June 18, 2015
From the moment finals end until prelims begin the next morning, you have the greatest opportunity to maximize your recovery. Knowing how to take control of those 12-16 hours away from the pool will help you perform at your best throughout the meet. In general, recovery methods on any timescale are more effective the fitter you are. With good strength training and swimming conditioning under your belt, you will recover quicker than your competitors. Let’s discuss the three main ways to recover overnight.
1. Protein at Dinner
Whereas the focus between prelims and finals was carbohydrates, the focus of dinner should be your protein intake. Every meal you consume needs balance, so eat protein with some carbohydrates and healthy fats, but make sure you get enough of it in the process. Some dinner item examples include lean meats (turkey, chicken, fish), pasta (no cream sauce), brown rice, lentils, and side salads. Opt for grilled or steamed items instead of fried ones. Overnight, muscles repair themselves via protein synthesis. The presence of protein in one’s diet can accelerate protein synthesis, enabling muscles to recover from the physical stress of racing. Protein synthesis is fastest when insulin is also present, and insulin is released when carbohydrates are present. It is easy to see how intricate the recovery process can be, and how balance is key at every step of nutrition.
2. Drink Water
After drinking your carbohydrate blend during warm down, stick to water for the rest of the night. You will need to rehydrate from the session and do not need any additional sugar, caffeine, or electrolytes while you are sleeping. At dinner, water will help you digest your meal and mitigate any effects from salty food that is common in restaurants. Soda and coffee are especially detrimental because the sugar and caffeine in these beverages can lead to dehydration and hyper-arousal at night when you should be sleeping.
Sleep is the cure-all. It is a subject that researchers continue to explore, but what we do know is that its effects are far-reaching and there is no substitute for it. At meets, your greatest recovery will occur while you are sleeping. Sleep facilitates glycogen storage in the muscle and liver; these stores serve as the main fuel source for endurance athletes. Good immune function relies heavily upon sleep; this is important in protecting you from sickness during competitions. Your level of cortisol, a stress hormone in the body, is partly regulated by how much you sleep. Sleep also contributes to psychomotor function (the link between cognitive functions and physical movement), a critical component in any sport. Based on your circadian rhythm, or internal clock that controls your sleep/wake cycle, it is best to sleep when the room is dark and relatively cool in temperature. Be mindful of what time you are getting back from dinner and head to bed early. It is the easiest thing you can do to boost your energy levels for the rest of the meet!