Nutrition and recovery go hand in hand. Like bacon and eggs or peanut butter and …. well pretty much everything.
Optimal recovery is multifactorial with nutrition, sleep, massage / therapy and movement all playing pivotal roles in recovery from exercise. This month we will provide everything you need to supercharge your recovery.
+ Week 1 - What is recovery and why is it so important
So what is recovery?!
The time it takes for our ability to produce force to return to pre-workout levels is called “strength recovery” and is often taken as the best available measure of whether we have “recovered” from a workout or not.
So why is it so important.
Better recovery = more training = results….faster
The nature of CrossFit places huge emphasis on recovery. If you rock up to the gym - walk on the treadmill for 15 minutes, do 20 crunches and stretch does that require the same recovery as doing the WOD Diane? We want to make you healthier and better at CrossFit, and recovery is a huge part of this.
There is an incredible amount of science and technical terms when talking about recovery. From glycogen replenishment, cytokines, neural drive and TNF- α it can be mundane reading about this. Lucky for you we love geeking out on this and have condensed it into some practical advice to help maximise your recovery. Each section will have links to more detailed information from trusted sources if you want to increase your knowledge even further.
What happens to our bodies when we exercise?
Depletion of glycogen (stored carbohydrates) levels
Significant stress placed on muscles and tendons
Breakdown of protein and muscle
Loss of fluids and electrolytes
Our primary goal with recovery is to allow you to maximise the stimulus of the training session and provide your body with the necessary fuel to be able to come back and do more. Nutrition plays a pivotal role in supporting your recovery. So before we get into the sciencey stuff we want to introduce you to the pH Nutrition 4 R’s for recovery.
REPLENISH, REGENERATE, REHYDRATE AND RELAX.
REPLENISH – Post exercise nutrition is not just constrained to the 20 minutes after you finish your session. Depending on the volume, intensity and our training level, our bodies can be recovering anywhere up to 48 hours after. Anyone had that feeling of increased soreness 2 days after a session?! Yep that is something called delayed onset muscle soreness (we will come on to this).
The goals of replenishing our body are to -
Replace muscle and liver glycogen that is depleted during exercise.
Lower inflammatory markers - helping to reduce muscle soreness
Provide building blocks to maximise the stimulus of the session
REGENERATE – You have just pushed your body through a WOD and it is crying out for you to supply it with the nutrients to kick start the regeneration process. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is when you can’t walk down the stairs or make some questionable noises anytime you get out of your seat. We have all experienced it and it is unavoidable at times. However we want to keep improving so we need our muscle cells, tendons and nervous system to regenerate. How do we do this. This answer is simple.
We eat the rainbow.
We consume quality protein at regular intervals over the day.
We eat carbohydrates based on our activity level.
We eat smart fats to support all areas of health and performance.
We remove processed, poor quality, pro inflammatory foods.
REHYDRATE- Dehydration is one of the determinants to optimal performance with small drops in hydration levels leading to significant performance effects. We have our hydration guide to download at the end of this article. We want to stay hydrated between meals and ensure our intake is spaced over the day. You may need to add electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) to your drink or get these through foods such as bananas, avocados, watermelon, coconut water, pumpkin seeds and by adding salt to your food.
RELAX – Get out of the gym. Do something you find pleasure in. Spend time with loved ones and share experiences with friends. This is so important for areas such as hormone balance and neurotransmitter levels as well as balancing the nervous system.
All of these areas will be covered in more detail over the coming weeks and in future monthly modules
3 phases of post workout nutrition
We have a 3 phase system of post workout nutrition. Follow this and correlate to your meal plan.
Few pointers to note.
- If you can eat a solid meal within 45 minutes then you do not necessarily need a shake.
- Whoever says you can eat what you want after working out is an idiot. Do not listen to them. We want to lower inflammation so eating crap food isn't going to help this.
- We want to lower fat in the immediate post workout window. Fat delays gastric emptying and lowers the insulin response.
When we exercise our muscle cells become more sensitive to insulin. When we eat carbohydrates we have an increase in blood sugar levels. Insulin is secreted to lower the blood sugar levels. Insulin is a storage hormone so it will shuttle the carbohydrates (and protein) to the muscle cells, which is exactly what we want to improve our recovery. Depending on the volume and intensity of the session this increased sensitivity can occur for up to 36 hours post workout. Something we see a lot with clients is not taking advantage of this which can diminish your recovery potential. Do not worry about glugging a protein shake 4 seconds after finishing your last rep. You will not lose your gainz. Just follow the system below.
TASKS FOR THE WEEK
All we want you to do this week is to ensure you are following the 3 phase post workout nutrition structure and read over the hydration info.
If you find yourself not eating anything for 2 hours post workout, end up starving and overeating in the next meal this is essential for you!
We are now moving into more advanced strategies, we are working on nutrient timing and improving this is essential for long term performance gains.
+ Week 2 - Managing muscle soreness
What is muscle soreness?
We may have heard people talk about DOMS. Delayed onset muscle soreness is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. The soreness is felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours after the exercise. It is that feeling of the not being able to walk down the stairs the day after squatting!
When starting CrossFit you will often experience muscle soreness after your first few sessions. Those who are more advanced will still experience the pain but at less regular times.
The archaic theory for the mechanism of DOMS being a build-up of lactic acid and toxic metabolic waste products has largely been rejected. While the exact mechanisms are not well understood, a paper by Schoenfeld and Contreras explains, “DOMS appears to be a product of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements that sensitise nociceptors and thereby heighten the sensations of pain.” To summarise, let’s just say DOMS appears to occur due to connective tissue micro-trauma. It’s also worth mentioning that while most exercise can induce some DOMS, exercise with a greater emphasis on the eccentric phase (the lengthening or stretching phase of the muscle contraction) plays the most significant role in the manifestation of DOMS.
A huge part of CrossFit is being efficient at the movements so in a lot of the workouts, the eccentric component to the movement is minimised. Think of a pull up, we do a kip or butterfly pull up instead of slowly lowering ourselves down on each rep. However we will still experience muscle damage from any type of exercise in some form.
Your body will adapt to the intensity and volume and the muscle soreness will reduce we promise!
What can we do to manage this soreness?
As we know DOMS is an inflammatory condition so we want to remove foods that will contribute to inflammation and increase anti inflammatory nutrients.
All 3 macro nutrients contribute to helping manage muscle soreness. Protein is needed for repair and regeneration of muscle tissue, carbohydrates will create an insulin response which helps shuttle protein and nutrients to the muscles. It also helps to lower cortisol levels (the bodies stress hormone) which is elevated post workout.
Fats are an interesting one. As you will have seen in the food section we have different types of fats. And as you have seen we want to lower them post workout. However we need omega-3 fats (anti inflammatory) to accelerate the recovery process. What we want to do is limit the omega-6 fats that are pro inflammatory. Ever felt stiff or sore or inflamed after eating a dominoes pizza?!?
However there are some simple strategies you can do to help ease the pain -
Follow the 3 phase post workout nutrition structure. You don't have to chug a shake within 14 seconds of dropping the barbell ,but just make sure you help kick start the recovery process by getting some food in post workout.
Remove inflammatory foods such as biscuits, deep fried food, pastries and processed meats. Refined sugar, fizzy drinks and sweets should not be on the radar! These are all omega 6 bombs!
Eat smart fats such as oily fish, seeds, avocados, coconut products, nuts, quality cuts of meat and dairy products. These will help heal the damaged muscle cells and reduce soreness. Use in phase 3 and at subsequent meals.
Eat the rainbow. Veggies provide phytochemicals, minerals, vitamins and compounds to help reduce muscle soreness. Coupled with healthy fats you can increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, E, D.
Include foods such as turmeric, grapes, cherries, berries, cinnamon, ginger, green tea and dark coloured fruits as they provide powerful nutrients and compounds that can help with recovery.
Interestingly in the pre and post workout window we want to be wary of including concentrated forms of high anti-oxidant foods such as cherry juice, pomegranate juice, black tea extract as well as vitamins C and E. In short it can interfere with cell signalling that is needed for muscle regeneration and actually delay our recovery time. We should focus on including anti oxidants in the meals furthest away from workouts or on rest days. We have linked to a more detailed article later.
+ Week 3 - Overtraining, underfuelling and the nervous system
Overtraining and under recovery
“Overtraining” is a buzzword that is used flippantly in the fitness world . It’s the result of pushing your body past its threshold, and it causes symptoms like fatigue, apathy towards workouts, persistent muscle soreness or joint pain, lack of gains, and lowered immunity. Essentially, it leaves you out of balance.
Some of our competitive athletes regularly spend anywhere from 2-5 (or more) hours in the gym most days of the week. This amount of training for most of us may be considered overtraining. However most us will be training for 1-2 hours per day, maybe cycling to work, so if we are feeling fatigued and worn out we need to assess if this is actually overtraining.
It is more than likely that we are actually under recovering. This means not allowing our body enough time to recover, or not eating correctly to support the level of training.
Undoubtedly there are going to be sessions where you feel less than 100%. But this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. For some reason we see CrossFitters try to emulate the elite more than in other sports we have worked in. Pushing yourself to improve is great and we encourage this but being aware of when you are under-recovering is crucial.
Understanding how the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) work in unison will help with improving your recovery.
The SNS is the “fight or flight” system. It is catabolic meaning it mobilises the body’s resources to deal with stressful situations. The PNS is anabolic and helps the body rest, digest and recover. What we would like is to spend the majority of time in the PNS, ideally only using the SNS for true life-threatening emergencies (and some Crossfit). However, the body interprets all stress (mental and physical) as a reason to activate the SNS. If we continually bombard the body, pushing it to become SNS dominant we are not allowing for growth, repair and regeneration. Numerous factors play a role in this and it is imperative you try to strike a balance – work hard, play hard, but structure in some down time. Low intensity activities that you derive real pleasure from. This will shift the body to a more PNS dominant state.
A neurotransmitter is defined as a chemical messenger that carries, boosts, and balances signals between neurons, or nerve cells, and other cells in the body. These chemical messengers can affect a wide variety of both physical and psychological functions including heart rate, sleep, appetite, mood, and fear.
Using some of the signs and symptoms of deficiencies can help personalisation of nutrition and supplementation. We use a simple test with some clients and all our athletes to guide their nutrition choices. (Detailed later)
For CrossFit we need to ensure we have a good balance. We need dopamine and acetyl choline for energy and motivation to train but we need to ensure GABA and serotonin are released at specific times to aid recovery and sleep.
Common signs of neurotransmitter imbalance we see include -
- Low morning energy
- Lack of motivation to train
- Low energy all day then a spike as you go to bed.
- Wired but tired
- Inability to hit intensity in the training session
We have the Braverman test for you to complete and a handy download to help guide your nutrition choices.
The Braverman test
The Braverman neurotransmitter imbalance quiz is simply True / False questions that will take anywhere between 10 – 15 minutes to complete. Try to do it all at once, consider an average day (not your worst or best) and go through without thinking too much about each question.
As the test explains, once you are finished you will have a dominant nature where your brain chemicals are normal or elevated and a deficient nature, which needs dietary and supplemental support. With the supplementation please use our recommendations in the download opposed to taking everything they suggest!
TASKS FOR THE WEEK
- Use the tables above to see if any of the signs resonate with you. Then employ some of the recovery techniques that correlate.
- Take the braverman test and employ some of the recommendations in the PDF.
+ Week 4 - Practical advice and rest days
Now we have a better understanding of what recovery is we need to align it to our own training schedule. Going forward these resources can be revisited when you are feeling in need of support. We encourage you to do the basics consistently well. Then get more specific when needed.
What should I eat on a rest day?
This is one of the most asked questions we get. And the answer is....it depends!
First thing first through, we like to think about rest days as a GROWTH DAYS. They are an opportunity to refuel and adapt from the training stimulus. However....
FOR FAT LOSS - We do advise you to drop your overall calories on a rest day. As we know we now want to start to be more flexible with our nutrition and correlate our intake to our output. Less training equals less calories burned so therefore we want to stay in a deficit, so we need to drop our calories.
STRENGTH - We advise to keep your nutrition plan very similar on growth days - only dropping a post workout shake or one snack / pre bed meal to reduce calories slightly. We need to be thinking about what we have coming up for the following days so we need to be fuelling the tank! This is the time our body adapts and restricting it won't be providing the nutrients needed to get strong!
WELLNESS - This is very individual so you need to find what works for you. Use the decision matrix and if you have a hard session coming up the next day then keep intake similar to a training day. If not then drop the calories to align with your output.
Ask yourself these questions
- Do you feel like you need a stimulant (coffee or pre-workout) to get you through your session?
- Are you excited to train?
- When was the last time you trained without any muscle soreness?
- Are you improving as an athlete? More weight on the bar, better WOD times or PR’s?
Now ask yourself these questions about things outside of the gym
- Are you sleeping well? Are you falling asleep quickly, staying asleep and waking feeling refreshed?
- Are you performing well at your job?
- Is your family / social life negatively affecting by your training?
- How many times have you been ill in the past 3 months?
Life outside of the gym is often an area that is overlooked when talking about performance. Everyone talks about how much they snatched or how they smashed a hero workout. The gym is maybe 4-8 hours of your week? How about the other 160? If the negative aspects of training start to become a regular occurrence then you need to listen to your body. Lets identify some strategies to help guide you on improving your recovery.
Redefine the pyramid by adding recovery in.
Recovery is multi-factoral. What you need to do is be aware of what works better for you. Here is a list of recovery modalities that you can trial to see how you feel after. You do not have to do them all. As with the nutrition side of things you can cycle off and on these depending on the training you are performing.
Low intensity steady state cardio - move through a combination or rower, bike, ski erg, body weight movements.
- Stretching - ROM WOD is an excellent option.
- Floating - This one in London is excellent. Google for any around where you live.
- Ice bath / cold immersion
- Spending time with loved ones
We hope that you have found this section useful. Lots to do hey! The great thing is that you can revisit this page (which will be continually updated) to use when you feel you need to dial things in. It is being aware of when you need this support that is the key.
Task for this week
Write a recovery structure that works for you. Example here -
- Take my overnight oats or shake to the gym for my post workout breakfast.
- ROMWOD every night
Thursday and Sunday
- Complete rest day. Cycle to work or light bike ride with partner.
Once per month
- Once per week make raw balls that include the foods for muscle soreness
- Trial cherry active for my hardest training week