“You don’t get stronger, faster and fitter working out… you get stronger, faster and fitter RECOVERING from working out.” Mark Sisson – Paleo & Primal Expert
Stu: This is a great quote above and couldn’t be more true. You’ve thrown everything you have into a workout but do you ‘really’ know how to maximise recovery? Effective post workout recovery is critical and requires a strategic approach from a multitude of angles. The following article outlines the key principles that will allow you to truly crush it.
Note: This is a seriously in-depth article, so you are better off bookmarking it if you need to read it in intervals.
Guy: I remember sitting down for coffee with the exceptional Australian CrossFit athlete Chad Mackay. At 6’ 2” and with a 100kg/220lbs frame that he could throw around like a nimble gymnast (and a 130kg Snatch for good measure), it was safe to say he was meticulous in his daily approach to training and recovery and he knew his stuff!
So what was his secret? Drum roll please…
“It’s all about the one percenters” he said. No stone is left unturned, and if you can achieve one percent gains in many areas of your training and post workout strategies you can collectively make a big difference with considerable gains over time.
Those words resonated with me and made perfect sense. 1% improvement seems like no big deal, but when you have ten of them you could be up for 10%. Now that’s worth going after.
This post is an accumulation of those one percenters that you can bring in over time. Myself and Stu over the last five years have been interviewing (and making available free on our podcast) some of the leading experts in their field. These include biochemists, biologists, neuroscientists, longevity experts, movement specialists and professional athletes to name a few. We’ve taken that information and distilled it down into this digestible (but rather large) post that should keep your brain well fed for a while 🙂 And to top it off, we’ve brought in a naturopath and nutritionist for good measure!
Now bear in mind that not one size fits all. There will be those reading this who want to gain weight, those who want to lose weight, those whose training demands may be greater than others, genetics, age… get the idea? But what I’ll say is there are huge nuggets of wisdom here and if you are not implementing some of them, then they are totally worth exploring.
We’ve dissected them into four categories in no particular order:
- Rest & Repair
1. Nutrition – Your CrossFit Recovery Starts Here
Stu: Every day I wander down to the ocean to start my day with a swim, it’s the best way that I’ve found to wake up and I always make time for it. During my walk to the beach I pass countless bootcamps, joggers, cyclists and training groups sweating their stuff before work. It’s the scene afterwards that intrigues me and a point that I really want to raise as we’re focussing on recovery right now.
The local cafe on the beach is awash with folk in their fitness gear slurping fluro juices, litres of coffee and pastries galore. I passed a mate recently who was enjoying a breakfast muffin with a large OJ and stopped to have a quick chat. He always quizzes me on nutrition so I took the opportunity to ask him about his post-workout breakfast. His reply was short, simple and self assured… “I can eat what I want because I’ve just flogged myself in a workout”.
Let me explain why this is NOT the case…
In order to provide the body with the best chance of recovery we need to supply it with the right raw materials. Exercise is a form of stress on the body (good stress), it shocks our body into becoming more resilient, creates stronger muscles, is good for our bones and also beneficial for a myriad of biological processes like enhanced metabolism for example. However, once we have finished stressing our body with a workout we want to concentrate on minimising the stress as long-term stress creates something that we really want to avoid. Can you guess what it it?…
… It’s called ‘Inflammation’.
Let’s call upon a health expert to explain about inflammation as we really do want to understand this one. Enter Gary Fettke, Senior Lecturer at the University of Tasmania, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Author and Public Speaker.
“Well, inflammation, the simplest thing is when, if you bruise yourself or if you’ve got a cold or any infection in your body, your body’s reacts and it becomes inflamed. So, if you happened to scratch yourself and you got an infection on your arm, let’s say it gets red and angry and swollen, well, that’s what we recognise as “acute inflammation.”
“But if you talk about chronic inflammation, that’s just a low-grade irritant which just keeps hammering away at you slowly but surely. And this provokes a whole lot of immune responses right across the body. And that’s the chronic inflammation is the one which is related, I think, to our diet.”
“What my simple message is: the combination of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and polyunsaturated oils is the root cause of inflammation. And when you break it down from that, sugar will make you hungry, processed carbohydrates will make you fat, and the polyunsaturated oils like the margarines will give you an inflamed mini combination that creates modern disease”.
|“The combination of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and polyunsaturated oils is the root cause of inflammation.” Gary Fettke – Orthopaedic Surgeon, Author & Public Speaker|
Think about that for a moment, a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and manmade polyunsaturated oils (like vegetable oils) is the root cause of inflammation. How does that stack up to my mates breakfast of a large OJ (lots of sugar) and a breakfast muffin (processed carbohydrates including vegetable oils)? Hardly the best building blocks for your body to do it’s thing after your workout, wouldn’t you say?
CrossFit in particular has this nailed in their philosophy on food. They recommend “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar”. This is a great place to start as it focusses on whole foods, foods without labels, foods with one ingredient, foods that will truly and deeply nourish our body.
So how do we quickly and simply apply this knowledge to our lives and how should we eat if our workouts are weight loss or muscle focussed? It’s time for me to pass the baton to Guy as I’d like to call upon his previous experience as a fitness trainer, he’s seen many a person get this wrong and I mean very wrong…
Guy: When it comes to recovery, I would always tell people there’s the long-term nutritional approach and then a short-term approach with both being needed.
The Long-Term Nutritional Approach
The long-term recovery is a seven days a week approach. It doesn’t stop on Friday night and begin Monday morning. How you fuel yourself in the long-term is what’s going to set up your foundation and ability to recover with the gains you are after. Removing the inflammatory foods out of your diet (as mentioned above) as best as possible is a great place to start. Eating nutrient dense whole foods every day is crucial! One of the biggest downfalls I would constantly see is that people would be utterly unprepared. They get caught out and snack on convenient garbage (inflammatory foods).
With a little preparation you can smash the long-term nutritional approach. Incorporating whole foods such as eggs, nuts, fruit, veggies and protein will set you up to conquer your goals. If you’re short on time but still want to eliminate poor quality food from your diet then whole food shakes and smoothies make a great option. A liquid meal is quick and easy and will allow you to replace meals (if that’s your goal) or squeeze in extra meals with very little prep.
Blatant Plug (come on, we’re allowed, we wrote the post): This is why our 180 Superfood Protein Blend is so successful as it solves a genuine problem with great results. It takes 2 minutes to make a 180 Superfood smoothie and carry it with you or have for breakfast. It prevents you from being caught out, you can be creative with the recipe and you know EXACTLY what’s going in it, giving you the ability to eat clean and avoid the garbage (You can listen to how other CrossFitters use 180 here).
The other key component that I would emphasise to my clients is that you have to understand and figure out your own individual carbohydrate tolerance. I don’t care whether you’re paleo, vegan, keto or a breatharian, knowing your individual carbohydrate sweet spot is essential for long term recovery, gains and overall health. Some people can simply tolerate more carbohydrates than others (don’t you hate that?), it ultimately comes down to our genetic make-up.
Ensure that you are eating smarter carbs that deeply nourish your body, ie. sweet potatoes, fruit, starchy/green leafy vegetables over breads, pastas and convenience foods. Play with the amount a little and see how you feel, perform and recover.
The Short-Term Nutritional Approach
So you’ve just finished a workout and pushed your body to the limit, so now what? There are many schools of thought when it comes to the post recovery window. It is my belief though, if you are not implementing the long-term nutritional approach as I mentioned above, the short-term recovery windows will produce far less benefits. If you have got your long-term game plan in check, these are the other factors you have to determine for maximum goal achievement.
I found most clients I worked with fell into five categories for the reasons why they workout:
- Weight Loss – Safe to say the majority wanted to burn fat improve muscle tone
- Muscle Gain – Males mainly but also females who wanted to increase muscle mass (and also experience fat loss)
- Maintenance/Health – They are happy with their physique, they enjoy exercise, it enhances their health.
- Competitive Sports Performance – Looking to improve ability
- Rehabilitation from Injury or Sickness – Looking to recover
Be honest with yourself, which one are you? From my experience within CrossFit, the high percentage of peoples main goals were fat loss and muscle gain. As you can see, all the goals I’ve listed are very different and require different approaches that you could probably write a whole book about!
Post Recovery – Remember, the main results will come from what you eat each day, not just what you eat after your WOD. If you’ve just smashed yourself in the workout and you’re wiped out on the floor, it usually means your glycogen stores will be depleted from your muscles. This is your best window for carbohydrate to help replenish muscle recovery. It could be as simple as a banana and protein smoothie which is easy to digest. The general rule of thumb though is to consume something within 30 minutes of your workout (especially if it’s really intense).
If you’re prepared it may be a well balanced carb/protein/fat meal. This could be as simple as a big bowl of colourful salad with 1/2 a chopped sweet potato (non-inflammatory carbs), diced chicken (protein) smothered in olive oil (fat). Many people also have a post-workout snack to tie them over until their main meal.
Here are some examples of the do’s and don’ts of what post-recovery snack/food looks like, which ones do you consume?
- High street protein bar (or protein shake) with cheap artificial ingredients, chemical sweeteners/flavourings, sugars and vegetable oils
- Carbohydrate gels and goos
- Fancy flavoured fluro sports drink (usually high in sugar or chemical sweeteners)
- Banana (whole food carbohydrate source)
- 1-2 boiled eggs (quality whole food fat + protein)
- Chemical free protein shake/smoothie
- Water, pinch of himalayan rock salt & 1/2 a lemon (natures sports drink)
Want to know how elite CrossFit athletes structure their meals and post workout recovery? No problem! Check out the examples below, as they are living examples of ‘You are what you eat’.
Geek Speak: Something to think about; when you eat carbohydrate you elevate blood sugar and your body produces the hormone ‘insulin’ to regulate your blood sugars. Whilst the body is producing insulin you CAN NOT BURN BODY FAT. So if your long term plan is to lose some body fat, it could well be worth delaying your post workout recovery meal for a minimum of 30 minutes as you will be delaying the insulin response, allowing body fat stores to be used. This is something you will have to self-experiment with a little, as a lot will depend on the intensity of the WOD and how you feel after. If your muscles begin to shake after your workout, you’ve depleted your glycogen stores and it’s time to refuel yourself.
And Sports Drinks?
The elite athletes we’ve spoken to generally avoid commercial sports drink. A simple and effective rehydration strategy can be as simple as water, a pinch of himalayan salt and 1/2 a lemon for taste. The salt will also help with the rehydration of the cells.
What about coconut water?
Whilst natural coconut water can be bursting with magnesium, electrolytes and goodness, it’s still fairly high in sugar. So I would only drink this post workout after an intense session. I would not be drinking it through the day.
Expert Video, CrossFit Athlete Chad Mackay – 3:30 Seconds
Discover what/how CrossFit Athlete Chad Mackay eats for athletic performance…
Take home message: Whatever you do, make sure you play the long-term nutritional approach first by removing the inflammatory foods and eating adequate amount of whole foods every day. Then (and only then) worry about your post recovery window.
Click here to access our FREE pdf poster that will help you take the pain out of cleaning up your diet. Print it out, stick in on the fridge and enjoy.
2. Supplements – The Icing On the Cake For Post Workout Recovery
Nutritionist and naturopath Lynda Griparic shares her supplement recovery strategies.
You have busted your gut in the CrossFit box. You enjoy the mental and physical challenge and lets not forget the well meaning competition between your peers. It has been months since you first began CrossFit as your preferred exercise choice and you’d like to continue this playful journey but the body and mind often feels tired, sore and raw. What do you do to counteract the notorious injuries and burn out from overtraining? Which inevitably means…gasp.. long bouts of absence from your beloved sport?
Never fear we have some solid nutritional strategies to implement which will help you recover faster, reduce inflammation, prevent damage to your tissues, improve strength and energy.
High intensity, excessive or explosive exercise along with poor exercise training often results in oxidative stress, muscle fatigue and muscle injury. It is also common to experience impaired immune system function, immune suppression, infection and excessive inflammation during the recovery period. Often we need additional support with nutritional supplements and proper preventative measures.
Here are our pick of the nutritional bunch.
Stu – Note: If you want to start a supplement regime we would advise introducing each new supplement separately and giving your body the time to adjust. See how you feel after a couple of weeks on each new supplement. If you dive in and start taking handfuls of pills and potions you may have adverse reactions that you can’t pinpoint.
“Supplementation with magnesium can help improve muscular strength and muscle metabolism.” I’m sure that you’ve heard about the benefits of this supplement as it sits at the top of most peoples must-haves. Its benefits include everything from energising our bodies, helping muscles recover to promoting better sleep, who wouldn’t want that 🙂
Geek Speak: Magnesium is either a structural cofactor or is responsible for activating over 300 metabolic reactions in the body. It is essential in many processes including protein synthesis, fatty acid oxidation and energy production and storage. Around 95% of magnesium within cells are associated with and essential for cellular energy production and storage. This is mostly due to their association with ATP or ADP (cellular forms of energy), their associated enzymes; their role in glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. Magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesaemia) in muscles are common in those who regularly exercise, due to increased use and demand, increased loss of magnesium through urine and sweat and poor dietary intake of magnesium. In terms of absorption and use, Magnesium Bisglycinate is the better choice of supplemental magnesium. Magnesium Bisglycinate is simply magnesium that has been bound to glycine molecules. Glycine is the smallest amino acid and as a general rule, amino acid chelates offer the best delivery of minerals within the body.
Benefits of Magnesium
- Reduces muscle recovery time
- Promotes better sleep
- Enhanced energy production
- Reduces muscle cramps & spasms
- Skeletal and hormonal effects of magnesium deficiency.
- The role of magnesium in the generation and therapy of benign muscle cramps.
- Magnesium, zinc, and chromium nutriture and physical activity.
- Bioavailability of magnesium diglycinate vs magnesium oxide in patients with ileal resection.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral which contributes to growth, development, wound healing and immune function amongst many other things. It’s one of our favourite supplements for CrossFit recovery and zinc deficiency is common amongst all ages so well worth further investigation.
It is an antioxidant that helps to neutralise and remove free radicals from the body which cause inflammation and damage to cells. Even a mild deficiency in zinc can contribute to delayed healing, low testosterone, low muscle mass and recurrent infections.
Geek Speak: Zinc is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymes influencing various organ functions. Prolonged bouts of exercise and heavy training schedules can result in immune system suppression. A suppressed immune system can increase your risk of microbial infections. It decreases the number of white blood cells (T-helper1 lymphocytes) available to attack bacteria, viruses, fungi and cancer cells. Zinc is critical for healthy immune system function. Many factors contribute to poor absorption and deficiency of zinc such as reduced dietary intake, high alcohol and /or high sugar intake (increases Zn excretion). Others factors include iron supplementation and toxic levels of cadmium, gastrointestinal tract abnormalities, abnormalities in zinc transport, age, a high phytate diet (found in some grains and legumes) and use of the oral contraceptive pill.
Benefits of Zinc
- Powerful antioxidant
- Supports strength, performance & recovery
- Boosts immune system
- Assists wound healing & repair
- Magnesium, zinc, and chromium nutriture and physical activity
- Marginal zinc deficiency negatively affects recovery from muscle injury in mice
Co Enzyme Q10 (CoQ-10 for Short)
CoQ-10 is a fat-soluble compound primarily made by the body. It exists in all cells and supports sports performance, improving stamina, endurance and exercise recovery. In aerobic energy production, CoQ10 is vital.
A study has shown that 94% of athletes who supplemented with CoQ-10 felt they had improvement in performance and recovery time. Rich sources of CoQ10 are found in meat, poultry, fish and nuts. Modest amounts are found in fruits, vegetables, eggs, and dairy products. However… Most people consume less than 10 mg/d daily. Around 14-32% of coenzyme Q10 levels are decreased in food by frying. Huge portions of food is required to provide only 30 milligrams of Coenzyme Q-10.
Geek Speak: CoQ-10 is involved in the transferring of electrons within the Electron Transport Chain and hence the production of energy (ATP). CoQ-10 influences the health and quality of cell membranes and DNA and stimulates cell growth and inhibits cell death. The form of Co-Q10 is important as its absorption into tissues (plasma, skeletal tissue etc) is often slow and limited. CoQ10 is highly susceptible to oxidation, thermal decomposition and photo-degeneration. Co Q10 is soluble in fat, therefore the absorption of supplemental CoQ10 is improved if taken with a fatty meal or mixed with a lipid carrier such as VESIsorb. In one study it was reported that only about 2–3% of orally-administered CoQ10 was absorbed… got it 🙂
Benefits of CoQ-10
- Enhanced energy production
- Improves aerobic power
- Aids recovery after exercise
- Powerful antioxidant
- Pain reduction
- Effects of acute and 14-day coenzyme Q10 supplementation on exercise performance in both trained and untrained individuals
Fish Oil (Commonly Referred to as Omega 3’s)
I guess if you’ve immersed yourself in CrossFit or any other form of exercise you’ve probably heard the terms Omega 3 or fish oil. In a nutshell, fish oil supplementation has been shown to improve immune system function and and reduce the risk of infection due to immunodeficiency post exercise.
Studies (1) have shown that heart rate recovery is also improved by fish oil intake post exercise which leads to a more efficient heart function. However… Not all fish oil supplements are the same: Lower-grade fish oil supplements can be contaminated with heavy metals, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), or other toxins. Which are inflammatory to the body and mind. Choose your fish oil wisely and from reputable brands. I generally avoid bulk buy, cheap fish oil brands.
Geek Speak: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the major omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, reduce the inflammatory response caused by exercise as well as decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and increase the rate of recovery. Fish oil consumption has been shown to increase effectiveness of muscle oxygen uptake and therefore resistance to muscle fatigue. It has also shown to reduce inflammatory markers and improve lung function before and after exercise.
Benefits of fish oil
- Immune system
- Inflammation & muscle soreness
- Resistance to muscle fatigue
- Body composition & heart health
- Reduced exercise induced asthma
- Intrinsic heart rate recovery after dynamic exercise is improved with an increased omega-3 index in healthy males
- Effect of aerobic exercise and fish oil supplements on plasma levels of inflammatory indexes in mice
- Dietary fish oil reduces skeletal muscle oxygen consumption
- Protective effect of fish oil supplementation on exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in asthma.
- Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Glutamine will be your friend if you experience muscle soreness after a workout (like most of us do). It has been shown to quicken recovery rate and reduce muscle soreness particularly after eccentric exercise where you push your muscles beyond their normal point of failure.
Glutamine protects the body against oxidative stress, muscle fatigue and muscle injury which is often associated with high intensity, excessive or explosive exercise training. Note: Glutamine comes in two forms, L-Glutamine which is derived from vegetables and Glutamine which is synthetic.
Geek Speak: Periods of heavy training and prolonged exercise often results in a decrease in plasma glutamine concentration. This deficiency has been associated with impaired immune system function and increased risk of infection. Glutamine supplementation can help counteract these negative side effects. Glutamine is anti-inflammatory and helps to reduce intestinal permeability (leaky gut) that can be induced by exercise.
Benefits of glutamine
- Recovery and muscles soreness
- Assists leaky gut
- Supports immune system
- The Influence of Oral L-Glutamine Supplementation on Muscle Strength Recovery and Soreness
- Amino acid supplementation and impact on immune function in the context of exercise
- The effects of acute oral glutamine supplementation on exercise-induced gastrointestinal permeability
- Dosing and efficacy of glutamine supplementation in human exercise and sport training
Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate
Most of us focus on building lean muscle and burning fat but what about joint and connective health? Collagen hydrolysate has been shown to have a anabolic (growth promoting) effect on cartilage tissue and can reduce joint pain and as a result improve overall sports performance.
My favourite ways to get collagen are via homemade bone broths and supplementation.
Geek Speak: Exercise can affect the extracellular matrix (ECM) of muscle, tendon and ligaments. ECM provides structural and biochemical support. Daily intake of collagen for up to 6 weeks has been shown to enhance resilience to stress following resistance exercise and improve biochemical markers of connective and skeletal muscle tissue.
Benefits of Collagen
- Connective & skeletal muscle support
- Promotes cartilage growth
- Reduces joint pain
- Effects of Collagen on connective tissue protection and functional recovery from exercise
- 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
BCAAs have been shown to benefit recovery post-training, either from muscle damage or fatigue.
From the nine “Essential” amino acids three of these are the branched chain amino acids; L-valine, L-leucine and L-isoleucine. BCAA’s are mostly found in protein rich foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and cheese.
Geek Speak: Oxidative stress is associated with chronic inflammation and skeletal muscle wasting. BCAA along with other sulphur-containing amino acids, such L-taurine has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses and the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and muscle damage created by strenuous exhaustive exercise. 100mg/kg body weight of BCAA supplementation has been shown to delay onset muscle soreness (DOMS) prior to resistance squat exercise. BCAA supplementation has been shown to reduce the drop in plasma L-glutamine concentration and also reduce suppression of the immune system caused by exercise.
Benefits of BCAAs
- Reducing inflammation and muscle soreness
- Supports the immune system after exercise
Most of us would have heard of the benefits of supplementing with protein after exercise with whey protein being the most advertised. Whey proteins are rapidly digested and absorbed and have an amino acid profile that is very similar to that found in skeletal muscles.
Whey contains up to 26% of branch chain amino acids (BCAA), plus L-arginine, L-lysine and L-glutamine – see the benefits of BCAAs above. However… Not all whey protein supplements are created equal: Many of the high street bought protein supplements contain added fillers, thickeners and artificial sweeteners to name but a few suspect ingredients. Always read the label, if you don’t recognise the ingredients then there’s a good chance that your body won’t either. Note: We favour Whey Protein Isolate as most of lactose has been removed which is easier on the stomach for those with dairy intolerance’s/sensitivities.
Geek Speak: Whey protein contains the BCAA Leucine, the most anabolic (growth promoting) amino acid, and Cysteine has been shown to help boost levels of the cellular antioxidant Glutathione. Glutathione is an important antioxidant that helps prevent the inflammation and oxidative damage to cells caused by exercise. Whey protein supports the immune system by maintaining the metabolic processes (redox: electron status) in immune cells.
Benefits of Whey Protein
- Reduces inflammation
- Supports immune system
- Signaling Pathways and Molecular Mechanisms through which Branched-Chain Amino Acids
- Amino acid supplementation and impact on immune function in the context of exercise
- Supplement geek speak by Naturopath/Nutritionist Lynda Griparic
Expert Video, CrossFit Athlete Christmas Abbott: 6:36 Seconds
Discover what/how CrossFit Athlete Christmas Abbott supplements for athletic performance…
3. Rest & Repair – Overlooked & Underplayed
Guy: So how do we get true whole-body rejuvenation? Ultimately you want to be making long-term gains and not short-term regressions. I like to think of the mind and body as a whole and both need down time. We all pretty much agree at 180 Nutrition that sleep is probably the most essential component when it comes to recovery. If your sleep is shot, then you could be doing everything else in this article correctly and still go backwards… It’s that important!
But before we touch on some fantastic sleep strategies, I want to touch on a few other components that you many not have thought of.
How You Approach Your Workout to Maximise Recovery
In a recent podcast interview with movement specialist and strength and conditioning coach Keegan Smith, we asked him his thoughts and he raised some really crucial points:
“That emotional side of your training is massively underrated and under-recognised. In terms of recovery, that is probably one of the biggest things that, the less emotion you put into your training, the more likely you’re going to be able to repeat regularly. It means the emotion comes in once every month, once every couple of months, or one set, or one rep within a session but, not every set, every rep; 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time feeling high, high stress. Especially, on the strength loads. That’s definitely what’s going to make the biggest difference.
I do believe that this is a really, really powerful way to start getting emotional control and deeper physiological control. The training itself, if you treat it as that, it’s going to teach you as well. If you say, “Yeah, I’m just going to train until the point where it feels as though I’m starting to lose control a little bit and then, ill back off from there.” At that point, it’ll continue to shift upwards. You’ve got your comfort zone and that comfort zone becomes very small when we don’t … when we never stress ourselves and when we don’t challenge ourselves so, we need stress. It’s a big misconception to avoid stress. If you’re trying to avoid stress, you’re probably going to end up in chronic fatigue and feeling really bad. We need the stress but, we need to gradually increase our tolerance to that stress, and our bodies ability to adapt to it, and our minds ability to adapt to it, to tolerate it. With that, we can definitely push a lot further.”
What’s the take home message here? Overcooking your training will hamper recovery and effect the long term. Push the body when necessary, but keep the emotion out of it and know when to back off.
Stu: Listen very carefully as this is really important… without ‘quality sleep’ your body can’t fully recover from exercise, it’s that simple. Poor sleep deprives us from the critical process like cellular growth, muscle repair, detoxification, and memory consolidation, and we all want these, right? If overall health were defined as pillars supporting a house (i.e. nutrition, exercise, mindset etc.), good quality sleep would be the most critical pillar, it’s that important.
Luckily for you we’ve had the privilege of connecting with the world’s best experts in all areas of human performance and the sleep strategies below outline the most beneficial areas for improved shut-eye.
The Fundamentals of Good Sleep – Start Here
These are the points that you want to cover before you experiment with the specific strategies below, they may seem like basics but they are all vital. Any one of these 5 points could be holding you back from accessing the crucial repair processes that we outlined above. They are (in no particular order)…
- Light: Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Can’t see your hand in front of your face? Perfect.
- Noise: Wear earplugs if you are a light sleeper, yes I know they’re uncomfortable but you’ll get used to them, you really will.
- Temperature: Keep your room cool for optimal sleep. How cool? 65 degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number (18 degrees Celsius).
- Comfort: Replace an old tired or worn mattress. That goes for your pillows too.
- Stimulants: Ditch the coffee and alcohol after midday. You may feel that a vino before bed relaxes you but it inhibits your ability to access the deeper phases of sleep.
Strategies for ‘Getting to Sleep’
How can you possibly jump from the frantic world of social media, email, or television into a sleepy mindset? Work on creating a sleep routine so that you are calm, rested and ready to sleep. We can do this by following the the 4 simple points below:
- Zone Out: Unplug from work and social media to allow yourself to truly unwind. Listening to music or reading a book works well as it allows our ‘thinking brain’ to wind down.
- Blue Light: The light from our digital devices inhibit our sleep hormone ‘melatonin’. You can counteract this by wearing blue-blocking glasses, installing f.lux on your devices or turning them off 2 hours before sleep.
- Supplements: Magnesium is one of the most powerful relaxation minerals around and can really help with sleep. Try epsom salt baths or capsules.
- Exercise: Avoid vigorous exercise 2-3 hours before sleep as this can elevate our stress hormone ‘cortisol’ making us feel tired by wired at bedtime.
Strategies for ‘Staying asleep’
Many of us have no issue getting to sleep but rarely sleep through the night without stirring. Try the strategies below if you are waking up frequently throughout the night.
- Hormones: Elevated levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) may be behind sleeping issues. Work on reducing stress through practices like meditation and yoga and move exercise to the A.M.
- Movement: Make a conscious effort to move each day as it can be extremely beneficial in providing quality sleep. You don’t have to hit the gym each time, simply keep moving!
- EMF: Electromagnetic fields can interfere with our sleep. Unplug electrical devices in your bedroom (yes that means your smartphone). If you use your phone as an alarm, ensure that it isn’t charging and set it to flight mode.
- Fuel: Ensure that you have eaten adequately to fuel you through the night. A balanced fat and protein dominated meal will do the trick nicely. Also lay off the alcohol as it inhibits deep sleep. If you have a fast metabolism try a spoonful of nut butter, a handful of nuts or a small piece of protein before bed to stabilise your blood sugars through the night.
Click here to access our FREE pdf poster that outlines all of the areas that we’ve covered for upgrading your sleep. Download it, print it out and stick it on the fridge and before you know it you’ll be dreaming about crushing your next workout…
That’s it, our toolkit for achieving quality sleep. We suggest trying one strategy at a time and gauge its success, once it’s working for you continue to tweak until you find your sweet spot.
We asked Trigger Point and mobility specialist Brendan Tuck to share a few words of wisdom when it come to mobility and recovery…
If you have been training CrossFit for a while, you’ll know that there is a great emphasis on mobility (mobility can be defined as the range of motion that a joint or a series of joints move through). You will soon notice that the guys who turn up early and spend half an hour before the WOD (workout of the day) working on their mobility will generally excel over time.
Optimal range of motion (ROM) enables an athlete, the ability to set up for correct body positioning required for an exercise. Lets just say that you have poor shoulder mobility and attempt to perform an overhead squat with load. If you don’t have the required shoulder mobility, the ribs will flare (attempting to find the required ROM) and the force will be transmitted to the lumbar spine. Worst case scenario being that of a herniated disc.
To increase ROM or mobility, we first look at performing some form of “soft tissue work”.
Soft tissue work can either be a massage or self-myofascial release (SMR). SMR is typically performed using a foam roller, (my favourite is Trigger Points “Grid”). The “Grid” is the best option to use for the beginner for mysofascial release. The next level, once you’ve adapted to soft tissue work, is “deep tissue” release using again, Trigger Points TP Massage Balls, Footballer and Quadballer. These tools enable the athlete to go deeper into specific targeted muscles. Be warned, these are not for the first timer as they can be quite discomforting, causing pain and discomfort. Most people think they need to smash the musculature for a release, however this is quite the opposite. You need to be relaxed and performing deep-belly breathing for self-myofasical release to work. Have a think about the last time you had a massage. The massage therapist told you to ‘relax’ and not tense up. This allows the parasympathetic nervous system to relax and the enable the tools to perform their job.
Releasing stuck tissue and improving movement is crucial to long-term recovery and hitting your personal goals.
So how can myofascial release improve recovery?
Overall blood circulation improves as you work on releasing stuck areas of connective tissue. This improves nutrient and oxygen supply to these areas along with flushing out metabolic waste after a workout. A study by MacDonald (No, not the burger chain… Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2014) demonstrated that foam rolling after intense exercise lead to decreased muscle soreness, increased ROM, increased muscle activation, and increased vertical jump.
Take away… add foam rolling to your post-activity routine to reduce soreness & stiffness, and to maintain your power
Myofascial release has been shown to improve the quality of your sleep, which is critical for better recovery (see sleep section).
Reduce Pain & Tension
Even though the body is designed to move every day, our modern day lifestyles don’t encourage much movement. Many spend their day hunched over a desk or in their car. Naturally this can lead to all sorts of muscular and postural problems with the muscles becoming short, tight and stiff. By working on key areas throughout the body, you will increase tissue tolerance, restore length-tension relationships, increase joint ROM, increase force output and overall efficiency of movement. If done on a regular basis, this will increase overall well-being, posture and outlook. This will have a direct effect on your attitude towards everything else that is mentioned in this post.
Once we have completed SMR, we now need to take advantage of the increased ROM, by performing mobility exercises, but this is another blog post!
Guy: I got addicted to this! I never once walked away from a class and said ‘boy I really regretted that’. I believe everyone could benefit from doing yin yoga at least once a week. Why? Because it truly helps you relieve the mental stress as well as the physical.
In Wikipedia’s own words: Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with poses that are held for longer periods of time — five minutes or more per pose is typical.
Yin yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues of the body—the tendons, fascia, and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. A more meditative approach to yoga, yin aims at cultivating awareness of inner silence, and bringing to light a universal, interconnecting quality.
If you are pushing the body on a regular basis (yang), then I highly recommend you support it with a little Yin. And the bonus is that you really improve your mobility.
Expert Video, Kelly Starrett: 5:58 Seconds
We ask founder of Mobility WOD, Kelly Starrett his thoughts on icing injuries to speed up recovery, yes/no? We also discuss cold water immersion and the timing of when to do it for maximum recovery. You can view the full interview here.
Breath Work & Ice-Bath Experimentation
Guy: We had the pleasure of interviewing Wim Hof, aka ‘The Iceman’. Some of his incredible accomplishments include (he holds 26 world records);
- Completing a full marathon (42.195 km), above the arctic circle in Finland, in temperatures close to −20 °C dressed in nothing but shorts!
- Holds the ice endurance record in by standing fully immersed in ice for 1 hour and 52 minutes and 42 seconds.
It would be easy to think that the guy has completely lost his mind, but after getting to know Wim, his intention has a much deeper and profound message for all of us. If CrossFit Endurance athlete Brian Mackenzie and big wave surfer Laird Hamilton are embracing Wim’s methods, then surely it’s worth paying attention?
In a nutshell, he uses a combination of breath work and the cold to increase human potential. As Wim put is, ‘to make people happy, healthy and strong”.
Some of the suggested benefits of Wim’s work:
- Reduce Inflammation
- Burn Fat
- Enhance Athletic Performance
- Recover Faster
- Reduce Stress Levels
Self experimentation is key here. I’ve been experimenting with this for the last two months (upon writing) and I’m noticing a difference. Muscle soreness is improving, my energy first thing in the morning is improving, I fall asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow, and strangely enough gut digestion seems to be improving (go figure!)
To compliment Wim’s breath work techniques I’m currently experimenting with ice baths 3-4 times a week with an average water temperature of 8°C (46°F) and have built up to 15-20 duration. I will complete 3-4 rounds of breath work before taking the plunge.
If you’ve ever wandered past the athlete’s village at the CrossFit Regional Games you may notice a long line of ice-baths. Cold water therapy really does work, it’s traditionally used in many sporting disciplines for the reasons outlined above.
The video below has Wim taking us through his breath work technique and describing the benefits which include improved recovery and sports performance to name but a few (full interview here).
Expert Video, Wim Hof ‘The Iceman’ – 4:33 seconds
4. Mindset – Weekend Warrior or CrossFit Games Competitor, Mind Matters!
Guy: I believe mindset is probably the most important component of everything we talk about if you want to supercharge your recovery, look good in the mirror or even qualify for the CrossFit Regional or World Games. Why? Because every single day of your life is made up of small choices that you make and they all lead into your future outcome.
Eg. The freedom of choice of how you structure your day. What foods you eat each day. How prepared you are with your food shopping. What attitude shows up when you do the WOD. How many hours a night you sleep, etc… If you have read the full post up until now, you will realise that all these things feed into how well you recover and then be able to back it up and do it again.
So what’s the fuel that is going to drive you to make those better choices?
You need to create and visualise a future so mouthwatering and compelling, you are going to want to jump out of bed in the morning and do whatever it takes to get there! If you do this, I guarantee that you will start to make better choices that will lead you to your ultimate goal.
Let’s discuss this in more detail, this may start to sound a bit out there but stick with us as this is backed by hard science…
The subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between thought and reality, and according to Developmental Biologist Dr Bruce Lipton, the subconscious mind rules 95% of our day. So with this in mind, don’t you think it would be a good idea to submerse yourself in outcomes you truly want and visualise it happening? By doing this you create amazing new habits that will guide you to a new and exciting future.
This is not woo woo… this is science. We’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Joe Dispenza, Dr Bruce Lipton, Dr Jeffry Fannin, Dr John Demartini who are all experts in this field and understand how truly powerful our brains are.
Let’s look at the true power of visualisation from an athletic performance perspective for a moment:
We asked New York Times bestselling author Dr. Joe Dispenza, how important the role of visualisation is when it comes to being first or second? Can you guess is answer? He said it has EVERYTHING to do with it!
The short video clip below explains the true power of visualisation and how you can apply it to your goals:
Expert Video, Dr Joe Dispenza – 3:53 seconds
In Dr Joe’s own words – “You can take a group of people and you can have them pull a spring for an hour a day for four weeks. At the end of four weeks, 30 percent increase in muscle strength. You know the physiology behind that?”…
… “Muscles will break down and they grow back bigger. Proteins change. You can take another group of people and have them close their eyes and mentally rehearse pulling that spring and saying “harder, stronger,” never lifting a finger. At the end of four weeks they have 22 percent increase in muscle strength just by THOUGHT ALONE.”
“So, the body begins to respond to the mind by mental rehearsal. When there’s a CrossFit activity and you’re doing pull ups or you’re doing cleans or whatever it is. The more the person can rehearse lifting that weight and begin to feel how much it’s going to weigh and what’s going to happen if their body wobbles and how they have to straighten it out and how they have to set themselves and you can take them through every single step. Pause. Breathe. Hold. Now exert. Come on keep exerting. And you get the person involved in it mentally; they will get their behaviours to match their intentions when they actually do the activity, because they’re loading the brain and body for the event.”
So armed with this knowledge, do you think it would be a good idea to visualise yourself with that trim and buff body, or that dress you really want to fit into, or competing against your idol at the CrossFit Games? You bet!
Strategies For Visualisation
The key for this is to make sure you FEEL and GENERATE the emotions of the outcome whilst you are visualising it, don’t just go through the motions.
Write down the goal(s) you want to achieve. Be specific and realistic. ie: I want to add 10kg/22lbs to my back squat in 8 weeks. I will raise my barbell weight by 1.25kg/2.75lbs a week. (Note: If you are struggling and your strength plateaus, you may need to readdress your recovery strategies).
Another example: I want to lose 10kg/22lbs of body fat and add 1-2kg/2.2-4.4lbs of lean muscle in 8 weeks. I will lose 1.25kg/2.2lbs of body fat each week. (Note: Again, if you are struggling and your fat loss plateaus, you may need to readdress your recovery strategies).
Pin your goals somewhere that you will see them often, by your computer or on the fridge etc. Also write them down on a small card and carry them with you. Take 5 minutes out every day and read them, visualise them and generate those feeling and emotions like you’ve already achieved it.
Do this and after a while your subconscious won’t be able to tell the difference. You will be drawn to a new you and you will begin to make the right choices along the way and supercharging your recovery!
Tip: Record & Measure For Maximum Motivation
Once you know what you want to achieve, you have to create reference points along the way of your committed timeframe and record as much information as possible. If you don’t do this, how do you know if you are making progress?
You could have a diary dedicated to the whole process. If it’s muscle gain or weight loss you’re after, break that weight down. Measure your body fat %. Calculate your muscle mass kg. Measure body girth circumferences.
Record every WOD you do or weekly heavy lifts. See how many push ups or sit ups you can do in a minute. Test yourself once a month. You could even take pictures of yourself every few weeks so you see the visual gains.
You can dig even deeper here with some goal setting tips from world renowned Human Behavioural Specialist Dr John Demartini.
Remember, to maximise recovery you have to make the right daily choices (as little as they may seem). To make the right daily choices you have to go after it and REALLY WANT IT. To really want it you need to get your mindset and the above points will help. Don’t overlook it!
Thanks for taking the time to read this article, we know you’ll get a lot out of it. As you can see, there are no quick fixes and no silver bullets. If you adjust your approach slowly with the long-term approach in mind, then little-by-little you will get the results you desire and arrive at a whole new destination.
And if you want to dig even deeper, we always recommend checking out our podcast series ‘The Health Sessions’, weekly newsletter or Facebook page which we make freely available (you’ll just have to put up with Stu’s bad jokes!). Join us as we connect with pioneering health experts across the globe to cut through the confusion around what it takes to achieve great health. We share the latest science and research on human performance to empower you with the wisdom, tools and products to live your best life.
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