Most young athletes believe that if they simply lift weights more often, they will automatically get bigger and stronger. A high-quality session followed by optimal recovery will lead to much greater adaptations than non-stop lifting. Additional ways to gain an edge over other athletes is by having the intent to recover better than them. Most young athletes, and many elite, do not eat well, sleep enough or generally think about how they can help their body feel and move better.
Recovery from a strenuous workout is not laying on the couch for two straight days playing Fortnite. A healthy lifestyle includes light to moderate physical activity every single day. Go for a hike, play a little basketball, go to the pool, ride your bike, take a long walk, etc. Light physical activity is not going to stop your body from being able to recover. Research has shown that light physical activity can actually temporarily reduce pain from DOMS (Delayed-Onset-Muscle-Soreness), which can aid recovery. Just because you aren't training does not mean you should cease all movement.
Now, let's talk about the essentials of recovery.
The four pillars of proper recovery are eating right, hydration and sufficient sleep and increased blood flow.
You eat, drink and sleep every single day. But how well you do them has an absolutely massive impact on your recovery, and when you add devices that increase blood flow in 2 to 4 hours increments the effect can be magnified 3x faster .
If you're failing in just one of the these four pillars, your recovery is going to seriously suffer. If you're coming up short in two or more, you're straight-up sabotaging your performance. And the truth is, most young athletes do not own these three pillars like they should.
If you are able to do these three things well and add the fouth, you'll be simply amazed how much better you feel and how much more you get out of your training.
A recent study found that more than 50% of American teens and children don't drink enough water, and 25% of them don't drink any water on a daily basis. The human body is roughly 60 percent water, and water plays a crucial role in almost every important bodily process. Water transports nutrients and oxygen, supports proper muscle contraction, improves joint function and fights fatigue. Being even slightly dehydrated can cause decreases in reaction time, mood and focus. The negative effects of not drinking enough water are almost too many to count, particularly for athletes.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends an intake of:
For males, that's roughly a gallon of water. If you are a larger individual, it should be more than that, and on any days you train, you should increase your water intake. Females have a slightly lower recommendation, but it's still well beyond what most people currently consume. It may take you a while to work up to these totals, but once you actually start drinking more water, you'll find it goes down easier and you crave it more often.
Sports nutrition is an entire science in and of itself, so we cannot cover it in just a couple paragraphs. However, following just a few basic food recovery rules can make a drastic difference in your diet and performance.
Protein is necessary to consume after a workout, but it does not have to be immediately after your workout. Many of the muscle-building benefits of protein intake can be achieved by consuming it before, after or during a workout, but it is important to make sure you get in 28-35 grams of protein to increase protein synthesis.
Carbohydrates are needed to replenish glycogen, but as long as your workouts are not extremely long (such as 10-plus-mile runs), their consumption doesn't necessarily need to be timed a set amount of time before your workout provided you are getting enough throughout the day.
We need to stop associating dietary fat with images of obesity, because dietary fat is not as harmful for you as we once thought. Fat is needed for insulating your organs, digesting Vitamins A, D, E and K, and is your primary energy source during low intensity activities (like reading this article). But healthy fats, like those found in foods like nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocados, olive oil, offer the most benefit.
Nutrition does not have to be complex. Anthony Kjenstad, founder of Athletic Recovery and Performance explains his take on nutrition, "If I can sum up my nutritional philosophy in a phrase it would be eat real food. Eat a ton of fruits and vegetables. Eat a wide variety of beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats and whole grains." Many people attempt to make it more complicated than that, but in reality, if your diet is mostly plants and other quality nutrient-dense foods, you will get all the nutrients your body needs to optimally perform. Teen athletes often have a difficult time consuming enough calories so worrying just about what you eat isn't enough. You also have to think about how much and how often you're eating.
It shouldn't need to be said, but insufficient sleep is an absolute killer when it comes to making gains and maintaining high performance. There are very few young athletes who sleep enough. Teenagers need roughly 8–10 hours of sleep per night, and young adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. The more you can get, the better. Want to get bigger, faster and stronger? Go to bed earlier.
An abstract presented at the 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference found that adolescent athletes who slept eight or more hours each night were 68% less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less, while a 2011 study published in SLEEP found that basketball players at Stanford University saw big improvements in sprint performance and shooting accuracy after increasing their sleep to 10 hours per night for five to seven weeks.
Hydration, nutrition and sleep are the non-negotiable pillars of recovery. In my opinion, if you don't have those dialed in, you should spend time working to address that before heavily investing in other recovery strategies.
The fourth pillar of recovery is blood flow.
For the first time data support's the existence of a positive correlation between an increase in blood flow and performance recovery between bouts of high-intensity exercise. As a practical consideration, this effect can be obtained by using neuromuscular electrical stimulation-induced blood flow since this passive, simple strategy could be easily applied to shorten recovery rates from 72-28 hours if you are doing the first three pillars well.
Many athletes are using devices like Normatec and Recovery pump in to increase blood. Disadvantages to these technologies are cost, convenience and the time you can a lot to sitting in a device that does not allow movement.
With our youth and elite athletes on the go through Travel by plane, train or bus or the desire of the Athletic Trainer to get the athlete out of the training room similar technologies like the firefly™ are giving the an equal or GREATER blood flow effect than sequential compression devices and allowing athletes to maximize the effect that blood flow has on recovery all for a little more than $1/hour for recovery.
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