As a coach, I know it can be difficult to get athletes to understand the importance of recovery. Oh, they probably all get it on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level, they often just don't buy it. They feel like they need to be working to gain improvement and it's simply counter-intuitive that gains are made by resting. Furthermore, the typical athlete feels antsy and even guilty when they are not exercising.
What should you be doing during the rest periods to make sure you're getting the full benefit?
Here's a list of recovery activities that I have found to be effective:
Even if you are among the 2/3 of Americans who get enough sleep, a little more on a recovery day wont hurt you, and you may find it restorative. Take a nap during the day. To keep from feeling groggy afterward, limit it to 20 minutes. If you must sleep longer than 20 minutes, strive for 90 minutes, which will let you complete a full sleep cycle and let you return to alertness sooner.
Your cells spend a recovery day restoring themselves. Help them out by eating easily digestible protein, which supplies the enzymes and amino acids they need in order to rebuild. The dietary reference intake specifies 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but if you are an endurance athlete, you need at least 1.5 times that, and if your sport is resistance training, you probably need double.
Your vigorous exercise has very likely left an accumulation of lactate and other toxins in your cells. Give your lymphatic system a fighting chance to clear out these toxins and help with your recovery by providing enough fluids to transport them.
Light exercise (walking, easy cycling, or relaxed swimming) reduces lactic acid levels faster than sitting still. It also reduces the potential for venous pooling, which can lead to swelling and can even damage capillaries. But this is a recovery day, so keep it easy. You should only achieve a fraction of your threshold heart rate. Doing one of your regular workouts will just put you on the path to overtraining.
Get a Massage.
Massage by a knowledgeable massage therapist can enhance muscle recovery and even make you feel better. Theres a reason that the big races all feature post-race massage in the exhibition tents.
There are numerous studies showing that whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) facilitates recovery after sports activities. If you're in the Nashua area, why not book a WBC session at Peak Recovery &Health Center and find out for yourself?