Written by: Tara Collingwood, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD/N, ACSM-CPT
Athletes of all skill levels are notorious for pushing their body to its physical limit. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, an intramural all-star, or the greatest of all time, the demands of training and competition put your body in a state of stress, and this stress causes inflammation. While some inflammation is a normal response to training, chronic inflammation caused by overtraining and poor recovery is a bad thing. This chronic inflammation can cause fatigue, muscle damage, and soreness, and can ultimately lead to injury. The good news is that you can combat this inflammation and optimize recovery by following these tips to help heal your body from the inside out.
Begin recovery by eating a snack or meal that contains carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of completing exercise. This dynamic duo works to replenish the energy used during exercise, while working to repair damaged muscle fibers and stimulate the development of new muscle tissue. Snacks or meals that contain this strategic pairing include chocolate milk, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, or protein bars.
Athletes sweat… a lot! Hydration is one of the most important components of athletic performance and recovery. Because sweat is a combination of fluid and electrolytes, it’s important to replenish sweat loss with an electrolyte-packed beverage, such as a sports drink. Doing so during and after activity can prevent the signs and symptoms of dehydration, which include cramps, fatigue, headaches, and dizziness.
Antioxidants are substances that protect your cells from damage. In athletes, antioxidants can help neutralize the body’s stress-induced state following exercise by fighting the formation of free radicals and reducing inflammation. Antioxidant rich foods include whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and vegetables, so choose a wide variety each day to maximize your intake. One of my favorite ways to load up on antioxidants is by drinking a bottle of ZYN because of the CURCUMIN (from Turmeric) in the beverage. The CURCUMIN offers the trifecta of recovery benefits—it can reduce inflammation, joint pain, and muscle soreness, allowing you to get back to your favorite activity with minimal downtime.
Another way to repair is to give your body the gift of an active recovery day. Rather than just taking the next day off to relax on the couch, incorporate some low intensity movement to help muscles repair and recover more quickly. Recovery exercise is meant to be slow and gentle enough for muscles to heal. Check out this short yoga sequence for active muscle recovery.
Sleep is where the magic happens. It’s proven to decrease fatigue, increase energy, enhance focus, and accelerate recovery. Aim for at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. If your sleep consistently falls short of this mark, try the following suggestions:
(1) Before bed, breathe deeply, through your nose and into your belly for 5 minutes to calm your mind and lower your heart rate.
(2) Avoid bright lights in the evening, especially blue light from electronic devices that can inhibit melatonin production by sending alerting signals to the brain.
(3) Keep your room cool, at about 65°F. Body temperature is tied to your sleep cycle, so if you’re too hot it can interfere with that cycle causing restlessness.
Follow these tips and be proactive about your wellness.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Board Certified Sports Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer, American College of Sports Medicine
Tara is currently a sports nutrition consultant for the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). She was the Team Dietitian for the Orlando Magic NBA team and Nutrition Consultant for the University of Central Florida (UCF) Athletics for ten years. Tara is the author of Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition for Dummies and co-author of Flat Belly Cookbook for Dummies.