In between busy baseball schedules, school, and showcases, we thought it might be a good time to talk about recovery! The brain has no way of differentiating “good” stress from “bad” stress, as all types of physical activity come at a cost. In the 90+ degree heat, a 4-4 day at the plate can be just as taxing as a golden sombrero in terms of stress. The body’s nervous system is incredibly complex and has seemingly limitless hierarchies and methods of operation. The nervous system is what allows us to read and learn without having to think about breathing or regulating our heartbeat in the process. For simplicity’s sake, lets think of the nervous system as two categories: sympathetic and parasympathetic. These two systems and their relationship with one another play a critical role in both training and performance.
Most people have heard of the “fight or flight” response, in which the sympathetic nervous system releases hormones and readies the muscle’s abilities to function in order to run from a bear. As humans, this is one of our most precious assets for survival. However, the neural & physical load (stress) of constantly traveling, deadlines, or 10 baseball games in a weekend is, to the brain, the same stressor as being chased by a bear! All the brain knows is that there is seemingly no rest in sight, and it’s got to figure out a way to keep the body going. The sympathetic nervous system allows us to work hard or pitch 7 shut-out innings, but constantly living “toned” up can have negative consequences. In terms of athletic performance, here are a few common issues that can arise: loss of mobility, poor posture, reduced performance, and fatigue. All of these things are related to the body not being able to “tone down” and recover. One of the best similes I’ve heard is that being constantly in a sympathetic state is like a smart phone with too many applications open. It drains the battery and slows everything down!
The parasympathetic side of things is the “rest and digest” system. We literally sleep and digest food in this state, so this system is what allows us to relax and recover. With a little bit of background on the autonomic nervous system, it should make sense that the ability to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic is the name of the game in recovery. Appropriate quantities of sleep, water, and nutrition are paramount for both performance and recovery. There are countless studies which have demonstrated with empirical evidence that sleep can improve performance. People who have a hard time reaching and maintaining a parasympathetic state are often the type A’s that push themselves. While this is an outstanding characteristic of successful people, it’s important to understand that more is not always better. ESPECIALLY with regards to training.
With all of this in mind, here are a few keys to recovery:
1. Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours per night. Limit electronic exposure before bed, and limit caffeine intake too late in the day. It can mess with your sleep cycles. Most of the sleep experts are now saying that sleep is an individual thing in terms of quantity, but getting consistent, quality sleep is a major factor for optimal performance.
2. Eat the right stuff: prepared food ahead of time is best. Make sure your blood glucose levels are stabilized (aka: don’t eat once every 8 hours-ESPECIALLY if you’re a teenager trying to gain weight)- Have snacks ready! Find something you like, and that can be made easily “en masse.” I like to make several pounds of ground turkey, rice, and vegetables on my Sunday evenings. I then season each serving however I want! Sometimes it’s with a salsa, sometimes soy sauce, or sometimes you can make it Cajun! Its that easy! This way you’ve got good, quality food made ahead of time!
a. Eat REAL food! We recommend protein and vegetables with each meal. Some recommendations are as much as 2-3 pounds of vegetables per day! (We know that’s easier said than done, but EVERYONE needs vegetables!)
b. Fruits and vegetables contain extremely important micronutrients that allow our bodily processes to operate efficiently.
c. Slow down and ENJOY your food!
3. HYDRATE: Stay ahead of the game. If you know you have 3 games on Saturday, you need to start hydrating on Thursday. If you’re crazy thirsty in the 5th inning, its probably too late. Sports drinks are fine in moderation after or during a hot game, but they cannot replace water. Buy a 30-40oz canteen and fill it up several times per day!
4. LEARN to relax: set aside time for yourself and have quiet time. Spend time with family and friends. Have fun and “chill out!” We know that the breath has an incredible ability to influence the nervous system. Sometimes smooth, controlled breathing with an emphasis on prolonged exhales can help us achieve a more relaxed, or parasympathetic state. This is one reason why activities such as meditation can help calm and steady the mind, as it’s based on attention to the breath. Try this: lie on your back, inhale smoothly through the nose, focus on filling the belly AND the chest with air. Now exhale through the mouth in a controlled manner. Feel your ribs moving. Try to get rid of all the air you can before you take your next inhale. Controlled exhalations can go a long way in helping us “tone down!”
5. Have a really well-developed aerobic system. Cardiovascular fitness is critical to performance on the field and for general wellness. This system is what allows us to still perform at a high level over a long period of time. This system can help us recover between bouts of exercise or between games. Additionally, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve mood, learning and cognitive abilities, and even treat ADHD. The easiest way to work on this is simply going for a 15-20 minute walk every day. I tell my athletes to walk the dog on their off days. Being in great shape can be the difference between wins and losses on championship Sunday!
We hope this is helpful! Have a question or comment? Let us know what you think, and be sure to follow us on social media!