The art and science of recovery.
Updated: Dec 12, 2019
A review of and learnings from the book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery by Christie Aschwanden. It’s an informative read that offered me insights and reflections into my own practice, which I found has lots of room for improvement. There’s much more depth and information than I can share in an 900 word blog, but here are my main takeaways.
Be Like Mike. Our bodies can adapt to fluid loss and the common advice of drinking lots of fluids in advance of big events like HIM or marathons may actually backfire. Why? If you drink a bunch of excess water leading up to a competition, you prime your body to become less adept at holding on to precious fluids. If you have practiced conserving water by waiting until you’re feeling pretty thirsty to drink, your body will adapt. One researcher Aschwanden interviewed advised that it might actually be better to practice conserving water in training and continue to simply drink to thirst. Takeaway: Drink to thirst.
The Perfect Fuel. Its not so much a window of time to get protein into your body for muscle repair, it’s more of an anabolic barn door — and it stays open for about 4-5 hours. The latest research shows that protein will help recovery whether you consume it before or even during exercise, and smaller amounts of protein spread regularly through the day seems to be a better way of consuming protein then trying to eat or drink a bunch or protein immediately after working out. Takeaway: There’s nothing magic about the 20, 30, 60 minutes post-workout for eating protein and like hydration, listen to your body — and eat as needed.
The Cold War. I love ice. There I said it. I like that is numbs the aches and pains. And some part of me has always known that that may not always be beneficial. Recent studies have concluded that icing, ice baths, and cryotherapy may feel good on sore muscles and injuries, but can delay muscle healing. Without inflammation you won’t heal… that’s how your body regenerates. Icing shuts down blood flow and slows the immune system’s response. Takeaway: If you want to maximize your results from training camp or a hard workout, it may be best to skip the ice.
Flushing the Blood. Massage, infrared saunas, foam rollers, compression sleeves/socks, and compression boot systems. The author had mixed feelings about many of these recovery tools of which I actively partake in. As for massage, it can be effective for performance if the recovery period is short—up to 10 minutes. Otherwise there’s not a lot of evidence that it helps with recovery. As for foam
rolling, it’s unclear if its truly changing something in the muscle or if its having a placebo effect for the user. I own compression socks, sleeves, and an Air Relax compression system as I believe that they offer benefits. For compression socks/sleeves to be effective, the author notes that fit and brand are critical. The research has shown small benefits to using compression garments. As for compression boot systems, the author said that this was her favorite recovery toy. That being said, she went on to say that there is little evidence that these balloon-like boots really speed up recovery. Takeaway: Many of the recovery tools available may have more of a psychological effect then actually physically speeding up recovery—similar to a placebo effect, which I elaborate more on below.
The Rest Cure. Aschwanden is a big fan of sleep for recovery and writes that it’s the most powerful recovery tool known to science. Going to sleep is like taking your body to the repair shop. Sleep is when recovery and adaptation happens, and prioritizing it can help athletes flourish. Takeaway: Sleep needs to be held to the same standard as every other spect of training. Don’t skimp on sleep or overlook the many benefits if offers for recovery and repair.
Other chapters in the book covered topics like calming the senses and using tools like floating to declutter our minds and relieve stress. Aschwanden also covers in substantial detail the unregulated industry of supplements and how many have very little evidence behind them. This particular chapter is definitely worth the read if you’re using supplements or contemplating using them. The author also covers overtraining, which she believes should really be called under-recovering. She uses elite runner, Ryan Hall as a classic example of an athlete who chronically under-recovered. Other chapters covered whether or not there is a perfect metric when it comes to calculating how much time we need to rest and recover, and refers to former triathlete and coach, Matt Dixon who says that if you disregard your internal clock and perceived effort, you will never truly evolve as an athlete.
One of the major takeaways for me after reading this book is that I can take epsom salt baths, use compression boots, get massages — and really the most important recovery tools I possess are sleep and the ability to listen to my body. Aschwanden cites numerous examples of athletes who are successful because of their ability to listen to their bodies and train — and perhaps most importantly, rest and recover when needed.
Many of the recovery modalities that Aschwanden writes about work by exploiting the placebo effect — and that is not a reason to dismiss them. On the contrary. She writes that we can see them as “anticipatory response” or “belief effects.” If an athlete believes that something works, the belief effect can overwhelm the real effect. If an athlete doesn’t believe in the modality its benefits will be diminished or even erased.
There's so much more wisdom in this book that I didn't cover. Feel free to hit me up with questions or comments.
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