The Importance of Sleep to Workout Recovery

Sleep is an important factor in health. In addition to aiding in the healing of the body after injury, studies suggest that sleep can help boost the immune system, prevent disease, and ease depression. (U.S. Army photo by Lt. Col. John Hall)

When you consider all the ways your body can recover from stress, overworking, and overtraining, you cannot start the conversation without mentioning the number one recovery tool we have as humans to help recover – SLEEP. If you don’t get restful sleep, the long-term effects of stress and overtraining will be detrimental to your health and training.

The chart below is a visual representation of my opinion and not fully based on science. The big concept here - and it is not earth shattering - is that the amount of sleep and the types of food, amount of water, electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals are the most important things we can do to aid in recovery. The remaining 10% is divided up between natural recovery tools such as ice, cold / hot water, saunas, contrast baths, Cryo-therapy, cold sleeves, and other useful gear such as foam rollers, massage tools, compression garments. The final section is the outsourcing of services from chiropractors, acupuncturists, float tanks, pneumatic compression therapy, and other forms of bodywork and adjustments. All together makeup very important puzzle of completely recovering or recovering much faster.

Here is the laundry list of things to do, gear to use, and things to think about when it comes to your post-workout recovery:

The big THREE: Sleep, Food, Water – Recovery Begins HERE! You cannot truly discuss recovery without fixing the big three of sleep, food, and water.

Sleep: #1 Recovery Tool – See importance of sleep article for more details, but without this critical piece, recovery does not happen. Create sleeping rituals for yourself and build a good habit today with a focus on getting more and better sleep. See rituals article for help.

Nutrition Planning - Food and Water: Foods rich in protein / amino acids, good carbohydrates (fruit/vegetables), fats, rich in antioxidants, electrolytes, omega 3, and other vitamins and minerals (supplements) required for a balanced diet. Not only do you need to recover from the previous workout with these foods, but you need to start fueling for the next workout. Replacing any lost water through sweating is essential to your recovery, but also replacing any electrolytes lost during training/work day is also critical. If these are not in sync, you will not have the fuel to handle future workouts at a preferred / optimum potential. You need water every day – more if you sweat profusely or arid environments leave salt stains on your clothes (replenish sodium, potassium, magnesium).

The Natural Methods (Hot, Cold, Stretching) – Continuing on the theme of natural methods for recovery, the classic cold water/ice therapies/baths work great at helping to improve circulation, reduce heat and swelling. Products like FreezeSleeves, ice packs, Cryo-therapy, cold water buckets and contrasts baths (hot tub/pool water) can help you take recovery to a new level for yourself.  IR saunas sort of belong in this section but is typically outsourced for such heat therapy. But you could also just get a heat wrap and microwave it to produce heat when you need it for recovery. You should also place stretching (static and dynamic) into the natural methods to help with recovery.

Gear and Outsourced Services: This section is forever evolving and where most people spend their money on getting the newest gear, service, or supplement to help with recovery. However, there are some devices that we all love and consider them essential to recovery.  Personally, the foam roller, lacrosse balls and learning myofascial release has been revolutionary in the last decade for many active people. More gear such as compression garments, sleeves, vibration tools like the orbital car buffer, Thera-gun, vibration platforms are pieces of gear that is very helpful to recovery as well. Also, recovery supplements from reputable manufacturers like Thorne have a series of products that may also help with boosting the nutritional side of recovery.

Most of the time, the following gear is too expensive to have in the home so fitness centers, physical therapy facilities, and other practitioners make a living by performing recovery therapies on people or allowing them to use their specialized recovery equipment like the following list:

Float Tank, Pneumatic Compression Therapy, massage, body work, chiropractic care, acupuncture, IR sauna, contrast baths, sauna.

The purpose of the chart and this post is to reiterate the importance of what really is essential to recovery. Making your recovery optimal for you may require perfect sleep, perfect nutrition, and finding the gear and services that can push you well into the high 90 percentile is effective recovery.  But the human body is resilient and will find ways to recover and manage under extreme duress for long periods of time. We will need to recover eventually.

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