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Recovery Tools of the Trade

The "Three-Hour" Diet

How Do You Best Perform Daily?

“Recovery and Maintenance,” We hear these terms often in just about every area of our lives: from improving your fitness and athletic performance and handling stressful professions to maintaining your health with a strong immune system. Typically, most people in the military /​ law enforcement fitness and health genre ask about how to get stronger for Fitness Tests while working long and stressful hours. While recently, many military members and police officers ask about recovery and maintenance plans to better perform at their job in combat situations.

Here is a sample email from a Marine who asks a familiar question, “Any advice for what should be staple supplements in addition to a healthy diet when looking to gain size, strength, and aid in recovery?”

Yes, many of us want to get bigger, stronger, and faster AND have energy to live another day. Part of the answer to the question above is in the question, but true recovery comes in several critical areas and if one is lacking, your fitness, nutrition, maintenance, performance training plan and overall health can be in jeopardy of yielding less than optimal results. Life in general, hard workouts, and stressful professions involved in life and death situations create a rush of stress hormones that the body has to deal with in order to create a healthy, living organism. The effects of a few of these hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) create immediate survival mode energy. It does not matter if you are worrying about not being able to pay a bill or having bullets shot at you, the same stress hormones create alertness and energy to deal with the problems, but these hormones can also be detrimental to your recovery and wellbeing if not dealt with properly. For instance stress /​ stress hormones:

  • Suppress the digestive system
  • Alters immune system
  • Weakens reproductive system
  • Decreases muscle growth
  • And controls mood, motivation and fear.

However, the following areas are recommended for TRUE Recovery and Maintenance from stress:

Food — aka Meal Plan, Diet or whatever you wish to call it.

What you put into your body matters for mind and body performance, as well as your ability to recover. Foods rich in protein/​good fats (amino acids, omega 3 fatty acids), carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, anti-​​oxidants, multi-​​grains) all are required for you to healthfully deal with balancing out the stress hormones in our bodies.

Great Samples of Protein /​ Good Fats:

  • Boiled eggs
  • Nuts — Peanuts, almonds etc — source of GOOD fats too
  • Beef Jerky — watch for MSG
  • Salmon / Tuna / Chicken — source of good fats too
  • Peanut butter packages

For Carbs:

  • Any fruit — banana, apple, orange, grapes, etc
  • Vegetables — carrots, green leafy items,
  • Multigrain breads / pastas — also source of protein

What About Supplements? 

I am not a fan of supplements. For me personally, a multi-​​vitamin and omega –3 caplets and just good eating are the BEST thing for recovery from stress and workouts as well.

Every now and then when I cannot get REAL food I will drink a Muscle Milk /​ whey protein shake. I like to drink chocolate milk after a long and hard workout as it replenishes sugar, proteins, fat quickly and easily. I basically treat supplements the same way I do MREs. I would not eat an MRE if I had a restaurant /​ cafeteria available, but would when it is the only thing I can eat for a meal /​ snack, I will grab a supplement drink or bar. Eating more calories per day (good calories of carbs, fat, protein) along with workouts will increase weight. Those who have difficulty gaining strength /​ size typically need to add both carbs and protein to their diets and focus on sleep /​ proper recovery in between workouts.

Hydration

Being dehydrated increases cortisol levels and stresses the body. Also electrolyte imbalances will create fatigue and an inability to properly function mentally or physically. After sweaty workouts — (ring out sweat out of or salt stains on clothes type of sweat) I like to eat a can of chicken noodle soup (Noodle O’s personally) as it is loaded with potassium (3–4 times that of a banana plus protein /​ carbs). Those are my only supplement I use regularly. Water is the best source of hydration but the body will pull water from nearly everything that enters it. However, foods /​ drinks high in caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all negatively affect your hydration levels as well as increase stress hormone levels. A general rule of thumb for active people is 50–75% body weight in pounds = ounces per day of H2O.

Sleep

The best training plans will not work if sleep and rest between workouts are neglected. Without adequate sleep (eight hours a night), there is not enough rest for muscle cell growth and repair. In fact, when you sleep, growth hormone is produced and protein synthesis in the muscles occurs IF you eat foods with protein during the day.  For adolescents especially, sleep is critical as growth can be impaired if quality and quantity of sleep is lacking.

Lack of sleep can also affect your mood and increase hormonal stress levels which will have a negative impact on performance. Now, one night of missed sleep is not going to have many negative effects on your performance, but several days in a row or a few weeks of interrupted sleep combined can lead to similar symptoms of a stressed out /​ over-​​training syndrome.

In the military or law enforcement professions, sleep may not occur at regular intervals and the quality may be lacking. But those who work hard during the day or exercise will have an easier time falling asleep compared to those who do not.

Exercise or Hard Physical Work

Exercise and physical work are great OUTLETS for stress to be released from the body. The body produces stress hormones in order for the body to react and survive. If you do not physically RELEASE these stress hormones they will interrupt your sleep and long term health.

Clear Your Mind of Intrusive Thoughts

One trick is to go to a “happy place” and breathe deep /​ slow breaths when you are bombarded by stressful thoughts that may or may not occur or have occurred in the past. Your body will react to your brain imagining negative thoughts and keep stress hormones racing through your body. Reverse the trend and think relaxing thoughts of a favorite place, time, event and revisit that. If that does not work for long, write down your to-​​do list /​ what bothers and get it out of your head and you will be less stressed.

Recovery

In order to maintain health /​ fitness levels or build upon current levels you have to rest, eat properly (good food), and balance your workouts with periodization programming. Thoroughly understanding cycles of peak performance, maintenance, and recovery are critical to your long term health and longevity.

See The Advanced Maintenance and Recovery Program created for people who have completed physically stressful and challenging training courses like Ranger School, Q course, BUD/​S, etc. This program is tough and gets people back into lifting, PTing, cardio workouts (both running and non impacts like swimming) in order to recover from extremely difficult periods of training. Feel free to email me if you have any questions at stew@​stewsmith.​com

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Health General Fitness Stew Smith Diet and Nutrition

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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