Game Day! The best day of the week for athletes around the world. You're excited, anxious and ready to hit the field and put it all on the line for your team.
Regardless of the sport, the body and mind are taxed when put under the stressors of competition and game day.
You might be a triathlete, football player or golfer - when it comes to recovery, our bodies operate the same: the body needs rest or a return to homeostasis, fuel (food) and hydration, namely electrolyte replacement.
Managing Competition and Recovery
The general rule of thumb is the damage produced during intense bouts requires 24 to 72 hours to fully regenerate, meaning you can return to play at an equal or higher level of intensity. Let’s be honest, most sporting schedules don’t account for this.
Take golf for instance. It’s Monday through Wednesday practice rounds that lead to Thursday and Friday competition. If you’re lucky enough to be competitive on that weekend, you get to compete another for an additional 2 days.
Then there’s American football, where you compete 1 day per week, but practice an additional 5-6 days. Some organizations have negotiated mandatory days off to prevent athletes from overtraining/overuse injuries.
The bottom line is this: if you aren't recovering properly after a competition, you are running the risk of having overuse injuries and missing your competitive season!
Keys To Recovering After Game Day
In the Journal of Sports Science, vol. 33 2015, soccer players were tested via the RESTQ-SPORT, that “was designed to examine the contribution of stress and recovery variables”. Fatigue and stress ranked amongst the highest correlation to injury potential. While sleep quality held the lowest effective outcome for injury, non-refreshing sleep or lack of sleep has a significant effect of the lack of recovery.
They also found that those athletes, who had 6+ days of recovery between games were less likely to be injured that those with 4 or less days of recovery between games. The psychosocial factors i.e. feeling of muscle stiffness or propensity of being injury prone have a strong correlation to whether an athlete remains healthy or is injured within a month’s period. Frankly, some of it really is mind over matter.
While all the data might seem trivial, injury really comes down to the initial onset of fatigue, how we deal with that fatigue, the fuel that we give ourselves, the sleep that we obtain and how we genuinely feel about our performance.
So, how can you protect yourself from injury and kickstart the recovery process after game day?
First, stop worrying about being injured. You’re an athlete. It will happen sooner or later. Face it, we are human. We make mistakes, some catastrophic and some mild. If we are constantly concerning ourselves with the notion of injury, we are taking away the true intended focal point: focusing on the game. We prepare via training, practice, sleep and creating good eating habits.
Why ruin it all with a lack of focus?
Next - win or lose, we need sleep. Quality sleep, not just a couple hours per night. Some athletes sleep upwards of 10 hours per night. This nocturnal process allows both the brain and body to repair itself. In fact, it’s the most effective time to utilize the nutrients that we ingested post-game to ensure our muscles are fully recovered, replenished with electrolytes and ready for competition.
Third - without proper nutrition all the effort you put into training is moot. Following a game, your body and brain is starving to be replenished. Sweat, while good for cooling the body, is responsible for evaporating key nutrients, minerals and electrolytes that keeps muscle function normal.
What you put into your body immediately following the game counts. Ideally, you want to ingest some mix of protein, fat and carb post-game. I recommend whole food options, but if you can’t readily have a nutritious meal, then a shake can be an adequate start. Select one with no more than 20g of protein, 30g of carbs and some fats. The fats will fuel the brain, while also helping to keep you feeling full until you can have a legitimate meal.
Finally, active recovery is a key factor. What is active recovery? According to Breaking Muscle writer, Alan Kipping-Ruane, active recovery is “completing a workout at a low intensity, but just high enough that it gets the blood moving and helps reduce residual fatigue in the muscle”.
This type of workout should include passive stretching, dynamic stretching, foam rolling and possibly some type of massage.
The body will ultimately heal on it’s own. If we want to decrease the time of repair, we can use these technique to aid in speeding the recovery process.