Recovery

I was inspired to write this post after meeting some family in Winnipeg. One of my cousins that I’d never met before turns out to be quite a hockey player, and we chatted a bit about why I do what I do after my own games. While I share my guidelines for recovery with my clients in the summer time, I wanted to write a blog post to put down my latest thoughts on an important subject: recovery. This article will have a broad scope because I’m going to talk about my thoughts on recovery in general, and also my specific habits that I engage in to aid my recovery after games and practices.

A Guide to Reading this Article:

This is how the article is going to read:

  • My practice recovery habits
  • My game recovery habits
  • My outlook on recovery in general
  • Technical notes on my recovery habits

What I suggest is that if you’re merely interested in what I think the best recovery practices are, just read the first two sections. If you’re interested in my rationale and not afraid of a bit of technical gobbledegook, read the last two sections as well.

Practice Recovery Habits (Time conscious habits)

  1. Rehydrate: equal to body before practice. Generally, I don’t have time to run up to the gym before and after practice, so I aim to finish my 500ml water bottle before leaving the rink.
  2. Refuel: with simple carbs. i.e. Gatorade/Powerade, fruit, fruit juice, granola bars.
  3. Restore length: with stretching. I aim to restore the length (to resting length) and tonicity (how tight my muscles feel). I use contract and relax method or PNF because it is fastest. (Contract and relax method is similar to the undulating method that I have mentioned in a previous post, but while inhaling, I contract all my muscles to generate full body tension, before exhaling and relaxing into the stretch. More on this soon.) If you don’t know how to, or don’t want to use contract and relax or PNF, you can static stretch. Your guideline for the amount of time to stretch isn’t a specific time frame, rather it should be based on how long it takes for your muscles to feel relaxed and lengthened.
  4. Refuel 2: with starchy carbs and protein. i.e. yams, quinoa, oatmeal, brown or mixed rice plus protein powder, nuts, meats.
  5. Relax: Sometimes I have to run immediately to class, but if I get a chance, I take a minute to chill out. If my schedule is light, I’ll have a big meal and then probably close my eyes for a few minutes. Once I wake back up, I’m usually refreshed and able to tackle some schoolwork or real work.

Game Recovery Habits

I won’t repeat what I have above, but I’ll elaborate where I do things a little differently.

  1. Rehydrate
  2. Refuel: with simple carbs. i.e. Gatorade/Powerade, fruit, fruit juice, granola bars.
  3. Flush: If a bike is accessible, I’ll use it to spin lightly for 8-12 mins. If not, I tend to go for a little walk around the rink. Some people jog, but I find that that doesn’t actually help me calm down.
  4. Breathing: While flushing, and while stretching, I take time to focus on my breath. I make myself aware of my breathing rate, and this gives me an indication of how aroused I am after my game.  If I am breathing fast, I take extra time to calm my breathing down. I aim to be able to easily breathe for 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out. Optimally I would sit down somewhere quiet for 5 minutes and hold the 5in/5out breathing cadence, but that doesn’t always happen. If I can’t do that, I’ll try to focus on that breathing cadence while stretching.
  5. Restore length: with stretching.
  6. Refuel 2: with starchy carbs and protein. i.e. yams, quinoa, oatmeal, brown or mixed rice plus protein powder, nuts, meats.
  7. Relax: I take time to relax my body and mind before bed. If we had a huge win, it’s tempting to be really excited and not allow yourself to calm down. If you had a bad game, it’s also tempting to be mad and berate yourself for your performance…this again doesn’t allow you to calm down. Chill out, forget about the rink, and get your body ready for the next stage of recovery which is arguably the most important.
  8. Sleep: Get a high quality sleep. This is extremely important for your brain, and for your muscles to recover. I aim for 9 hours of high quality sleep on most days of the week, and sometimes after games I’ll get upwards of 9.5 hours. If you’re not having high quality sleeps after games, it’s an indication that your recovery protocols are not doing their job of calming your body down. Consider what aspects of your recovery are hampering your sleep. A couple things that I found hampers my sleep are: too hot (my body temperature hasn’t cooled down since the game), too excited (had a good game, big win), crappy nutrition, or just generally too aroused (didn’t take long enough to recover after the game.)

Outlook on Recovery

There is a relationship between intensity of work and required recovery. The relationship is not linear, in fact it’s quite skewed towards your body and mind needing way more recovery.

One day, on Daniel Coyle’s blog, I came across a really earth shattering article (at least to me). Here’s a quote:

“The loafing program — or, to be more accurate, alternating intense efforts with spells of pure loafing — worked out pretty well, and not just for Darwin. After all, if it weren’t for daydreaming, we might not have Einstein’s theory of relativity, Mendeleyev’s periodic table, or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

So here’s a theory: Loafing is not a vice or a weakness, but an important and often-overlooked skill. High-quality loafing only looks like wasting time; in fact, it’s the opposite. Good loafing is restorative, and crucial to creativity and strategic thinking. It’s the time for reloading emotional fuel tanks, hatching plans, and making serendipitous connections. Bad loafing, on the other hand, leaves you more tired and distracted than before (I’m talking about you, Internet).”

At first I couldn’t quite buy that Darwin only spent 3 hours per day working, and I sort of ignored it for a while. But then I came across Cal Newport’s blog, and while I couldn’t find the article, he did a posting saying that top artists, intellectuals, authors, etc., spend on average between 3-5 hours per day on valuable creation. All of this led me to restructure how I was living my life as a student-athlete. I framed my reorganization by realizing two things:

  1. My time that I spend in intense concentration is extremely valuable and productive.
  2. Based on my biology, I only have a limited amount of time in a day when I can be intensely concentrated.

What’s the point of all of this? Mostly to point out that what is valuable is 100% focused concentration on a task. But that your mind and body takes much more time to recover after higher intensity work than it does after lower intensity work. It’s a balance that isn’t necessarily respected in our “productivity” focused society. For example, I always hear students saying “oh I spent 10 hours at the library last night.” They are saying that because they think that others value “putting your time in” for success. But in reality, that same student could probably get better studying done with 4 really intense hours, and a lot more chilling out.

A personal example of this was that in my best intention of preparing for this season, I designed a workout that took about 3 hours to complete. And it was 3 hours of sprinting, olympic lifting, max strength training, then more sprinting. Then when I wasn’t working out, I was coaching, on the ice, and running my business. I then expected to train 48 hours later. I got through about 2.5 weeks of this sort of thing before I crashed. I didn’t respect that the intensity of my work required a lot of recovery time. I also didn’t respect that the rest of the things I was doing in my life prevented me from getting a full recovery.

So the main point on my outlook on recovery is that there is a disproportional balance between intensity of work, and recovery necessary to recuperate from that work. We should strive for high quality, high intensity focused training, practice, studying and work…but we need to recognize our capacities, and plan our recovery accordingly.

Technical Notes

  1. Rehydrate: Reason that this is such a high priority is that dehydration is a stress for your body that you can remove fairly quickly. You can rehydrate throughout the course of your recovery process. Your goal here is to restore blood volume, which will have the effect of increasing your stroke volume, thus dropping your heart rate, thereby inducing the rest and recovery effects of the parasympathetic nervous system. You don’t want to allow the stressor of dehydration stick around any longer than it has to.
  2. Refuel: with simple carbs. I used to be be really picky about getting protein in quickly after games…but what is most important is getting carbs into the system. After (and during) high intensity exercise, your muscles have increased insulin sensitivity, so glucose will enter into your muscles cells more quickly. This window begins to shut after about 15-30mins. (This isn’t a full slam of the window, but you have the best uptake within that 15-30 mins timeframe.) Protein has a larger window for increased bioavailability so it’s a lower priority. When we get glucose into the muscles soon after exercise, glycogen resynthesis occurs much more quickly…allowing you to still have carbs to burn the next day.
  3. Flush: Common belief is that this is to flush lactic acid and prevent soreness. But that simply isn’t true. Lactic acid exists for a split second before dissociating into lactate and H+ ions, and is not actually associated with DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It is the H+ ions that cause acidity in the body, which is the real problem. However, with a flush (light biking, walking, light jogging), your increased VO2 will help expire the H+ ions, since Hg is a potent buffer. Your increased circulation will also help bring blood back to the liver where glyconeogenesis can occur, and more buffering of H+ can occur through the Cori Cycle. The flush will not likely prevent DOMS. DOMS has been associated with the eccentric and rapid stretch of the muscle. Once that damage has occurred, there’s not a ton you can do from a flushing standpoint.
  4. Breathing: Focusing on the breath is going to have a number of benefits. One, if you’re emotional, it will send blood flow to your prefrontal cortex, which is your brain centre for rational thought. Two, it will trigger the activation of the parasympathetic nervous (or more correctly, the disinhibition of PNS) system. This gets the heart rate down, clears the body of stress hormones like cortisol, and sends growth and repair signals to your body through hormones like HGH and IGF-1. If your PNS does not get sufficiently activated and your Sympathetic nervous system is predominant, you will not get the chemical signals to recovery and your body will remain in a state of stress. And three, as a corollary of your PNS getting disinhibited, your Heart Rate Variability will increase. Your HRV is a marker of stress, so is a physiological indicator of all the above mentioned stress/recovery signals your body is sending/getting.
  5. Restore length: We stretch for two reasons. One is mechanical, in that we can realign the sarcomeres of our muscles by stretching. This will help them to heal more quickly and with less inflammation, which may cause less soreness down the road (but we don’t really seem to know). The other, is neuromuscular/neurological. By relaxing the muscles, you’re going to have a similar PNS activating effect as from breathing. You’re also going to set their tone back to where it normally is when you’re resting. This will prevent the muscles from being tight the next morning (this is different from being sore). The drop in tonicity (tightness) will allow for the proper circulation to the muscles so that they can refuel.
  6. Refuel 2: with starchy carbs and protein. Now you’ll want slower digesting carbohydrates so that your body can uptake them over the course of your sleep. You’ll also want to take advantage of your window of bioavailability for protein uptake and synthesis.
  7. Relax: Again, get your PNS activated so that you can sleep. You’ll probably notice that when you’re stressed you have a hard time sleeping. That is because your SNS is activated and wants to keep you in a state of alertness. Get your SNS deactivated and your PNS activated by relaxing before bed.
  8. Sleep: Sleep is going to help with more of the repair and recovery effects of the PNS. You’ll get growth hormone and testosterone release, along with brain repair and growth. Sleep deprivation will lead to activation of SNS, so will not allow you to synthesize carbohydrates which are essential for your high intensity sport known as hockey.

Notably absent: Ice Bath

The jury is out on this one. I’ve read research that says that ice baths work. I’ve read research that says that contrast baths work. I’ve also read research that neither work. Furthermore, I’ve read research that ice baths may impair or delay recovery. The research that I read that most resonated with me was a paper that said that it’s impossible to control for placebo experimenter expectancy effect. Since you can’t really do a placebo ice bath, you just can’t create an experiment that controls for this (I guess unless you do an epidural or something…credit me for the idea if you use that one). So, if you think an ice bath helps you, then do it. If you think that it harms you, then don’t do it. The science is out. That’s my view.

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Published by

Jason at Train 2.0

2.0 was born from the belief that 1.0 isn't good enough. The way we're approaching coaching, training, and development for hockey needs to be rethought. My own lessons have led me to rethink the way it's being done and I can't help but write about it. I'm writing for my 12, 13, 14, 15 year old self who didn't have this resource. I'm writing for parents who are putting their dollars and trust in coaches who are wasting all of it. I'm writing because I hope it can make a difference.

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