Recovery is defined as the process of returning to a normal state of health and strength and there is more to it than just rest. To understand recovery let us give you a short breakdown about what happens in the body during exercise.  In short you are basically injuring yourself to get stronger… At a cellular level exercise causes micro tears in the muscle and other soft tissue due to the overload of stress on the involved structure. For you to get stronger that structure needs to be repaired.  This is where recovery comes in.

Recovery can be achieved in varies ways. Previously it was believed that stretching after a workout can speed up recovery, but recent studies found that stretching does not necessarily speed up recovery, but it does have a place in an athlete’s exercise regime as it improves flexibility, reduces muscle imbalance, and can prevent injury.

Compression is another method used by athletes to speed up their healing time; this is accomplished through compression clothing which is thought to increase the waste removal. Now before you declare your body a waste site, let me explain. During exercise oxygen and nutrients is absorbed by the cell to produce energy to keep you going but in the process of making energy metabolic waste is produced simultaneously, a build-up can be toxic to the body. The only way to remove this waste is through the veins to the lungs, kidney and through your skin (sweating). Compression is believed to assist in the removal of waste by helping the veins transport the deoxygenated blood away quicker.

Massage works in a similar but is does also stimulate oxygen and nutrient rich blood more rapidly and it helps with the breakdown of scar tissue which can also hinder recovery. Therapists often make use of cold or cryotherapy for recovery.  The principle behind it is that through ice pack or ice baths blood vessels are constricted which reduce inflammation in the muscles but recent studies found that though cold/ice helps for pain because it stimulates endorphins which are your body’s natural endorphins, it does not do much for the actual recovery of the area.

Speaking of which, the other thing that stimulates endorphins and which does influence recovery is nutrition (food).  For your body to repair itself it needs building blocks.  These building blocks are called amino acids found in protein but like any other physiology process in the body it requires energy which comes from energy sources such as carbohydrates and fats. Though not just any nutrients will do, refined carbs, sodas and red meat is considered pro inflammatory and can cause too much inflammation which can cause pain or even chronic inflammation in the long term. Foods like garlic, ginger, peppers, green tea, fish, berries, and nuts are believed to be natural anti-inflammatory. Water also plays a big roll in recovery as it helps to remove metabolic waste, be careful of alcoholic and caffeinated drinks as they can cause dehydration which will slow down your recovery, if you do enjoy these beverages occasionally make sure to keep your water intake high on that day.

The last but maybe the most important part of recovery is relaxation and sleep. Physical exercise is a form of stress (a good one) but stress hormones, which can be caused by physical or emotional stress, can inhibit recovery. Techniques such as yoga or gentle stretching or massage can be used to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (aka rest and digest) which helps the body recover.

The parasympathetic nervous system is most active during sleep but that is not the only reason sleep is so important. During sleep, especially deep sleep, your pituitary gland (which controls most of your hormones) releases human growth hormone. HGH is found in high levels in growing children because it is so essential for growth and recovery. Thus, the more quality sleep you get, the better your recovery.

In short, there is more to getting strong than just hitting the gym. As you get older your recovery naturally slows down which makes it more important for adult to have a good recovery regime in place to prevent injury and long-term problems. Prevention is always better than cure.

Recovery 101 by Gretha Geldenhuys  (Physio | Figure Athlete | @lambertiphysiotherapy)

Riaaz Jeena