How to balance your exercise and recovery to prevent injury
Recovery is the body’s return to a normal state of health and strength. When it comes to exercise, you can imagine the importance of feeling as strong as possible whilst taking part. Whether you are aiming to beat your latest 5k time, last a full 5-a-side football match or be able to make that third gym session of the week, getting to grips with the term recovery and how it can affect your body, can make all the difference.
Make Time for Recovery
Sufficient recovery time after exercise allows your muscles to repair from the stress that they undergo during exercise. Without adequate rest, your muscles will not be able to develop appropriately which could hinder your improvement.
Insufficient rest time can also lead to common overuse injuries such as stress fractures and runner’s knee. These are injuries that occur whilst training when muscles are fatigued, due to the increased impact on the joints. These injuries can often have a detrimental effect on your lifestyle, as they can become recurring without sufficient rehabilitation time.
Frequent bouts of high-intensity exercise can reduce the strength of your immune system and leave your body vulnerable to illness. You can avoid these effects by simply getting enough recovery after exercise to allow your immune system to repair to pre-exercise capabilities. Having said that, there is often variation in the effect that exercise can have on the immune system. It can depend on the individual, as high intensity for a novice will differ to that of a trained athlete.
The benefits that sleep can have on the body after exercise are almost endless. The most important effect includes the release of the human growth hormone, which speeds up both muscle and bone repair. Sleep also alleviates the negative effects that stress hormones can have on the body, which then increases the capabilities of the immune system and reduce the risk of getting ill after exercise.
Although sleep is crucial, getting the correct type and amount of nutrition and hydration is also enormously important. Drinking plenty of fluid during and post-exercise not only aids muscle repair but also improves digestion, helps support the body’s immune function and reduces levels of fatigue. These effects combined, result in more efficient recovery not only for the muscles, but the body as a whole.
Post-exercise nutrition needs to be considered, as your body cannot recover if it does not have the correct fuel. Ideally, after exercise, you will consume a source of quality carbohydrate (e.g. brown rice, wholemeal pasta or couscous) to replenish muscle fuel stores. A source of lean protein (e.g. chicken, fish or for vegetarians this could include beans, lentils or meat-free alternatives) to promote muscle repair. Finally, a portion of vegetables to facilitate a healthy working immune system by providing the body with essential vitamins and minerals.
Another great way to improve restoration is to take part in active recovery on rest days or after exercise. Active recovery stimulates blood flow to muscles, which alleviates inflammation and reduces the build-up of lactic acid. Both of these effects allow the muscles to repair more efficiently. Good examples of active recovery include; light resistance exercise, swimming, stationary cycling or yoga.
Though exercise has countless health benefits and is recommended to everyone, overtraining can have adverse effects. It is consequently just as important that you listen to your body, and rest when necessary to allow optimal recovery. This will allow you to enjoy exercise and perform at the level you desire without any potential negative effects.