces the vitamins and minerals you have lost. Eat potatoes especially because of their rich content of potassium.
Eating a small serving of fruit – like apples, pineapple, craisins or dried figs – before your training can also help with your recovery.
And drink water. Dehydration is an athlete’s worst enemy.
Control Inflammation. Immediately after exercise, you will engage in a natural inflammatory process. Your inflammatory process helps you when you’re sick, injured, or you have exerted yourself to physical extremes. It helps increase blood flow to certain areas and expedites the healing process. The issue is when the inflammatory response gets out of control and leads to chronic inflammation and overuse of tissues.
Use high quality fats. Eat avocados. Use olive oil for dressings and low heat cooking. Use coconut oil for high heat cooking. Eat plenty of cold water fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, anchovies, wild caught if possible) to improve omega 3 content in diet. Avoid soy and corn oils when possible.
The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” — Ann Wigmore
Watch the added sugar. Diets too high in sugars end up leading to a variety of chronic inflammatory conditions and can damage the circulatory system and lead to imbalance in our endocrine system.
Eat enough: When you under-eat, you inhibit your body’s ability to recover. Imagine trying to build a Lego castle with only 2/3 of the pieces. In order to finish the job, your body will have to “eat” other structures in order to finish the construction process. When it comes to recovery, it is better to have too many building materials than too few.
If you stick with these recommendations, you will do a great job with your nutrition as well as improving your recovery process.
Rob Vasels: ACSM CPT, USAW, PN, FMS, CF L1, CF Mobility.
Rob has been working in the fitness industry since 2007 and has been a trainer since that time training a variety of athletes with varying degrees of abilities ranging from ages 11 to 81. He is currently the Head Coach at CrossFit West Nashville.
Supplements for Recovery – Justin Grinnell
Supplements are just that, supplements. They are not to be used to replace your whole food intake. There is nothing that can replace the benefits of consuming clean whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, organic animal products, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
However, with our busy lifestyles, high stress physically and mentally, and our poor food environment, there are some deficiencies we must account for by taking certain supplements.
Fish oil is a very critical supplement that nearly everyone should be taking at some level. It is one of the most studied supplements in the world, and you will have a hard time finding research, doctors, or nutritionists who are against taking some type of marine oil.
Marine oils are rich in omega-3 fatty acids containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), acids that play a critical role in brain function and are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They contain anti-inflammatory properties and are hormone like compounds that affect almost every system in the body.
Whey protein offers an array of benefits beyond post-workout nutrition. Whey protein is the most efficient way to get adequate amounts of protein in someone’s diet. Finding a high quality piece of animal protein when on the go can be very challenging.
Whey protein (I prefer grass-fed) is an excellent source of protein that is high in quality, is safe for many lactose intolerant people, and provides a ton of essential amino acids at a low cost.
- Helps build lean muscle tissue
- Improves strength
- Improves fat loss
- Has anti-cancer properties, such as glutathione
- Can help reduce cholesterol
- Can help reduce blood pressure
These are just some of the many benefits that supplementing with whey protein can offer. Overall, whey protein is a healthy and highly accessible source of protein that can help improve many aspects of a person’s health.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are comprised of three key amino acids, L-leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine. The BCAAs are among the nine essential amino acids for humans, accounting for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40% of the required preformed amino acids in mammals.
While both sparing and building muscle tissue, BCAAs improve protein synthesis and endurance. They are faster-digesting than most other protein sources, making them optimal for raising amino acid blood levels quickly to improve recovery, muscle growth and fat loss. They are also a great pre and during workout drink to keep amino acid blood levels up to even further their benefits.
Justin is the owner of an 11,000 training facility in East Lansing, Michigan, where he and his staff train everyone from young athletes to professional athletes, to the regular Joe’s and Jane’s. He has over 12 years and 35,000 hours of training and coaching experience. Justin is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is a certified personal trainer by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASAM), CrossFit Level 1 Certified, and Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified (Pn1). He is also a competitive bodybuilder, Olympic Lifter, Powerlifter and CrossFit competitor.
For more training info from Justin Grinnell, CSCS, you can go to www.justingrinnell.com, or visit his gym’s website at www.mystateoffitness.com, his Facebook page, or check him out on Twitter. He is the author of The Grinnell Lifestyle: My Nutritional Doctrine, available on Amazon.
Mobility for Recovery
Mobility is not only an important aspect to recovery but it’s also vital to overall human movement and quality of life! Second only to sleep and nutrition (which in my opinion are tied as the most important for recovery), mobility allows our body to heal by “ungluing” our muscles and working our joints, thus leading to reduced muscle tension and pain, as well as increased range of motion.
With limited space I simply cannot cover even a portion of the mobility methods, programs, and techniques that can and should be utilized. However, I would like to introduce you to two programs for mobilizing a body part that is a common source of pain and limited range of motion for many athletes – the shoulder! Also, I will point you in the direction of some valuable resources on overall mobility for you to research and incorporate into your training to aid in recovery.
This is a fantastic system consisting of bungee cords of differing tensions and simple, quick routines that provide shoulder activation and recovery to all ability levels. Well worth looking into purchasing a set for your gym or home use.
This is a thirty-day challenge where the goal is to hang from a fixed bar (pull-up station, rig, etc…) for a total of seven minutes everyday for the thirty days. Personally, I’m on my fourth day of hanging and I already have an increased range of motion, better grip strength, and activation of muscles in my shoulder and back that I have never even felt before! This is great to do for muscle recovery and activation.
Check out the link for more details and explore the different methods of hanging.
The absolute authority on all things mobility related in the CrossFit community is Dr. Kelly Starrett of San Francisco CrossFit! Dr. Starrett has written the go to manual for mobility entitled “Becoming a Supple Leopard.” He also films and hosts Mobility WOD which is a daily “workout” for mobility. The short videos focus on different movements and techniques to prepare, repair, and maintain your body from a functional standpoint. Between these two resources pretty much all of your mobility needs can be met!
No matter how you choose to mobilize, ensure you are making it a regular part of your training. It’s good practice to develop the mindset that the workout isn’t over until proper mobilization and nutritional recovery has occurred. Mobilizing is something you can do practically anywhere, including at home in front of the television. All you need are a few simple and inexpensive tools to perform quality maintenance on your body, so there is no excuse! Don’t allow overlooking this vital recovery aspect to limit your potential as an athlete!
I think a really simple way is to set the clock and 15 minutes later be done. Work on something that is a problem today and then work on something that is a problem tomorrow.” — Kelly Starrett
John Rushin is a strength and conditioning coach specializing in running and endurance athletics based out of Seattle, WA. Currently, he is the Head Trainer of the Endurance Program at The Lab Strength and Conditioning and an assistant trainer at A Community Project CrossFit, both in Seattle. As a trainer, he specializes in preparing endurance athletes for competition through a unique strength and conditioning program and the Pose Method of Running. He holds certifications in:
- CrossFit Level I Certification, 2013
- CrossFit Endurance Certification, 2014
- USA Weightlifting Olympic Lifting Certification, 2014
Also an avid writer in the field of strength and conditioning, John posts two blogs on his websites DSP Athletics and DSP Running and often contributes articles to Truebarbellion, Tabata Times, and others. He can be followed on Twitter and Instagram (@jjrushin for both) and contacted via e-mail at email@example.com. He welcomes questions, comments, and the sharing of thoughts and ideas. Feel free to contact him anytime, he’d love to hear from you!
Sleep for Recovery
An element of recovery that most folks will under-estimate is SLEEP. An athlete can have everything dialed: nutrition, training, preWO/PWO intake, but if sleep is not there, all progress is halted, and recovery suffers. I’ve even seen this in athletes on aggressive PED/AAS cycles. THAT’S how important sleep is. But why?
Hormonal regulation and secretion of cortisol, melatonin, serotonin, dopamine, DHEA, testosterone and growth hormone, to name just a few, are all dependent on quality sleep. Many studies have been done on sleep deprivation, and from 20 years of personal experience, I can tell you the effects are acute and drastic. Couple mixed-modal training + sleep debt, and you massively and chronically hammer on your endocrine system; this leads to an accelerated phase of over-reaching, possibly over-training, and potential adrenal dysfunction.
Key Points & Strategies for Optimizing Sleep:
Shoot for 8 hours. Prioritize this, make time in your life. Training increases this need. Google “How Much Sleep The Pros Get” for a quick infographic. Avg = 8-10hrs.
Alcohol affects stages of sleep; while it’s a CNS depressant and can help you FALL asleep, it reduces SWS (slow wave sleep), aka Stage 4, where the most gH (growth hormone) is released.
Bright sun exposure during the DAY will improve sleep quality at night by maximizing endogenous melatonin secretion.
Bedroom = Cave. Dark, cool, quiet. Blackout blinds, white noise can help reduce REM sleep, and lower body temps help induce sleep.
Reduce electronic use 1hr prior to bed. iPhones, computers, TVs are all back-lit with blue-wavelength light—the same as the morning sun. This suppresses melatonin production. If you have to use a laptop, install F.Lux to alter the hues of the screen to more red-wavelength tones.
Naps: Hard to fit in, but worth every minute you can get. Brief naps, <30min, can be restorative mentally and emotionally. You cannot “make up” sleep debt. 5hrs sleep plus a 3hr nap (who can even do that?) is not equal to a solid 8 hrs. Why? Length and completeness of sleep cycles.
Naps, Part 2: Naps have the potential to speed recovery, based on the fact you naturally release gH (growth hormone) as you sleep, and naps will improve immediate performance in sleep-deprived athletes. We know that sleep extension improves performance and recovery; I don’t think it’s a stretch to hypothesis adding naps to an already optimal sleep-wake timeframe (8hr) will also improve recovery.
Reduce Caffeine; half-life is approx. 5-7 hours. Cut-off for intake should be early afternoon.
Supplementation: Complex topic, the above ALL needs to be in order, but items like ZMA, GABA, Glycine, Melatonin, L-Dopa can all help. This needs to be individualized on a case-by case basis by someone familiar with these supplements.
Mike Kesthely has been involved in athletics his entire life, ranging from years playing box lacrosse, martial arts, rock climbing, mountain biking and Crossfit. He has worked as a Firefighter/Paramedic for the Lethbridge Fire Dept since 2000, and is the past Health & Fitness Coordinator for the department. His passion lies with nutrition & functional lab analysis, and improving client performance, health and longevity through dietary augmentation. Mike can be reached through his website Dynamic Nutrition.
Current Certifications/Education Includes:
- Former lead instructor for the OPT CCP Nutrition Level 1 in Scottsdale, AZ, 2011-2014
- Former trainer with Crossfit Lethbridge.
- Optimum Performance Training Certified Coaching Program Nutrition, Level-1, under James Fitzgerald and Mat Lalonde, PhD
- Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
- Precision Nutrition certified through Dr. John Berardi
- Crossfit Nutrition certified under Robb Wolf
- Crossfit Trainer, Level-1 certified
- Functional Movement Screen under Tim Takahashi, M.Kin., CAT(C), CEP, CK, CSS
Just incorporating one of these recommendations into your routine will make a difference. It doesn’t have to take hours of your time to be effective. Your body works hard for you. Take some time to rest and recover. You deserve it.
What is your favorite way to recover? What do you need to work on?