As a coach suggesting that an athlete skip a workout is like asking them to go out for a workout without their Garmin! But sports science has shown over and over again that rest and recovery days are important elements of the training cycle. But is there a difference between rest and recovery? And when’s the best time to incorporate the two into your schedule?
The Difference Between Rest and Recovery
Rest: Rest is time spent sleeping and not training or exercising. This means letting yourself sleep in or indulging in a nap. You don’t have to sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix but you can literally do anything you want, so long as it doesn’t involve working out.
Recovery: Or more commonly referred to as “active recovery,” can help relieve muscle soreness, improve flexibility, and restore energy levels. This is where the beauty of triathlon comes in three sports more choices. A long hard bike on Sunday can be followed by an easy swim session on Monday. Active recovery should not be a way to avoid rest, but a way to help the body repair itself after hard workouts.
When Do We Incorporate Them?
Rest: The easiest way to tell if you need a rest day is to listen to your body for signs which include an elevated resting heart rate because your body is under more stress trying to heal itself, poor sleep patterns, dark urine because your body is dehydrated, increased irritability, or a general feeling of sickness or constant injury. As a coach, I think rest is essential in order to help my clients rebuild and recover from training.
Recovery: In a day or two following a challenging training session I always recommend an easy workout for my athletes that will help repair the tiny tears made in the muscles. An active recovery day can include an easy swim session, a recovery bike workout or even a restorative yoga class. Foam rolling is often a simple and much-overlook way to aid in recovery.
How Much of Each Do We Need?
Rest: Many studies suggest that muscles need 48 hours to fully recover from a workout, but that doesn’t mean you need to take two days off and do nothing.
Each athlete I work with needs a rest day or rest period at different times depending on their unique training plans. Some may need a day once a week or just once or twice a month. Injuries or illness create more demand for rest, and newer athletes may need more rest days than an athlete that has been training longer. This is very reason why a one size fits all coaching plan doesn’t work for most athletes.
Recovery: Every training plan I create has easy days for a reason. While rest days may be pushed around based on experience level, you’ll need a recovery day at least once a week. Scheduling recovery days will still vary based on the volume of an athletes training, but you’ll find that active recovery days should happen more frequently than rest days.
How Do you Fuel On Your Rest And Recovery Days
Fueling on your rest and recovery days is just as important as on your high-intensity training days.
Since a rest day is when your body makes the changes you’ve worked so hard for, taking the time to recover properly by fueling for muscle repair is crucial.
Quite often athletes don’t think about what they are eating on the days they are not training hard or even worse they will skip meals because of fear of eating calories they are not burning thus afraid they will put on unwanted weight. This is a critical mistake, it is when we are at rest that our bodies become fitter for the next workout and proper fueling plays a large part in that process.
So what should you eat on your rest/recovery days? Clean sources of protein like eggs will aid in the repair of muscle fibers while low glycemic carbohydrates like oatmeal are good for replenishing glycogen stores. Fibrous fruits and veggies with high water content like cucumbers and oranges help with rehydration. Something I make myself and is now all the rage is bone broth. It can help heal your gut, which is where your immune system lives, It also has been shown to protect your joints and help you sleep better. You can buy it in the store or online but I prefer to make my own with organic beef bones in my crockpot. I have attached my favorite recipe here.
Other Aids For Recovery
BCAA’s: (Branch Chain Amino Acids) Research has shown that BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle protein synthesis. Muscle damage develops delayed onset muscle soreness or DOS: a syndrome that occurs 24-48 h after intensive physical activity that can inhibit future training sessions.
Compression: Compression garments significantly aid muscles’ recovery once strenuous exercise is over. Using compression socks or pants augments the movement of blood through muscles after exercising, when blood flow would otherwise slow down. This increase in circulation may help flush away some of the biochemical byproducts of hard workouts, like lactate, thus reducing inflammation and muscle aches.
Cryotherapy: This is something I have recently found to be very valuable to my recovery. In a cryotherapy chamber, the ambient temperature is lowered to a numbing minus 100 degrees Celsius. You only remain in the Cryo chamber for no more than two minutes. Cryotherapy follows the same science as the ice baths but without having to suffer nearly as much.
Foam Rolling: Foam rolling is an easy and effective way to increase the range of motion. Only two minutes of foam rolling a day can benefit an athlete in their recovery. Foam rolling has also shown to help increase blood flow before a workout.
So I hope you see that although Resting and Recovering are different they are both as important to your goals as your training days.
Train hard, Rest easy