Ever wondered why some training programmes work for some athletes and not for others? Why some people are genetically gifted athletes? Why there is a fixed set of intervals for all athletes? Why certain drugs work for some and not others? Do compression socks work? What the hell does a VO2 max test tell you, is it just useless information? Is lactate friend or foe? I delve into the sport science world and try to find the answers to train smarter and hopefully become a better athlete. This page is written in my own thoughts and words with a cross-pollination from several other sites and links to the original articles. Some of it might sound like a rant but it is written to make you think. So if you read it without a open mind then your in the wrong place. Enjoy and open your mind.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recovery and adaptation, or is it?

Here are a few ideas on recovery.  When we train we break our bodies down, and we become stronger by adaptation when we recover.  As athletes and coaches we advise a variety of ideas to have a faster recovery so that we can adapt faster and complete the next session sooner but, little do we think, do we hinder adaptation? sometimes there are faster ways to recovery than we already think we know?  Here is a summary.

Antioxidants:  Antioxidant refers to the group of substances which includes vitamins E, C, A, and carotenoids.  When our body cells use oxygen, the body naturally produce free radicals which can cause damage, thus used in sport and general health to prevent cellular damage from free radicals.

The adaptation to stress caused by training is the reactive Oxygen.  So by using antioxidants you are getting rid of the stress trigger before your body can adapt.  So use antioxidants sparingly as the body has its own antioxidant defences.  Eating fruit after training will probably be ok as the antioxidant concentrations are low compared to that of supplements.

Ice baths:  Ice baths are the new in thing, and research although not conclusive generally support its use as a recovery method.  But the body when under stress has a secretion of hormones that aid in muscle repair.  By taking a ice bath the cooling of the muscle is stopping this recovery cycle which will most likely reduce adaptation.  As with antioxidants it is the timing of the ice bath that is important, that it does not interfere with the bodies natural adaptation cycle.  Taking a ice bath directly after a hard interval session would be a bad idea as where if you take it the day after would be better.

Finishing a race:  We get told after we collapse on the finishing line or hard session to stand up even though the natural reaction was to collapse! Perhaps it is our bodies natural response that it is easier for the cardiac system to pump blood laying down than against gravity, thus getting blood round your body quicker.  Makes sense huh?

Stretching:  Stretching has its place in sport when done at the right time and for the right reason, but certain people are naturally more flexible than others and need to stretch less.  It is a proven fact that stretching too much has a negative effect on running economy as the muscle tends too loose its springiness. Think of the muscle as a coiled spring, the more it is stretched the less power it will have and the more energy it requires to produce the same power. We get told too easily for every little thing that we need to stretch. A perfect example is a ITB muscle injury that comes from running where the muscle rubs agains the side of the knee. Every body says, stretch it and let it rest. Well The reverse is actually true the ITB muscle needs to be strengthened! The ITB is rubbing because it is compensating by shortening for its lack of strength! 

Cooling down:  Saving the best topic for last,  it has taken some decades to find and accept that lactate is the indicator of fatigue and not the cause of it, and that lactate helps to delay acidosis.  Any physiologist or coach worth he's pay will know that lactate is the preferred fuel used by the heart.  So if we test lactate we should look at it as a biomaker of fatigue and a indication of energy stores in the same way that we test glucose for fuel stores.

So if we get told to cool down after a hard session what is the first answer when we ask why? "Get rid of lactate"!  Here is another question, would you cool down to get rid of glucose? No! So why get rid of lactate if it is a fuel. Would it not be better to keep the lactate in our system so that the heart and brain can use the fuel.  Our kidneys get rid of the wastes in our body so if we cool down we take blood away from the kidneys and to the muscle, thus slowing down even more the clearing proces of the supposedly bad stuff. 

Here is a reply you might get for not cooling down.  "The next interval session was slower because lactate was still so high".  Answer: perhaps lactate is a indication that the body needs lactate, and the body has not recovered fully because rather the respiratory, muscular or cardiac system is still fatigued from the last session.

Think through some of these ideas, I am not saying that we should not use antioxidants or ice baths or cool down, simply have a think of how our bodies react, and not do something just because everyone else does it. Be a sheep or be a pioneer.

Many of these thoughts come from FaCT Canada who look at physiology from a different angle and make sense of everything.  More on ice baths and antioxidants read these two articles:  Antioxidant supplements are they needed  and When damage is a good thing.

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