Please note: This is for your serious CrossFit competitor. If you are doing the Open to challenge yourself and have fun without aspirations to get to Regionals, check out this blog here. Requirements for everyday athletes are very different to competitive athletes with different training goals and regimes.
In addition, recovery strategies should be based on the individual’s workload, the fuel used during the session, body size, body composition and the period of time before the next training session or event.
When it comes to the CrossFit Open, recovery is everything. Not only do you have to perform at your best in the Open Workouts, (possibly repeating them a number of times to better your score!) but most CrossFit athletes will continue with normal training, which often involves long and grueling sessions.
If you want to kill it in the Open and not completely burn out by the time Regionals roll around (if that’s your goal) then having a focus on your daily recovery is vital.
Here are the 5 steps to optimal recovery after your training and workouts.
1. Consume Carbohydrates (for two reasons)
Carbohydrate (glucose) is often the main fuel source used in CrossFit and therefore the body's glycogen stores (stored glucose in muscles and liver) will be depleted post-workout.
Replenishing muscle glycogen stores after long training sessions is the body’s number one priority during the recovery period.
Failing to replenish glycogen stores can contribute to fatigue and compromise your ability to train at a high intensity in following sessions.
CrossFit athletes typically under-eat carbohydrates. By adding a carbohydrate supplement immediately post workout followed up by carbs from wholefoods in a meal 60-90 minutes post workout, you might find your energy levels, performance and ability to recover dramatically improves.
Carbohydrates are vital not only for glycogen replenishment but to offset the central nervous system's response to training/competing.
When training, you are in the sympathetic nervous system, or ‘fight or flight’ response. This means the body is producing stress hormones like cortisol. Once training stops, you want to get back into the parasympathetic nervous system or the rest, digest, repair, reproduce side of the nervous system as quickly as possible. The ingestion of rapidly absorbing carbohydrates directly after training will cause this to happen.
Getting in the required amount of carbohydrates from food immediately after a workout can be tricky (or virtually impossible). Using a rapidly absorbing carbohydrate supplement drink may be the best option and most easily tolerated to start the recovery process. The good news is that research shows the co-ingestion of PROTEIN and carbohydrates decreases the amount of carbohydrate needed whilst stimulating a similar glycogen replenishment rate.
a) Everyone is different and will require different amounts. Start with 1:1 ratio of carbs and protein supplement drink immediately after workouts i.e 25g carbs with 25g protein.
You may need a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein, depending on your training volume and goals.
b) 1 -2 hours post workout - have a meal containing carbohydrates from wholefood soruces i.e sweet potato, potato, rice, quinoa, oats
(For your everyday CrossFitter not looking to compete at Regionals, having a well balanced meal of protein, carbs, veggies and some healthy fats within 1-2 hours of training/WOD will be sufficient.)
2. Top up protein for muscle repair
Muscle protein is broken down during training. The ingestion of essential amino acids from quality protein sources has been shown to help with the muscle-building process.
Consuming protein in the immediate post workout period is essential for the promotion of muscle protein synthesis, critical for muscle recovery and adaptation.
Although continuous research is being done on amount, type and timing of protein, it’s generally agreed that 20-30g of high quality protein will provide the desired results.
These protein requirements may be met with a well-timed meal or snack post exercise. As mentioned above, it may not always be possible to eat sufficient amounts of both carbohydrate and protein immediately post exercise. The use of a rapidly digested whey protein supplement (or any other variety other than soy or casein protein) may be a preferred option when experiencing a suppressed appetite.
mix 20-30g high quality protein powder with your carbohydrates immediately after your workout
b) 1 -2 hours post workout - have a meal containing protein from wholefood sources i.e meat, chicken, fish, eggs or vegetarian sources if required such as legumes
3. Replace electrolytes lost in sweat
As an athlete, it is imperative to replace lost fluids and electrolytes after workouts. Drinking plain water simply won’t cut it though as it is not the only substance our body needs for optimal hydration. When you drink water by itself, you are actually diluting the electrolyte concentration in your tissues, meaning you are relieving thirst but making dehydration worse.
The electrolytes we refer to are sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Salt naturally contains all of these things so making your own drink with Celtic or Himalayan sea salt can be a good option. (Do not use table salt as this contains sodium aluminum hydroxide –not what you want).
Mix ½ teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt in 1L water or coconut water to drink post workout
I also like the product Endura by Metagenics as this contains the perfect balance of sugars and electrolytes for optimal absorption – contact me if you would like more information on this.
Add good quality salt to food at all other times. Do not be afraid to do this, athletes need it!
4. Support the Immune System
Intense training suppresses the immune system. This happens during training and can continue to effect immune function for hours afterwards. This is clearly an issue for athletes as its means you are more susceptible to getting sick, interfering with training and performance.
Given 80% of the immune system is located in the gut, looking after your gut health is paramount. The use of glutamine and probiotics are great ways to support your gut and immune system.
There is also research stating that if adequate glycogen stores are maintained pre and post workout that this can minimize suppression of the immune system. This is due to the blunting effect carbohydrates have on stress hormones (cortisol) produced through exercise, which have a direct effect on the immune system.
Glutamine supplement – 10 - 15g immediately post workout (just put it in your carb/protein supplement).
** Ensure you are looking after your gut health in general, with fermented foods and probiotic supplements during intense training cycles or competition.
An obvious one but this is key to your recovery and performance. Training and CrossFit is CATABOLIC, meaning it breaks down tissues. It’s when we sleep that the rebuilding phase happens.
Develop a sleep routine, switch off all devices an hour before going to sleep, take magnesium before bed, rub some lavender oil mixed with coconut oil and the soles of your feet, just find whatever works for you.
Good luck CrossFitters!!