By Amy Lewis
Photos By ChiChi Ubiña
Just last week, my 17-year-old son came home complaining of a pinched nerve in his shoulder. He is an athlete and rows all year round. Actually, I would say he is a newer athlete. He came into his own at 16. He has to row 5 days a week and weight train about three times a week. This sparked me to delve a little more into what we, as athletes (and that goes for all of us, even if you get on that Peloton three times a week), can do to properly rest and recover -so that whatever we do we do it well, and we are strong. Let me say, this research isn’t just for my son, it’s for me as well. Rest is a hard word for me. As most of my trainers know, I am a little psycho about it. There are days I exercise for 2 ½ hours. This article is cathartic because it is forcing me to understand a proper fitness regimen to get the best results. It was Madonna’s trainer who said, “if there was an Olympic event in fitness endurance, Madonna would win a gold medal.” I have a feeling I would give her a run for her money.
So what are the most critical aspects to active recovery?…massage, stretch, refuel, rest, and sleep. I think most people enjoy the benefits of a massage. Maybe we do not treat ourselves to one enough, but the benefits of it for an athlete are great. In my son’s case, he does not have the luxury of time to recover. Massage speeds up the process more efficiently. His Christmas present this year was the “Hypervolt.” It’s a handheld cordless device that massages the muscles, promotes circulation, and relieves muscle soreness and stiffness. It’s an expensive item, roughly $300, but well worth it for a kid whose day starts at 7 am and ends at 10 pm. Even purchasing a foam roller, which is relatively inexpensive, will help break up the fascia between muscle fiber and will reduce soreness. It will hurt at first but gets a lot easier the more you do it.
It goes without saying that both massage and stretching go hand in hand. Stretching improves both blood and nutrient flow. You increase your body’s range of motion. As much as we do not want to think about the aging process, stretching should be a top priority. Without it, your body is stiff, and you lose more and more ability to be active each year. I am not a yogi, but this has been one activity I am trying to include at least once a week. You will also see a few storefronts such as StretchLab and Massage Envy promoting sessions with reflexologists. I know it is hard to make the time, but this is one aspect of your fitness journey you do not want to skip.
One of the aspects of recovery that truly resonates with me is the refueling process. This is where you have to plan what you are eating/drinking everyday based on your activity that day. Healthy eating, in combination with cardio and strength training, can reduce blood pressure, remove bad cholesterol is the best prevention for any disease. When you are recovering, your body needs to repair and build up muscle fiber. I always say: protein, protein and more protein. It contains essential amino acids. Young or old, amino acids are vital for this function of muscle repair and nutrient absorption. Why does this resonate with me?… because it is one of the hardest things for me to track every day. My goal is to build more muscle this year. I am on a meal plan, X-factor, which is the only way I can possibly consume enough protein in one day. As for the younger athlete looking to get stronger, my son purposely packed on 45 lbs. of muscle last summer consuming an entire kitchen every day along with supplements. Try and make sure you get at least 0.6-1.2 grams of protein per pound. I’d stay away from red meat. Focus on lean meats, fish and/or nuts and beans. Drink lots and lots of water. It’s great for flushing the body and for digestion. Coconuts are a great trick if you need to reduce downtime. They contain potassium and added electrolytes.
Lastly, I’ll touch on rest and sleep. For my teenager, this is no issue. Usually, he sleeps like a champ. However, for the slightly older generation, stress, and work will catch up. Some medical specialists will say that lack of sleep can attribute to muscle loss. As you sleep, you repair muscle tissue. It’s tissue that needs to grow to get stronger. I can see how not enough sleep will eventually strip the muscle. The thought of that would lead me to lose sleep! Sleep can help restore balance to your body. When you are sick, what’s the best remedy?… sleep and rest. My trainer/coach is trying to convince me of a 4 day workout period, and every 5th day rest. I’m struggling with it, but I’m trying. Try to have one rest day of doing nothing and eating very well. Unless I have to be social, it’s early to bed, early to rise. I know a lot of you out there reading this, and I know how hard it is for you to chill, me included. It’s another level to level up to. It’s a relief, for once, to be told to lay on the couch. Cheers to that!