When you think of fit people or elite athletes and their training, your mind automatically goes to intense workout sessions hours on end where they are absolutely exhausted. But, what you don't see is the recovery--this is where the muscles are actually built.
After a grueling workout, athletes need to enter a parasympathetic nervous state, also known as the rest and digest state, and this allows for a protein synthesis, which rebuilds the muscles that were damaged from the workout. Without this stage all we would have is destroyed muscles and instead of being bigger and stronger after a workout we would become weaker as our bodies deteriorate. Most people also think that over training does not occur if they are not some professional athlete or ultra endurance athlete, however if you've ever had an overuse injury you have overtrained.
To begin, perhaps the most important aspect of training is proper sleep. This is where your body and mind does most of its repairs. Athletes like Roger Federer will sleep at least 10 hours a night in order to preserve their bodies and recover after the long training sessions.
After sleep, nutrition is how we put in the proper fuel into our bodies to repair damaged muscle fibers with new, stronger muscle fibers. A balanced diet replaces the energy that we have lost during the workout to ensure that our bodies will be able work at their full capacity the next time around. It is important that you are eating a balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as they all serve a purpose (carbohydrates provide energy, protein rebuilds our muscles, and fats ensure that our endocrine system and organs are functioning properly).
The next way in which we can recover faster is through light aerobic exercise. Several studies show that walking or even a light jog on days off or after training can help muscle repairs by increasing blood flow to it and providing the damaged muscles with the nutrients they need and by also removing the waste.
Yoga or stretching is another great way of recovering, providing the same benefits as aerobic training, while also increasing joint mobility which may be lost as muscles become tighter from growth. This is also the most effective way to prevent the occurrence of overuse injuries as it will ensure there's proper balance between the muscles and ensure that one is not compensating for another unjustly. A good yoga practice will also relax the body and mind helping to usher in the parasympathetic state. Foam rolling and massages also increase blood flow to the target areas and can help target specific muscles that may have knots in them and break up this spasm.
Next we have Epsom salt baths and ice baths. Scientifically speaking ice baths tend to provide more beneficial results in terms of recovery; the ideal water temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. I find that going in the ice baths can be a meditative experience where you focus on controlling your heart rate and breathing in a situation in which your body naturally responds with stress. I always feel calm and happy after an ice bath session. This being said, I have also found a lot of muscle soreness relief from Epsom salt baths as well and is a nice excuse to take a warm bath after a long day.
Together, these methods of recovery are very important in any athletes’ aspect of training, and every elite athlete utilizes this as its benefits are endless. Most professional athletes will spend more time on recovery than they will on training as it is important for them to maintain their health and be consistent and it allows them to get the most out of the training they put in.