For athletes and people who work out regularly, it's no surprise that optimal recovery is just as important (if not more important) than the workout itself. Failing to let your body recover can lead to a host of problems, both physical and mental.

There are five essential strategies athletes can use to optimize and speed up their recovery, including sleep, nutrition, hydration, active recovery, and custom shoe inserts. 

Prioritizing even a few of these tips can have significant benefits to your recovery and your performance in the gym or on the trail, bike, or track. 

athlete recovery1. Sleep

Sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture. Suspects have even given false confessions as a result of not sleeping for hours during interrogations. When you don't sleep enough, you miss out on the time your body relies on to reset and recover.  According to an article by Piedmont, a lack of sleep over a long period of time can lead to increased inflammation in the body, a decrease in immune system function, and even an increased risk of death. 

When you sleep, vital processes are taking place in all of your body's systems. Namely, energy stores are restored and muscle tissue is repaired. If building muscle is your goal, this time to allow your muscle to repair is the key to seeing the results you want. Athletes, runners, and those who are extremely active put a great deal of strain on their bodies, so getting enough quality sleep is non-negotiable. When you prioritize sleep, you'll also notice an increase in mental clarity. Experts recommend between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. 

2. Nutritionathlete eating

You are what you eat. Eating a healthy, mostly whole-food diet is another crucial step to proper recovery. A balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is important, as is balancing your macronutrients, or macros. The three key macronutrients, carbs, fat, and protein, are what make up our caloric intake each day. Eating a balanced variety of foods is a great way to make sure you're eating an overall balanced diet!

Healthline reports that 45-65% carbs, 20-35% fat, and 10-35% protein is the recommended macro-split. Your individual needs depend on your sex, age, weight, and activity level. Here are a few suggestions for optimal post-workout snacking:

  • Protein shake and a piece of fruit
  • Fruit and Greek yogurt
  • Trail mix (preferably with more nuts than chocolate candies)
  • Wheat toast with peanut butter
  • Rice cake with light cream cheese 

In general, eat well. Know that you can still eat a balanced diet without having to say goodbye to the occasional donut or slice of pizza!

3. Hydration

You've undoubtedly heard of the importance of staying hydrated. Our bodies already contain a great deal of water, and our internal organs require water to function properly. Like a lack of sleep, a lack of hydration can lead to a decrease in your body's ability to function properly, forget optimally. Maintaining athletic performance includes hydrating well and often. Adding an electrolyte powder to your water can help your body use the water you consume properly, but buying expensive supplements isn't necessary. Experts like Andrew Huberman recommend simply sprinkling a little sea salt in a glass of water and consuming it first thing in the morning.

"Do I really have to drink a gallon of water a day?"drinking water

Short answer: maybe. It depends. It's widely recommended by health care professionals that people consume half their body weight in ounces of water per day. For example, someone who weighs 140 pounds should aim for 70 ounces a day.

4. Active Recovery

Medical News Today defines "active recovery" as "low-intensity exercise that a person performs after higher intensity to improve their recovery and performance." Active recovery might include simply getting your steps in, going for a swim, walking the dog an extra block, or riding your bike to unwind after work. You're not going for any personal records or aiming to break a sweat; you're just enjoying some movement because it's downright good for you!

5. Custom Orthotics

Having proper support when you exercise, lift weights, run, or walk is of the utmost importance; at the same time, the footwear you choose to wear after your workout plays a part in your recovery and, ultimately, your performance. A pair of custom orthotics, also known as shoe inserts or insoles, are made just for you, specific to the shape of your feet and the way you walk (called your gait). They accommodate and even correct any biomechanical, structural, or medical issue causing pain in your feet or ankles.

shoes and insertsWhile children, teens, adults, and even seniors can benefit from custom orthotics, they are especially helpful for athletes. Proper support means less risk of injury, a reduction of post-workout soreness, and less pain overall. Custom orthotics for athletes are light and comfortable. After a short break-in period, you'll forget how you ever survived without them. Supporting your feet before serious pain starts or an injury occurs is always the smartest move. You'll avoid unexpected downtime by giving yourself the right recovery tools now.


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