By Daniel Williams
This post is the second of post of a three-part series covering hidden training, or how things that you do outside of practice can either improve or impair your athletic performance. Part 1- Nutrition, can be found here.
This post discusses recovery, and Part 3 will discuss study.
You put a lot of strain on your body by doing karate. For several hours a week, you practice skills and techniques that require large amounts of muscular effort, energy, and concentration. Proper nutrition is the best way to fuel your body for these endeavours, but if you want to maintain a regular training schedule and continue to steadily progress, you need to exercise the following good recovery practices as well:
1) Rehydrate. As mentioned in Part 1, you need to drink plenty of water after class to restore the water you have lost due to sweating. Individual needs can vary, so aim for quenching your thirst and steadily drinking water after class, rather than trying to chug down a specific quantity. If you don’t like the taste of water, try adding natural flavorings like lemon juice or try letting a tea bag slowly steep in your water bottle.
2) Get plenty of sleep. During sleep is when your body releases human growth hormone, which helps you regenerate muscle cells damaged by exercise. Not getting enough sleep can also impair your mood, hormonal balance, weight management, and memory. Most people need around 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
3) Replenish glycogen. Glycogen is a carbohydrate energy source that is stored in your liver and muscle tissue. Your body primarily uses the glucose in your blood to fuel physical activity, but this supply is depleted after about an hour of exercise, at which point your body utilizes its glycogen supply for energy instead. If you want to work for as long and as hard as you did the last time you tapped into your glycogen stores, you can help your body replenish them by consuming a snack with somewhere between a 3:1 to a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio immediately after your workout. A piece of fruit with a handful of almonds meets these criteria, as do well-balanced protein bars, and other snack options.
4) Soothe soreness. If you are feeling sore after a class or an event, applying cold or heat can help. Cold helps to numb pain and reduce swelling, while heat helps stiff muscles to relax and recover. Anti-inflammatory medication can also help reduce swelling and soreness and is particularly useful before or after an especially demanding event, such as a test or a few rounds of semi-knockdown fighting. You can also help reduce inflammation and recover from it faster by eating a diet containing antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids.
5) Don’t ignore injuries. Strains, sprains, pulled muscles, and other more serious injuries are always possible in athletic pursuits. If you become injured and attempt to push through the pain and continue doing things that aggravate your injury, you are putting your martial arts career in jeopardy. Injuries that are not given the proper time to heal can become much worse or result in other debilitating impairments that can force you to stop your training for far longer than you would have needed to do so had you just let your injury heal appropriately. In some cases, improper injury care can lead to permanent bodily harm. Remember that our second precept is “Be prudent in action” and that our byword is patience, and treat your body with appropriate respect. If you have an injury, inform your instructor prior to class or before performing exercises that would bother it so that he or she can make appropriate accommodations for your injury. Proper care varies by injury, so consult with your instructor or another qualified source to make sure you are doing everything you can to heal as quickly as possible.
Though it takes time and planning, practicing proper recovery is absolutely essential if you want to continue to improve yourself through martial arts at a steady and continued pace. Think of this time not as an additional chore, but as an investment in your future health and performance.