You will come across many articles and videos explaining how to get bigger, faster and stronger but a small percentage will incorporate an adequate recovery program to help maximise growth and recovery. Recovery isn’t simply a cool down after a session followed by a protein shake. It goes far beyond that and there are several proven methods that do help improve recovery times and help aid muscle growth. Furthermore, a well recovered muscle will be at a less risk of injury this is a huge advantage when thinking about the longevity of your playing career.
The 5 Stage Approach
Recovery addresses 5 key elements; lifestyle, sleep, nutrition, stress levels and hormonal balance. Training at high intensity frequently along side rugby matches on the weekend puts the body under huge amounts of stress. The 5 key elements together can either help you improve as a player or if you lack in them will have negative impacts on your performance.
Your lifestyle effects what type of recovery is needed in several ways. If you work as a labourer 5 days a week, train in the evenings and play on the weekends you need to pay a lot more attention to your recovery protocol than an office worker for example. You need to adapt to your lifestyle and how you do this is to make sure your body gets as much recovery in the night as possible. You need to ensure that the body can recover but also be ready for the long day of work ahead.
Nutrition & Sleep
Casein protein is a great choice for a pre-bed slow releasing protein snack. Carbohydrates also need to be increased due to the work load you have and it’s recommended you consume most of your carbohydrates from low GI sources such as sweet potatoes, oats, rice and whole grains. These slow digesting sources will help improve recovery during the night and also give your body the amino acids and energy it needs through out the day to sustain more muscle fatigue but also recover. BCAAs would be crucial in these scenarios as you need to ensure your body does not breakdown muscle for energy.
Stress Levels & Hormonal Balance
Stress levels and hormonal balance is what many coaches, players and even nutritionists fail to look at. Having high levels of cortisol can negatively effect recovery as it inhibits muscle growth and accelerates muscle loss if the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. Furthermore, many players also don’t eat enough fats. Low fat decreases testosterone production and this can negatively effect recovery, strength, power and energy levels. It’s important to keep track of your hormonal system and supplementing with ZMAs, fish oils and multi-vitamins can help optimise your hormonal system.
Post Game / Training Protocol
Make sure you track your body weight and how you feel before and after a game or training. Hydration is key (importance of hydration article) and you must make sure you replace each 1kg of lost weight after a game with 1 litre of water for the next 3-5 hours.
Your muscle glycogen is also very low after a game and you must refill this as soon as you can. High GI carbs are a good suit here so this is your time to eat sweets, donuts, rice crispy cakes and so fourth. Obviously don’t go over board with the junk but sugary foods will fill your muscle glycogen out quicker than low GI carbs such as oats, sweet potatoes and brown rice.
There are also many good supplements out there that help refill glycogen storage such as Vitargo. Mix it with a scoop or two of whey protein and that would be an ideal post match/training shake. Follow this with a meal an hour later that has between 75-100g of high GI carbs and then the same again the following hour. Make sure protein is at a moderate level and fat low as the aim of this 2-4 hour period is to make sure muscles are being fully fuelled for recovery.
Once this 3-5 hour period of recovery has taken place revert back to your normal meal plan which would consist of low GI carbs and good sources of proteins and fats.