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There’s no better feeling than getting into that good training groove and seeing your skills, speed, and strength improve each day. But training hard is only part of the process – our bodies (and minds) need time to rest, repair, and recover!

After an intense training period (like a kickboxing or jiu-jitsu class, or maybe a hard weight lifting session), your body requires a period of recovery. Hard training puts stress on the body and sends signals about physical adaptations that need to happen next, such as developing muscle tissue and regulating the balance of important hormones.

Without adequate recovery, your body doesn’t have time to adapt and become stronger. You may begin to experience fatigue, become more prone to injury, and experience a plateau in your performance during training sessions. To get the most benefit out of your training, be sure to focus on these critical elements of recovery: Nutrition, hydration, stretching, and rest.

Food is Fuel

After a hard workout, your body needs nutrients that will replenish energy, provide building blocks for lean tissue repair, and ensure that your “engine” has fuel for next time. Speed up your recovery by replenishing your body with carbohydrates and protein shortly after your workout, and be sure to eat a nutritious, balanced meal within an hour or two following the end of your training session.

What you eat today will power tomorrow’s training, so always try to maintain a consistent and balanced intake of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day. While each person’s nutritional needs will vary, a good rule of thumb is to choose a variety of lean proteins, whole grains and starches, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables to ensure that your body is running at its peak.

Don’t Wait – Hydrate!

To stay healthy, you need to drink water. Hydration is essential for the body to function and maintaining an appropriate hydration balance is critical for both performance and recovery. Even mild levels of dehydration will result in a significant decrease in performance during training, so it’s important to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.

The traditional advice to drink 8-10 cups of water (64-80 ounces) per day is a good place to start as a minimum intake for basic health. In addition, try to drink at least 16-20 ounces of water two to three hours prior to the start of your training session, as well as sipping water frequently during your workout. After training, be sure to at least replenish any water you’ve lost during your session (for example, if you lost 2 pounds through sweating, drink a minimum of 32 ounces of water to rehydrate)

Loosen Up

There’s no question about it – a good training session is exciting! However, it’s important to take time before and after training, as well as during your down time, to focus on stretching and flexibility. A tight, inflexible body will contribute to muscle imbalance and lower quality of movement, not to mention making you more prone to injury.

Utilize stretching methods such as foam rolling, static stretching, and dynamic range-of-motion movement both before and after your training session to improve your flexibility and mobility. Always be sure to perform an adequate warm-up into your workouts, as well as a cool-down interval to allow your body to adjust. In addition, consider incorporating flexibility-focused exercise into your recovery time, such as yoga or Pilates.

Rest and Repair

Adequate rest is an absolutely essential part of any training regimen. Without rest, your body will not be able to repair the stresses of training or make adaptations to get stronger. Your total rest time can be considered a combination of sleep, and time spent not training or exercising.

Although specific sleep needs will vary depending on each person’s lifestyle, genetics, and workout type, most athletes should aim to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to promote muscle recovery, hormonal balance, and metabolic support. If you are engaging in many hours of intense training per day, or participating in twice-a-day training sessions, consider spacing them out when possible to allow for a few hours of recovery time between hard pushes.

Stay tuned this month as we explore these important components of recovery – Nutrition, Hydration, Stretching, and Rest – in more detail!