Recovery: The role of BCAAs, nutrition, sleep, and training

Recovery: The role of BCAAs, nutrition, sleep, and training

Athletes are hard-wired for training. It’s a defining pillar of our personalities, as if it becomes part of our DNA. It grounds us and serves as a personal north star on our journeys through life. It’s easy to become addicted to the endorphin rush that follows a heart-pumping workout. If our goal is to optimize the results from our training, however, learning to balance work with recovery is essential. Below are a few recovery hacks to help maximize your fitness.

 

BCAAS

 

As a recap from the last blog post, BCAAs can drastically diminish the effects of "DOMS," or "delayed onset muscle soreness,” which can develop within 24-72 hours after intense training sessions. BCAAs stands for Branched-Chain Amino Acids, which are comprised of three nutritionally essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized endogenously by humans, and therefore must be supplied by diet or supplementation. The three BCAAs are L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine, and when supplemented alongside exercise, they drastically reduce the effects of DOMS and increase the rate of muscle tissue recovery.[i] Not to mention, BCAAs also activate key enzymes in protein synthesis, which is the process of muscle building that occurs after physical exercise.[ii] At UNBARD, we felt strongly that when formulating a pre-workout drink, we would be remiss by leaving out a supplement proven to aid in the recovery process and help athletes rebound from intense training more quickly.

 

Nutrition

 

Clean eating is essential to maximizing performance, recovery, and preventing injury. No person can be a complete athlete without clean eating habits. As books have been written on this topic, there’s not enough space here to fully unpack the importance of nutrition on health and recovery. Below are a few high-level ideas to keep in mind when thinking about nutrition choices through the lens of athletic performance:

  • Think of your body like a vehicle. If you put anything but the proper fuel in your gas tank (say, low-quality gasoline with soot or debris mixed in), your car won’t function the way it’s supposed to. Low quality fuel = low quality performance & constant breakdowns.
  • Back near its inception, CrossFit famously summarized “world-class fitness” in 100 words (some of which pertain to diet). The excerpt reads: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”[iii] It’s an oversimplification and, obviously, not the only version of a healthy diet. But it illustrates an important point: clean eating doesn’t need to be complicated — it just requires discipline. In a world where unhealthy eating and sugar-filled foods are the cultural norm, the healthy choice becomes the hard choice.
  • Nutrition is highly individualized — certainly not one size fits all. Everyone should experiment with different kinds of nutrition plans to figure out what works for them. However, this much is known: eat mostly natural foods, stay away from things that are processed, don’t sustain caloric excess, and you’re better off than most.
  • Tip: When shopping, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid the processed foods in the aisles. Indulge occasionally, but do so in moderation. Earn your indulgences and live in balance.
  • Mat Fraser said it best: “You can’t out-train a bad diet.” He largely attributes his progression from multiple-time second-place finisher to dominant 5x CrossFit Games champion to honing in his nutrition.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol greatly inhibits your body’s ability to accumulate high-quality, restful sleep. (See below for sleep’s impact on recovery).
  • Pay attention to your body and try to spot sensitivities in your diet. Every body is built differently and has varying tolerance for certain foods. Pay special attention to dairy, gluten, sugar, and starch, among other things.

 

Sleep

 

If you’re serious about understanding and optimizing your body’s performance, a sleep and recovery tracker is a must-have accessory. WHOOP serves as the official wearable of CrossFit, and recently released an updated tracker with more sophisticated analytics and sensors than previous versions. Additionally, the Whoop Locker holds a plethora of good information on all things sleep/recovery. If adding a wearable to your wrist feels too intrusive, Oura Ring also provides high-quality sleep-tracking data with a sleek ring (interestingly, having data read from your finger instead of your wrist provides certain distinct tracking and accuracy advantages). Below are the basics/need-to-knows:

  1. There are 3 main sleep cycles: Light sleep, REM sleep, and deep sleep.
  2. REM sleep stands for “rapid eye movement” sleep. This is when your brain is committing important recent experiences to long-term memory banks in your brain. This is also when your brain recovers.
  3. Deep Sleep is the stage in which your body recovers. Deep sleep should account for roughly 20% of sleep time each night for healthy adults. As athletes, it’s extremely important we are getting sufficient deep sleep to keep our bodies recovering optimally.
  4. Bottom line: Sleep is vastly overlooked and sleep deprivation is an epidemic-like affliction negatively affecting our population. Everyone should aim for 8 hours of sleep each night, and settle for no less than 7 hours on a regular basis. Period.
  5. Sleep hacks:
    1. No phones or screens in the bedroom. Blue light blocking glasses after sunset.
    2. Cold room. Humans sleep most soundly in rooms between 64 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
    3. Dark room. Light disrupts sleep and causes micro sleep disturbances that we don’t experience consciously, but which can contribute to significant sleep loss. Install black out curtains and/or wear an eye mask.
    4. Consistent sleep/wake times. Set it and aim to stick to it every day (even on the weekends, if possible).

 

Training

 

Training and participating in sport is what we love. The innate desire to sweat and move and teach our bodies to do incredible things is what makes an athlete an athlete. Athletes understand that doing difficult things is essential to life, learning, and growth. And athletes do challenge themselves like this regularly, even when they don’t necessarily want to.

However, it’s important to listen to our bodies. The key is learning when to push the pedal harder, when to throttle back, and when to recognize your body needs rest. Fight the urge to overtrain. Training fatigue is real. Here’s how to overcome it and maintain balance:

  • It’s okay to take time away from the gym. Three days on, followed by one day off is a good plan. Another effective sequence is five days on followed by two days off.
  • Active recovery days are great — a long walk, a jog, breathing exercises, or meditation practice. Get outside and move your body at low intensity every now and then.
  • DELOAD every now and then. Once or twice a year, it may be a good idea to take a full week away from training. Go on a trip. Make active recovery sessions the priority. Fighting through injury and training fatigue will lead to burnout, and ultimately hinder your desire to train at all.

 

 Happy training. But more importantly, happy recovery!

Brandon Krumins Co-Founder/CEO

Brandon Krumins

Co-Founder/CEO 

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[i] Fedewa, Michael V, et al. “Effect of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Muscle Soreness Following Exercise: A Meta-Analysis.” International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Internationale Zeitschrift Fur Vitamin- Und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal International De Vitaminologie Et De Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Apr. 2019, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30938579/.

[ii] Kim, Dong-Hee, et al. “Effect of BCAA Intake during Endurance Exercises on Fatigue Substances, Muscle Damage Substances, and Energy Metabolism Substances.” Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, Korean Society for Exercise Nutrition, Dec. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241904/

[iii] https://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ-trial.pdf


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