Whether you’re an endurance runner or a keen cyclist, here are my top tips for better performance.
1. Catch some zzzs
The best thing for recovery is sleep. Studies show that a good night’s rest can improve speed, accuracy and reaction time. On the contrary, poor quality and quantity of sleep will compromise muscle repair, diminish immune and hormonal functioning, and increase fatigue and predisposition to injury.
Tip: If you’re having a tough time getting eight hours, squeeze in some cat naps.
2. Good hydration
Always begin each exercise session well hydrated and make fluid replacement a key priority during training and competition. Research shows that optimal fluid balance (i.e. maintaining the correct amount of fluid in the body) improves perceived level of exertion, prevents excessive elevations in heart rate and core body temperature, and improves performance.
Tip: always quench your thirst with water and opt for fluids with electrolytes when exercising longer than one hour.
Regular stretching as part of your training regimen improves your balance, strength and flexibility, which are all important for preventing falls and other injuries. Always warm up your muscles before stretching and take care not to overstretch.
Tip: Stretch for 10 minutes every day.
4. Cool down
The post-workout cool down is notoriously overlooked. This is especially important if you are doing strenuous forms of exercise that increase your heart rate and place heavy strain on your muscles. A proper cool down helps the body clear lactic acid that builds up during intense activity, and less lactic acid means less soreness and stiffness.
Tip: your cool down should take about five minutes and consist of a gradual aerobic activity, like walking and stretching.
5. Fuel your training
To help minimise fatigue and maintain energy, you need to fuel your workouts with carbs. You should fine-tune your carbohydrate intake to match your individual total energy (kilojoule) needs and specific training demands, and in response to your training performance.
Tip: As a general rule, eat at least 5-7g carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. For longer training periods (10-15 hours per week), you’ll need to increase your carbs to 7-12g per kg of body weight.
6. Eating for recovery
Just as a pre-training diet is important, what you eat immediately after an intense workout is crucial. Recovery meals and snacks should include a combination of carbohydrates (to help replenish glycogen stores) and protein (to assist muscle repair).
Tip: Refuel as quickly as possible after working out – within 60 minutes is ideal – especially if you have less than 24 hours until your next hard effort.
7. Strike a balance
To reach peak levels of performance, it’s important to get the right balance between intense training and recovery. This ensures you return to normal physiological and psychological state as rapidly as possible.
Tip: A balanced diet, stretching, hydration, massage and plenty of sleep are all ways to get a better recovery.
Kathleen Alleaume is an accredited exercise physiologist and nutritionist and founder of The Right Balance.