Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How To Optimize Your Recovery

Now To Fix This.

1. The act, process, duration, or an instance of recovering.
2. A return to a normal condition.
3. Something gained or restored in recovering.
All of these definition pretty much fit the role of what happens AFTER we work out. Why is this important? Well, think of it this way: We spend roughly 1 hour working out, but 23 hours recovering. That's 4% vs 96% of our day.  Personally, I'd say recovery should be on everyone's mind a LOT more.  We, as Crossfitters, do a fine job of demolishing ourselves on a near-daily basis, but we should be even more cognizant of how to recover properly.  So we can do it again.  :)

Caveat Lector: While many of these recovery modalities have direct carry-over to any training goals, what I'm emphasizing here is performance.  Want to be a Crossfit Rockstar?  Then giving a shit about body composition has no place.  It's about faster and stronger.  So keep that in mind, especially in the PWO nutrition point.

I'm going to hit on a few very basic tips on optimizing recovery:

 Get Some.  Get LOTS


I can't even begin to place enough emphasis on this; there's a reason sleep is #1 on every single recovery list  from guys like Dan John to Robb Wolf to James Fitzgerald to John Berardi.  If sleep is not adequate, nothing, and I mean NOTHING else you do will matter.  No amount of supplementation, nutrition, or bizarre techniques will take the place of sleep.  Why does it matter so much?

   The actually process of sleep and athletic recovery goes far beyond both my understanding and the scope of this article,  but it involves far more than "just rest".  Hormonal regulation and secretion of cortisol, melatonin, serotonin, dopamine, 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 15 years of personal experience, I can tell you the effects are acute and drastic.  Couple HIIT-type training + sleep debt, and you massively and chronically spike your cortisol levels; this leads to an accelerated phase of over-reaching, possibly overtraining (there's a difference), and potential adrenal fatigue.

How do we fix this?  Get your 8 hours.  In fact, shoot for 9.  One of the best books I've ever read on the importance of sleep is called Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival by T.S Wiley. Treat your sleep just like your Paleo diet: Think caveman. Where you sleep should be as dark and cool as a cave. Get black-out blinds. Get to bed BEFORE 10pm.  TV is shit, and whatever porn you're surfing on the computer will be there tomorrow.  Lower the temperature. Turn your clock away from your face.  Our DNA still thinks it's 2 million B.C.  When that sun goes down, our bodies are programmed to shut down, too.  If you're smart, you eat like a caveman.  Shouldn't you sleep like one, too?

PWO Carbs:  Earned, and Enjoyed.

2) PWO Nutrition

In any nutrition lecture I do, I always place a huge emphasis on PWO (post-workout) nutrition.  Why?  Because, besides sleep, there is nothing else as important for recovery.  And we can 100% control this.  In the PWO state, a multitude of things are going on, and our body is already frantically trying to return to homeostasis; two of these are increased protein synthesis to repair muscle damage, and increased insulin receptor sensitivity to enhance the speed of glycogen repletion.  Simplified?  Our body wants to fix damage and top up the gas tanks, ASAP.  And we can help this process by giving it what it needs:  Carbs and Protein!

I've always been a big fan of PWO protein shakes; they are fast, easy to make, easy to chug down, and offer both simple carbs and fast-digesting whey.  While everyone is different, a LOT of folks have a hard time crushing a 10 oz steak with a side of sweet potato and a spinach salad; HIIT (high-intensity interval training) tends to crank the sympathetic system up for quite a while, and this causes a drop in appetite.  Solution?  Blender time, baby.  I've talked about this before here.

Now any of you out there that listen to Robb Wolf's Paleolithic Solution podcast know that he pretty much demonizes "liquid food"---and with good measure, but you have to understand the context.  Jane Smith, soccer mom of 3, with goals of improving body comp and general functional work capacity, DOES NOT require a PWO shake.  Johnny Rocket, 21, 7% body fat at 180lbs, soon to be the next local MMA title holder, DOES require a PWO shake.  It's about goals.  James Fitzgerald of Optimum Performance Training has a simple kick-ass lil' formula that he uses for PWO pro and carb, based on your BF%...which is basically how carbohydrate tolerant you are:
post wod fuel male:
above 12% - 30g prot/10g carb
8-12% - 30g prot/25g carb
below 8% - 30g prot/40g carb
post wod fuel - female:
above 16% - 20g prot/10g carb
12-14% - 20g prot/20g carb
below 12% - 20g prot/30g carb
eat a balanced PFC meal 45-60 min after post wod fuel for everyone (P=protein, F=fat, C=carb)

Can't argue with anything at all in that formula; there's enough pro and carb to kick-start repair, and a solid whole food meal an hour after.

John Berardi has a similar take, albeit in larger quantities: 0.4g protein per kilogram of BW, and 0.8g/kg carbohydrate PWO.  If you take an easy round number like 75kg (165lbs), that's 30g pro and 60g carb PWO.  His protein recommendations line up with OPT's, and while his carb recommendation is higher, it's not off by much.

My advice?  Find a formula you like, try it out, and base it on how you feel and how you recover.

Of note: If you're thinking that post-workout insulin spike from the shake will be the death of your health, think again:  Insulin attenuates cortisol release.  Hard training?  Causes a huge cortisol spike, as would any form of extreme stress (I think Crossfit applies well here).  Sleep + Feed  = Low Stress, therefore low cortisol.  Half the battle is already done with these two.

Pre. Post. 24/7. 
3) Hydration

I'm not going to spend and whole lot of time here on hydration, other than to recap a post I did a while back on it:

Half your BW (pounds) in ounces of water.  I LIKE this equation.  Why?  It works, it's EASY, and it's not overboard.  So, for me, 165lbs BW * 0.5 = 82.5 ounces; so, if 1 US fluid ounce = 29.5735296 ml, then I'm drinking roughly 2400mL a day.  Yup, 2.4L

Obvious stuff:  PWO, you are 1) dehydrated, and 2) have metabolic waste from protein breakdown to H+ (acid) accumulation floating around ye' old body.  Replacing lost fluids is paramount to recovery, especially to stave off any symptoms of excess soreness of swelling, which could be the beginning of rhabdomyolysis.  Chances are you've probably dabbled in this and didn't even know it.

And it doesn't stop in the PWO period.  Come to the gym WATERED, like any cute flower would.  Dehydrated?  You'll take a major hit in performance, and you'll feel even crappier after.

Foam Rolling is HAWT recovery.
4) Back-off/Periodization/Active Recovery

I'm going to lump these all together, because essentially, they are all related: it's about doing less, so we can do more...not NOW, but LATER.
  • Back-Off Period: Everyone likes to hit the WODS with 100% intensity, 100% of the time, on a perfect 3-on, 1-off, right?  Right.  Is this feasible, from a health/power output/longevity point of view?  Hell No!  One thing that you WON'T see in standard Crossfit-esque programming is a back off period.  YOU, as the client, have to insert this time period appropriately.  LISTEN to your body.  LOOK at your numbers.  See how you FEEL when you wake/sleep/preWOD/postWOD.  These are keys telling you when to back off.  And when I mean back off, I mean lower either the frequency of your workouts, the intensity, or both.
  • Periodization: One thing that, unfortunately, Dot-Com programming completely lacks is periodization; This concept is neither new nor revolutionary, as the Eastern Bloc countries like Russia, East Germany, and Poland among others have been doing this since the early 50's.  What is it?  In simple terms, it's focusing your training on one aspect for a set amount of time, and then shifting that focus elsewhere at the end of that time frame.  It can get either as simple (like the aforementioned) or as complex as one wants, involving meso, macro, and microcycles.  An example would be Wendler's 5-3-1 powerlifting cycle---which we are incorporating right now at CFLA, albeit a simplified version.  My whole point here?  Have focus, and change it up.  It prevents stagnation and enhances long-term recovery.
  • Active Recovery: Recovery doesn't mean just sitting on your butt pounding back PWO shakes.  Getting that blood flowing, even at extremely low levels of intensity, can enhances and speed recovery, and even eliminate DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  Ever hit a WOD hard, then jump in your car are drive 5 hours?  Remember how sore you were?  Active recovery can eliminate that.  This can entail anything from therapeutic massage to foam rolling to an easy 2k row.  And for some pure fire breathing beasts, like Mikko Salo, 2009 Crossfit Games winner, well, he runs 5-6km on his days off.  I don't advise this, but you get the point:  Move, even a little, for better recovery.
Don't be This Guy.  Supplement Wisely.

5) Smart Supplementation

While I'm hesitant to actually recommend supplementation, I would be negligent not to discuss it, as there are potential pros (and cons) to supplementation.  If you ever caught a nutrition lecture from me (be it formal, or an off-the-cuff, foaming-at-the-mouth type rant), you may have seen a version of the nutrition pyramid.  Supplements?  Right at the very top, in writing so little you can barely read it.  Yup, not that important, in the grand scheme of things.  But there's a few I consider helpful:
  • ZMA - In a nutshell, this is zinc and magnesium with some B6 thrown in.  Why do I recommend it?  It hits recovery from a number of angles.  First, because of the crappy produce available and dietary habits of most folks, we get neither enough Zn or Mg.  Secondly, due to physical exertion, athletes exacerbate this deficiency.  Thirdly, Zn is involved in immunity and testosterone production.  Fourthly, Mg is involved in pretty much every cellular activity you can think of, from oxygen uptake to ATP production to skeletal muscle contraction.  Fifthly, Mg dosing causes deep tendon muscle relaxation.  Add a sprinkle of B6? Enhanced conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin.  Take it at night?  Better sleep.  'Nuff said.
  • Fish Oil - Oh, I've talked about this before.  If you come to me asking for advice on supplements, but you're NOT taking fish oil, I may just strangle you like Homer Simpson does to Bart, just to see your eyes bug out.  Read, Buy, Take.  Rinse, Repeat, and Reap the Benefits.
  • Vitamin D - While it's the prom-princess celebrity flavor of the month as far as supplements go(and with SOLID science backing it), one might initially miss the reasons why I've included it in recovery.  Lets just say thisIncreased power output, optimal testosterone levels, and enhanced immunity, anyone?  I've been meaning to do a lengthy post on everything about Vitamin D, but honestly, it's a massively overwhelming topic, and new stuff pops up everyday.  The Canadian Cancer Society recommends 2000iu, but that's still pathetically low for us pasty-white northerners.  For reference, Dr J. Cannell, vitamin D researcher, recommends 1000iu per 25lbs BW.  Yup, it's lots.  Find a dose in between, of at least 2000iu D3 daily.  I'll post more about this in the future.
Pros do it.  So can we.
6) Contrast Showers/Cryotherapy

Studies on cryotherapy and contrast therapy (using alternating hot and cold) once again go back to the Eastern Bloc countries; there's some crazy interesting studies and modalities of use in Supertraining by Siff and Verkhoshansky and Science of Sports Training by Kurz.  Without actually undertaking the insane training of a Bulgarian Oly lifter, a weekend warrior athlete can still reap the benefits from this.

Cryotherapy, aka cold therapy, utilizes the anti-inflammatory action of cold application, coupled with vasoconstriction.  In the PWO state, our muscles and tissues are highly inflamed secondary to microtrauma and acidosis.  Cryotherapy reduces the inflammation, which while essential, also causes secondary cell hypoxia, leading to increased cellular death---a secondary theory in DOMS.  The vasoconstriction is hypothesized to cause a "flushing" action, reducing the amount of metabolic waste and H+ ions (acid).  Also of note, a "restoration" of CNS (central nervous system) fatigue is purported to occur, but this is really, really hard to quantify.  But who am I to argue with a Soviet exercise physiologist?  Plunging oneself into an ice bath, like the way-too happy NFL football players above, is one method of doing this.

Now, not everyone, not even your favorite Crossfit coach (not the short fat guy using big words, the tall skinny guy using big words), has access to a ice bath post-work out.  Enter contrast showers:

Contrast showers are a much more accessible (and humane!) way to incorporate cryotherapy; also, in my opinion, it doesn't exacerbate the cortisol spike that ice baths can potentially do.

Contrast Showers, simplified, is the alternating of cold and hot for varying lengths of time.  The theory behind alternating cycles is a vasoconstriction-vasodilation action---much like the "flushing" action of cryotherapy, enhanced with the dilation of heat.  Think of it like a whole body treatment of a hot, then cold, compress for a soft tissue injury at hour 72.  There's a ton of different regimes outlined in Kurz' book, but I prefer a 30s cold, 60s hot x 5 cycles.  Depending on when I train makes the difference of what temp I end on....if I train at night (rarely), I end with hot.  Any other time, cold; this is only for the single reason that cold will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (to a degree), so I'd rather not do that before I try and sleep.  In the afternoon it's a helluva good way to re-vibe after a killer WOD.

Post your thoughts, questions, and other modalities to comments.