Stress and Exercise Part 2 of 3: Why is Post-Workout Recovery So Essential?

post workout nutrition
Ensuring adequate recovery after exercise will help you reach both your health and performance goals.

Performance training is not just about physical ability, but it’s having mental patience and intuitive self-awareness as to the unique limitations of your body and getting to that final race-day in the first place.

To win the race, you have to first be in the race!

So how do we get ourselves there?

Athletes and weekend warriors alike need to acquire that sense of knowing when to push and when to pull back. I hear too many stories of marathoners and triathletes alike succumbing to fatigue or injury just a few weeks or even days from their target competition date.

Not only do athletes like Michael Phelps have extraordinary nutrition plans and training schedules, they also have equally extraordinary recovery procedures – replete with ice baths and appointments with trainers, chiropractors, doctors, nutritionists, massage therapists, and more…

If you want elite Michael Phelps-like performance, you need an elite Michael Phelps-like team to help get you there. It’s their full-time job to train and recover and I ask my patients to keep their own performance aspirations in perspective.

I also know that many of us do not aspire to be Michael Phelps, so with just some ice, a foam roller, and some general nutrition & training advice, you already have 80% of the tools you need to accomplish your goals.

A Note on Passion

Most of us reading this newsletter may just be weekend warriors with a deep passion for fitness and life.

Passion fuels the rush of adrenaline and the release of feel-good endorphins. Passion is what gives us that deep sense of satisfaction we feel at the completion of a race.

Passion, however, does not mix well with nagging injuries and persistent performance plateaus.

I suggest engaging in deep introspection as to where you are at and what it’s going to take to get you to where you want to be six months from now. At this point you may have to start thinking about next season.

High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training is effective because it alternates quickly between periods of rest and activity – increasing the body’s capacity to deal with an increasing variety of physical challenges – such as choppy ocean water, steep road terrain, or even days when you may feel “off” physically & emotionally.

With high-intensity exercise, not only do you become stronger, you also improve your endurance capacity.

Some ultra-long distance runners train with ladder workouts consisting of short, intense 200m-400m and 800m runs, with appropriate rest periods, and a long-run thrown in on lighter training days.

But while high-intensity training can do wonders for body composition, cardiovascular health and fitness capacity, we learned in Part 1 that it can also quickly lead to adrenal fatigue, difficulty falling or staying asleep, testosterone and estrogen imbalance, belly fat, hypothyroidism, autoimmune complications, immune suppression, depleted energy, low bone mineral density, and mood disturbances.

Why is Exercise Recovery Important?

The body prefers to obtain its fuel (sugar) first from easy-to-access stores in your liver and muscle in the form of glycogen.

When working at 90-95% intensity, it’s easy to quickly blow through these glycogen stores. Soon your body starts pumping out stress hormones such as cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, to increase blood flow to muscles in your arms and legs & initiate gluconeogenesis – a process of making sugar to provide the necessary fuel for your cells.

In short, stress hormones allow you to reach new levels of performance and assist short-term performance gains. Without replenishing your glycogen stores immediately following a workout and giving time for your stress hormones to balance out, your body may:

  1. Be only 80-90% recovered before your next training session, causing you to work out even more intensely, and still see your performance flat-line.
  2. Start eating lean muscle tissue as though it were candy, decreasing your ability to burn fat (especially belly fat).
  3. Repair damaged muscles, ligaments, cartilage and connective tissue more slowly leading to increased risk for injuries, stress fractures, inflexibility, scar tissue formation, cramping, joint degeneration and other nagging injuries.
  4. Steal from anabolic sex hormones like testosterone for the sake of producing higher levels of stress hormones.

Lean muscle tissue is what determines your metabolic rate, your ability to burn stubborn fat, and ultimately your ability reach further performance gains and appear more “cut” . If you do not recover appropriately, you have effectively wasted your time working out. 

Does this Really Apply to You?

We have a tendency to think that we are the exception, that the rules don’t apply to us, that just working out longer or harder, or turning to performance aids, or a well-timed visit to our Chiropractor will solve our training woes.

Many athletes turn to caffeine to increase endurance capacity, but it must be used very carefully as it also aggravates stress. As a result, it is not uncommon for high-performance athletes to experience sleep disturbances, fatigue, mood swings, sex hormone imbalances, and more.

If you do allow your body to recover from your training, you can create vicious cycles of adrenal imbalance that can force you on the sidelines late in the season – all of your expense, time, and hard work gone to waste.

It’s not worth the emotional pain and toil of sitting on the sidelines, while your friends and colleagues run the race without you.

What Can You Do About It?

I use natural herbal remedies and clinical nutrition protocols can help augment your stress respon hydration, fueling, pacing, breathing, & running form on your “B” and “C” races.

In Part 3, I’ll explore some specific guidelines that I use with my clients to help recover after their workouts and break vicious cycles of stress that may limit your ability to lose weight, look more fit, and reach new personal records.

Read Part 1:

How to Cope With Stress Brought About by High Intensity Exercise

Read Part 3:

What to Eat Before and After a Workout

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