We all know we feel better after a good night’s sleep. But as athletes, while we are often highly committed to our training sessions and love to tick those completion boxes, the reality is that we don’t always prioritize our recovery in the same way.
Is sleep really that important?
Our pituitary gland is the master hormone organ and controls a myriad of functions in the body such as thyroid function, growth and reproduction. The pituitary is highly affected by a lack of sleep, and therefore are these other vital functions in the body. During sleep, our fight or flight activity is decreased, also allowing our adrenal glands (producing ‘stress’ hormones) to recover and recharge. At the same time the gallbladder will excrete toxins to avoid them backing up in the liver.
Sleep recharges our immune system and makes us not only better at resisting illness (such as the office cold) but it also decreases the chance of chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.
And if you are an athlete thinking ‘I’m healthy and won’t get any of them anyway’ perhaps listen up to this… a chronic lack of sleep predisposes you to obesity.
What interrupts our sleep?
A study recently identified that 50% of elite or highly trained athletes are poor sleepers. Add in late night and early training sessions, travel, and jet lag, plus the added stress and stimulation due to regular competitions and no wonder they are struggling.
We can also tend to use devices in the evening as we chill out after a big day, however screen time can have deleterious physical effects by inhibiting the secretion of melatonin, not to mention the emotional effects of a stimulating or unsettling social media platform late at night.
Ready to increase your energy and boost your recovery this weekend? Here are our best strategies:
1.Kickstart your morning!
Get an early cortisol hit – this can be as simple as a short bout of exercise and then a healthy breakfast which includes protein, carbs and fat (think eggs on toast with spinach and avocado, or a protein smoothie including nuts).
2. Kill the stress
The aim here is to control blood sugar levels and stress throughout your day to avoid cortisol spikes as you are challenged. Try taking mini-breaks of 5-10 minutes every hour to breathe and stretch or talk a walk and drink water.
Also consider a highly restorative afternoon nap… My favourite is the ‘coffee nap’, having a coffee around 1pm and then heading off for just 12-15 minutes of dedicated snooze time. Once the caffeine has kicked in and your brain is rested, you are refreshed and ready to be productive for the afternoon.
3. Get your nutrients in, every day
In the same way you can’t out-train a bad diet, there are no magic supplements that will compensate for a lack of sleep.
However, everything you choose to eat throughout the day is influencing both cortisol and melatonin production, so by eating sleep supporting nutrients such as green leafy vegetables that contain tryptophan (a precursor to melatonin) and incorporating adequate supergreens and protein to your diet, you will provide your body the nutrients it needs to do its best recovery work at night.
Adding a Supergreens supplement ensure that you have all the antioxidants and nutrients on board for your optimal performance and recovery each day.
4. Manage your macronutrients
If you are underdoing your carbohydrate intake and training hard you will end up fatigued, underperforming and put yourself at higher risk of illness and injury. Make sure your carbohydrate consumption is appropriate for not only the training you are doing, but for your recovery as well.
Protein is also vital and needs to be consumed throughout the day. Without adequate protein replenishment your body will continue to break down its own muscle after training – which is exhausting! Try adding a protein supplement as a convenient source of good quality protein.
5. Stay hydrated
Nothing makes you yawn throughout the day more than mild dehydration. Your brain quickly switches off and performs sub-optimally – even with as little as 1-2% dehydration. Focus on keeping hydrated throughout the day to keep you alert and on task.
Try adding a sugar-free electrolyte such as Bindilyte to your water to supply you with all the essential electrolytes you need throughout the day.
6. Wind down proactively
By creating a consistent and calming wind down routine you give melatonin a chance to do the wonderful work and naturally induce sleep.
By setting an early wake up alarm it is simple to work back from there to know what time you need to be in bed – a 5am alarm could suggest lights out by 9.30 and so that means no screens and dim lights after 8pm; no food after 7pm and a Hot Chocolate with Magnesium; and a warm shower to wind down after work.
Other wind down techniques that athletes find helpful are a stretching/roller session, and some mindfulness and reflection on their day which can assist in easing psychological stress and worries.
Try implementing your own, individualised sleep, nutrition and recovery routine to feel the benefits of restoring both your physiological and psychological state every night. Sweet dreams!