Most athletes know that in order to maintain high-level performance, they have to give their bodies time to heal and recharge. An efficient, well-balanced training program always includes time for recovery and adequate hydration.
However, in today’s hustle culture, some people skip rest and recovery between workouts or feel guilty for taking the time off. It’s important to emphasize that even the strongest of athletes are at risk of injury and deterioration if they continuously train without rest. Below are the main reasons why individuals, especially athletes, should ensure that recovery and hydration are part of their training program (not to mention part of their healthy lifestyle, in general).
The Importance of Recovery Between Sessions
Recovery is essential in making progress and to maintain overall health. Here are just a few reasons why.
Recovery Allows Muscles to Heal and Grow
During exercise, you put your body through (good) stress, and you create tiny tears in your muscles. Your energy stores are being used, and your body loses fluid. Recovery happens when the body gets enough rest to heal and repair itself.
Rest days are critical as they help rebuild and strengthen muscles. Recovery also allows the body to adapt to the stress of training. Damaged tissues are repaired and energy stores are replenished. If recovery and rest are skipped, the muscles will continuously break down due to stress with no chance to recharge.
More specifically, recovery and rest allow the body to repair the micro-tears. When recovery is not maintained, the tears grow and muscles become inflamed. The athlete will feel tired and exhausted after working out, instead of reinvigorated.
You know how this ends: with a decrease in performance. At its worse, not allowing for adequate recovery may result in what’s called overtraining syndrome or OTS. OTS causes chronic muscle and joint pains, and it also affects the immune system and hormones. It’s nothing to be taken lightly.
Recovery Allows Tendons and Ligaments to Repair
Aside from building, strengthening, and repairing muscles, adequate recovery time allows for other soft tissues (such as tendons and ligaments) to repair.
During exercise, chemicals build up inside the cells of your tendons and ligaments. These metabolic by-products boost the turnover rate of adenosine triphosphate or ATP. ATP is the energy currency of the cell and is responsible for skeletal muscle contractions.
Recovery ensures that these chemicals are removed from the cells.
Rest Keeps Your Hormones in Check
Hormones play an important role in daily body functions and impact everything from your mood to your appetite to your monthly cycle.
Some hormones, such as cortisol, are released during high-intensity exercise in response to stress. This is why intense workouts can result in elevated cortisol levels in general. If this happens daily and there is little to no recovery after exercise, cortisol levels remain high. This, in turn, can lead to an increase in blood pressure, diabetes, or weight gain. High cortisol levels may also increase other hormones such as testosterone and estrogen — which introduces a whole new set of problems.
It’s important to keep a balanced training schedule, allowing for the body to recover and rest after exercise.
Recovery after exercise has two categories. One is immediate, or short-term. It’s the recovery that occurs right after intense training or exercise. This involves the cool-down phase after working out and also the days following the exercise.
Long-term recovery, on the other hand, includes lifestyle habits that complement your training and spans weeks and months. For example, nutrition and supplementation are a factor. So is varying your programming so that you go through cycles in your training.
Getting adequate sleep is also crucial in the body’s recovery.
Hydration and its Importance
Another important factor in any training program is hydration. As most people know, 60% of the body is made of water. Water is essential in literally all of our cellular functions. On average, the body loses three to four liters of water daily simply by functioning. This number increases if you exercise.
To maintain the body’s optimum functions, it’s important to stay hydrated before and after exercise. More specifically, here are a few benefits of hydration.
Water Keeps Joints Lubricated
When the body is adequately hydrated, the water provides nutrients for the cells and removes waste. This results in increased performance of the muscles and joints. Water also lubricates the joints so that they move better.
It's Good for Sleep
Sleep is yet another time when we sweat and lose water — even if we don’t notice it.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, hydration is crucial for better sleep. Fluid is lost during sleep, so it’s important to hydrate before hitting the sack.
Being dehydrated during the night may also lead to nocturnal leg cramps.
Water Helps Carry Nutrients to Cells
Water delivers important nutrients to the cells and other organs of the body. It keeps the body cool and the skin supple. Hydration also ensures that toxins and waste are properly excreted from the body through urine.
The Heart Needs Water to Pump Blood
Hydration keeps blood volume at a healthy level. As a result, the heart can easily pump blood throughout the body and won’t have to work as hard. Water also helps transport oxygen to the cells.
Full disclosure: The amount of water needed to stay hydrated will vary from person to person. The old rule of thumb of drinking eight glasses of water a day is just that: old. Some experts say that you need an ounce of water per pound of body weight. Others say less is sufficient.
Furthermore, climate, clothing, amount of perspiration, and the specific type of training you’re doing all play a role.
For hydration, water is best, but fruits and vegetables that have a high percentage of water are also good for the body.
Recovery and hydration are vital in maintaining healthy body functions and to keep you progressing in the gym. Remember that you must recover as hard as you train. While we all love lifting big weights, taking time to decompress and properly fuel your body are mandatory.
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