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Get Fit Installment #12: Promoting Recovery

Posted Dec 10, 2013

For those who are taking part in the UnitedHealthcare Get Fit! initiative, Bucs Director of Sports Medicine and Performance Todd Toriscelli provides advice on building recovery into an exercise program

[Editor's Note: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Director of Sports Medicine and Performance Todd Toriscelli is part of a rotating panel of Buccaneer experts who will be providing advice all season to those who have taken the UnitedHealthcare Get Fit! Pledge. In the 12 of our weekly installments, Toriscelli stresses the importance of taking specific steps to promote recovery within a fitness program, and the essential benefits that provides.  Visit the UnitedHealthcare Get Fit! Iniative page for more information on how you can get involved and potentially win game tickets and other prizes.]

Hello again, Get Fit! participants.  I hope this program has been beneficial to you all season, and that my colleagues and I have provided you with the advice you need to get the most out of it.

Today, we're going to talk about how to adequately recover from exercise, and why taking steps to do so will help you in several important ways.  This advice is geared towards those of you who have begun an exercise program and have had some success and consistency in that program – hopefully, that's a lot of you.

At some point, if you do have consistency, the volume of the work that you do in your workouts increases.  Once you get to that point where you're doing a pretty good volume of exercise, whether it be weight-training or aerobic exercise, then the most important part of your program becomes recovery.  The reason that is true – and I know you heard this important point earlier in the year from our strength and conditioning coach, Jay Butler – is because all the benefits you get from exercising will ultimately occur when you are recovering.

Over-training is also a concern, and without adequate recovery you're going to fall into that realm, and that involves a lot of potentially bad things, such as injury and motivational problems.  You see with a lot of people, if they over-train and don't get an adequate amount of recovery, psychologically they just get tired of exercising.  Obviously, this can derail your entire program if you're not careful.

Recovery is so important in an exercise program in a lot of different ways.  Number one, it's absolutely essential that you maintain a good level of hydration, because there's a cumulative effect of dehydration, which I believe I mentioned last time.  If you exercise two or three days in a row, your day off, a recovery day, is a good time to work on getting that hydration level back.

-- Bucs Director of Sports Medicine and Performance Todd Toriscelli has provided advice to Get Fit! participants all season

Number two, adequate protein intake is very important, especially when you recover, because protein is the building block of the muscle you're going to build during your exercise program.  It's pretty generally accepted that the amount of protein an athlete should take in – which would be slightly higher than for someone who is sedentary – is 0.8 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight.  Note that I said "adequate;" some people tend to overdo their protein intake during a workout program and that should be avoided.  Some people take in double what they need in the belief that it will help them build more muscle, and it's really of no benefit.  It places a lot of stress on the kidneys and you basically pass it through your urine because your body can only handle so much protein at once.  That's very important to remember.

Number three, a sufficient amount of sleep is critical.  It has been proven that, in terms of recovery and reaping the benefits of your exercise, that mostly takes place during sleep.  While you sleep, the protein synthesis, or the building of your muscles, accelerates.  Your levels of growth hormones and other natural hormones in your body that aid in recovery will also spike when you're sleeping.  Not getting enough sleep will impair that whole process on a lot of fronts.

Even if you have increased the volume of your exercise, as I said before, you have to have a day or two per week where you're going to recover.  Focus on hydration, focus on diet – especially protein intake – and make sure you get enough sleep to be well-rested for when you start exercising again.  There is a lot of debate about the issue of how many days off you should take during an exercise program.  I think that, for the purposes of promoting adequate recovery, you should work in three or four-week cycles.  Every third week or fourth week you have what we call an "unload week," where you basically decrease the volume of exercise for the entire week.  That's important for two factors: Physiologically it allows you to recover, and psychologically it just really gives you a break.  Its' difficult to maintain the same exercise program non-stop forever.  It's always good to take that third week or fourth week where you unload, and instead of working out four times a week, maybe got to three, with less volume each day.  I think you'll be better off for it when you come back.

To summarize, the three main aspects of building proper recovery into your workout program are maintaining a proper hydration level, keeping your protein intake at the right amount and making sure you get enough sleep.  The primary benefits to doing these things will be preventing injury, remaining psychologically invested in your program and reaping the benefits that occur when you are resting.

Good luck the rest of the way, and Happy Holidays!

- Todd Toriscelli, Director of Sports Medicine and Performance