Athletes' lives are crazy. Between practices, games, film room sessions and everything else in between, recovery doesn't happen by accident. This means that athletes can't just let recovery happen. They have to chase it.
Most athletes don't have time for lazy days, 10-plus hours of sleep, or high-end daily superfood supplements, so using basic nutrition in everyday athletic recovery is essential.
This can be broken down into three steps:
Step 1: Build a basic nutritional foundation
Recovery can't happen if you eat poorly. Plain and simple. This is something athletes may be sick of hearing, but it really is the most important step in athletic recovery and getting the most out of each exercise session.
Implementing simple strategies like eating lean protein at every meal, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, consuming healthy fats, sticking with whole grains opposed to other grains, and eating slow digesting fibers can promote huge improvements in athletic recovery. Think of these everyday tasks as foundation builders. The bigger your base, the stronger you'll be—leading to faster recovery.
Step 2: Remove the stressors
Recovery can't happen if you're intolerant to the foods you're eating. Do you drink a whey protein shake and immediately have to run to the bathroom? Chances are you're dairy intolerant, and drinking those "muscle recovery shakes" are doing more harm than good. This doesn't necessarily mean that you're lactose intolerant or have a gluten allergy, but understand and know the signs that your body tells you and don't eat physiologically upsetting foods.
If you want to perform and recover at a high level, you have to eat at a high level. In terms of recovery, it's essential to minimize sugar and alcohol intake; these are the two biggest stressors to the body and can inhibit recovery.
Step 3: Supplement to reduce inflammation
No cure-all supplement can replace a high-quality whole foods diet. But there are some nutritional supplements with few side effects that can play a vital role in decreasing inflammation. Let's start with home cooking and what can be done for athletic recovery in the kitchen.
The most common cooking herbs have tons of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties that are vital in recovery. Cook with herbs like parsley, sage and oregano and naturally feel your body recover at a quicker rate. These are good anti-inflammatory foods, but they're small scale, and the amount you consume will only scratch the surface in terms of athletic recovery.
When looking for readily available, easy-to-take supplements that will decrease inflammation with limited side effects, I reach for turmeric and specifically curcumin. Turmeric is proven to lower blood pressure, regulate blood sugar and prevent insulin resistance—all big-time properties in inhibiting muscular inflammation. Ingesting turmeric or curcumin is tough; just sprinkling it on your food won't give you the benefits. But as a high-quality supplement, turmeric capsules should contain gingerol and piperine, which make it easily absorbed and digested. If you're dealing with an injury and trying to reduce inflammation, take twice the recommended dose 2-3 times a day with food. If you're simply trying to combat soreness from the everyday athletic grind, take the recommended dose 1-2 times daily.
If you are injured, you should always nail down the first two steps, then look toward a more focused supplement routine. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to dramatically decrease chronic inflammation and should be a staple in an injured athlete's daily routine. For recovery, an injured athlete should take 5-10 grams of fish/krill oil daily with food for 2-4 weeks.
Staying in front of inflammation is the name of the game in terms of athletic recovery. Whether you're in the middle of a grueling season or in the midst of offseason workouts, shortening recovery time is essential. Follow these three steps and your body will thank you. I promise.
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