“Your body is only as good as it’s ability to recover”
We all know the value of hard work and it’s benefits on soccer performance. The research is endless on how consistent effort and diligent work yields various results and how these positives may play into your ability to perform your best, but when are the results actually taking place? Cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, power development, mobility, and all the other physical training that your body goes through each week has a profound effect on our success, but are we actually getting better while we train or is it the result of the time after we walk off the field or out of the gym?
I believe that this question can be answered by saying “both”, but let me explain further. The different ways we can get better, as players, come through various “channels” that may happen instantly and/or over a certain period of time. Exercise scientist call these channels immediate recovery (between reps or repeated sprints in a game), short term recovery (between sets or reps of speed work), and training recovery (between practices or games). For instance, when we train on a technical skill, our coach may give us insight on a new and better way of achieving the end result. This instant realization immediately makes us a more efficient and more effective player on the field. The benefit of practice and refining that skill, however, will take thousands of repetitions and hours of work until it can be consistently made a tool during competition.
The same can be assumed with speed, agility, strength and stamina. The skill sets that we learn in acceleration and deceleration are, sometimes, instantaneous; such as correctly using our arms while sprinting. However, the majority of the physical benefits of training do not happen until we are long gone from the training pitch. It is in this “down time” or recovery process that our body begins to adapt from the stresses of training and becomes stronger and more capable of working at higher levels of performance (also known as supercompensation). This process is where I feel most players do not understand or take advantage when working to improve their game, and where I want to spend the rest of this post talking about.
Recovery is one of the least understood and most under researched constituents of the training-adaptation cycle, however it is the most important part of our training routine. It may be the very reason that you are not continuing to get better, fitter, and more explosive…but instead find yourself plateauing and injured.
“We define recovery, from a practical perspective, to mean the ability to meet or exceed performance in a particular activity.” Meaning that if we have just finished an hour and a half of intense training, then our body’s ability to perform will be reduced for some period of time. We all know that we can not play another 90 minute game at maximum intensity within 2 or 3 hours of the last, but what about 2 to 3 days? And what about intense training on back to back days…back to back weeks…back to back months? How does this effect us?
“It is well accepted that over-load is necessary for improvement, whereas overtraining results in a breakdown at some level, thus impairing, rather than improving, performance. Overtraining is usually thought of strictly in terms of training, yet overtraining might also be expressed as under-recovering. If the recovery rate can be improved, greater training volumes would be possible without incurring the negative of overtraining.”
– Recovery From Training: A Brief Review; Bishop; Jones; Woods; Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 22(3): 1015-1024, May 2008
Let’s look at a simplified graph of how our bodies and performance can benefit from the proper training to rest ratio. As you can see below, the stimulus (in our case would be any type of intense training) causes stress that decrease the bodies ability to perform at a given level. If the proper amount of recovery does not take place (shown as recovery), the adaptation ability of the body does not return above original form before the next stimulus. This is can be hugely detrimental, especially if we continue this pattern throughout a training period (week) leading up to a game (competition). As you can see, the athletes ability to perform is far less capable than when they first started.
This trend is often seen in youth soccer, when a coach or player has the “no pain, no gain” mentality and decides to work as hard as time will allow every time training occurs. The unfortunate part is that this does not only lead to ill-fated performance, but also injury.
On the other hand, a proper recovery can have the opposite effects on a players performance, if done correctly. Looking at the same graph, we can see the opposite trend where the player is now getting adequate and proper recovery and is making progress, which we call super-compensation.
So how long does it truly take to adapt to training (to perform better/be in better playing shape) and can we decrease the time necessary? In a summary answer to both questions…no one knows. There is very little research that has consistent results from valid populations to credit one answer, however there are many favorite recovery rituals and habits that thousands of athletes apply every day, and swear by them. So, why not list them below and let you get some ideas of what can work for you.
All of these have been researched and shown some value of success, even if it is just anecdotal and has not been proven by real numbers…
1) Proper Nutrition – research has shown that the timing of nutrient dense foods that are rich in Carbohydrates + Protein/Amino Acids immediately after exercise is most beneficial. For exercise of high intensity > 90 minutes, choose one of the following to consume within :30 minutes after training/game: Turkey Sandwich on whole wheat bread (WW) or WW bagel, Bowl of cereal w/skim milk, Pasta w/chicken (or lean protein source), Tunafish sandwich on WW bread or WW bagel,Oatmeal w/skim milk or H20 w/2 T Peanut Butter, or a good ‘ol fashioned Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich on WW or WW Bagel.
2) Rehydration – Research is good on this one. You must do it to recover well. Studies recommend the inclusion of a liquid that contains sodium (50 mmol/L) along with some potassium and carbs (sugar). Plenty of sports drinks out there will suffice, but make sure that you are getting enough, meaning that you have to intake as much fluid as you lost. One 16oz sports drink directly after training/game + another 75-120 ounces of water throughout the day.
3) Tapering – this is the preferred method of recovery tactics by most coaches and clubs around the world, as this will allow for consistent training and improvement without breaking a rhythm that players may have in mid season. Tapering is the idea that reducing training volume (total time/length) or intensity (%max effort) a certain amount during concurrent training sessions will allow for consistent recovery throughout a given week. All coaches and teams should be doing this in their respective training weeks, and can result in up to a 6% training improvement during that same week.
4) Compression – Ever seen NBA players wearing tights and long sleeves under their uniforms…or how about the runners that wear the socks that only cover their calves? Well, as cool as they look, they do serve a purpose. These compression sleeves and shorts (most often used by soccer players) are great for fending off strawberries while slide tackling and lending support to the muscles, in order to eliminate swelling. This reduction of an inflammatory response does wonders for staying away from soreness and getting back into game intensity in back to back days. However, if you want to utilize compression between training or games, compression only works for the parts of the body that are…uh, compressed. So, dress all the way from hips to ankles for best results.
5) Cool Down – I know, you never stretch after you train. You are tired, dirty, hungry, and couldn’t care less what your coach has to say about the missed shot you had inside the six yard box. Well, this is going to be the very best, and easiest way to ensure you are recovering properly. All of the processes and chemical releases that occur during intense exercise leave micro tears and damage throughout your muscles. Your hammies are in dire need of adequate blood flow to give them the nourishment to get better and the very thing that they want to do is to contract to a shortened length. Stretching passively (someone else) or actively (by yourself) shows great effect to give your muscles exactly what they need for immediate relief.
6) Ice baths – also known as cryotherapy, is a favorite way for college players to get the biggest bang for their buck between 2-a-days. As much as it is horribly annoying, dunking your legs in a bucket of ice for 15 minutes has shown great effect for reduction of swelling and soreness, as well as keeping you awake faster than a Starbucks vente with 6 shots of espresso. Bad news is that the evidence that this is anything but just a mental prank is conflicting. However, it does show definitive sleep enhancement and if you feel better and sleep better then most likely you will recover better.
7) Hyperbaric Chambers – this is for all of the million dollar players out there that do not have a claustrophobic tendency. The idea that creating more oxygen and atmospheric pressure in the air around you forces your body to intake and use the benefits of oxygen has some pretty awesome results. Just 10,000 dollars and a good nights rest in a coffin like chamber will have you playing your best for the next high school over time thriller.
8 ) Massage Therapy – a whole new industry has popped up around this idea. Hands on therapy used to manipulate the muscle and soft tissue that were damaged from training, making it possible for swelling and destructive elements in the local area to leave and the good stuff to get in quicker. If it doesn’t work, don’t tell anyone, because this just feels so good that I am willing to over look it.
9) Ergogenics/Supplements – Creatine, amino acids, Flinstone vitamins, and ginseng have all been researched and shown mixed results. My advice is to stick with something inexpensive, easy, and at least shown some good potential, such as taking a good quality multi-vitamin containing iron and folic acid a few hours after training.
10) REST – doing nothing may be the toughest thing to include in your routine, but just may be the best for you. Some studies show that the body is not able to recover fully from intense exercise for up to 72 hours or more. The modalities above will shorten this process, but you can never go wrong by just relaxing and letting your body do its thing.
My advice and the best recipe for the most effective recover would be, as follows: Post Training, in order to be ready for the next day…stretch while drinking a Gatorade before leaving the field, all while wearing compression shorts during the session. 3o minutes following training, eat a meal that includes whole wheat carbs, a lean protein, and 16-14 oz. water while submersing your waist down in 15 degree water. 2 hours following training take a multi-vitamin (with iron), stretch, and foam roll all lower body muscle groups. Lastly, probably the most important aspect of recovery and training progression is to track your readiness to train. We utilize our own version of an online marker of session rating of perceived exertion and a daily wellness questionnaire in order to get an accurate picture of how the body is reacting from training and lifestyle habits to create a super athlete.
Till next time