I am pleased at the large number of Jamaicans of every age, class and sex now involved in various sports and physical activities as I consider exercise to be one of what I call “The four Pillars of Wellness”.
Exercise by its very nature is stressful to the body so recovery and repair to traumatised muscles, tissues, and joints, the replacement of nutrients, and the removal of wastes like lactic acid is essential. Many athletes seem reluctant to give recovery its due, perhaps from the misguided thinking that more work is always good. But in reality, recovery is an integral component of the process of athletic training and overall fitness.
Recovery is the time when the body adapts to the eustress of physical training by developing new muscle mass and restoring the body’s glycogen levels. The period directly following an intense workout is particularly important for athletic training. During this time, the body is especially drained and vulnerable to injury and exhaustion.
Recovery has four basic parts:
Diet: The recovery diet should be rich in two macronutrients: lean protein and complex carbohydrates. For meals immediately following a workout, consume carbohydrates and protein together, as the carbohydrates increase protein absorption.
The following dietary suggestions reflect the need to combine foods for recovery:
This is the nutrient that repairs damaged and exhausted tissues like muscles. Protein is broken down by digestion into amino-acids. The amount of amino acids circulating in the blood after exercise is critical for muscle recovery. Providing the body with ample amounts of easily digested protein within 30 minutes after exercise has been shown to dramatically improve recovery time and muscle repair.
Soy and whey protein shakes: I strongly recommend protein shakes as a convenient and effective post workout snack/meal.
In addition to post workout protein, the athlete and fitness enthusiast need optimal daily intakes of protein. The formula experts use to estimate the athletes requirement of protein is 1gm of protein per pound of lean body mass. Wellness coaches are available who can do that calculation for you.
Healthy protein choices include: Fish - salmon, tuna, sardines, other white fish like snapper, soy milk, eggs, beans, peas, nuts and lean cuts of organic chicken. Fish, nuts and seeds in particular are also good sources of the important omega 3 fatty acids which reduce muscle soreness and inflammation of joints.
While protein is needed for repair, carbohydrates are the energy foods. Simple carbohydrates like the sugars are useful just before exercise to provide instant energy. Fruits and natural fruit juices are the best sources of this.
At meal time complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, ground provisions brown rice and vegetables are excellent choices which replenish the glycogen stored in muscles to provide energy.
Sleep: Most people do not get enough deep, restorative sleep. This is a problem for the sedentary office worker who wants to be more alert; it’s a crisis for the finely tuned athlete hoping to excel during competition. Active athletes should get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
Stretching: Stretching before and after workouts prevents injury, but it is most beneficial when muscles are warm after a heavy exercise program. Stretching lengthens muscle fibers, strengthening them and making them more amenable to the sudden flexion and contraction of power surges in major sports. It also improves circulation and the function of the lymphatic system.
Inactivity: Rest and inactivity – simply refraining from athletic training and letting your body be idle – is essential to effective recovery, especially injury prevention. Many athletes injure themselves in training because they over-train and fail to pay attention to the signals their bodies send: sore muscles, exhaustion, tightness, or joint pain, among others.
Deep Muscle Work: Many exercise programs recommend recovery weeks after three or four weeks of rigorous strength and cardiovascular training. These recovery weeks are not idle; they include workouts that engage the body’s aerobic and anaerobic systems without pushing the muscles toward injury. The lighter athletic activity also accelerates the removal of lactic acid from tissues due to increase blood flow. Very effective recovery disciplines include core work, yoga, and deep stretching.