Games like Rugby, American football, Ice Hockey, Lacrosse and Football are all full of contact. Whether it's tackling, blocking, scrumming or just 1-on-1 defender vs attacker, your body undergoes a significant amount of muscle damage during a game. This not only hurts the following few days after but it is important that you help yourself to recover it order to minimise longer term or chronic injuries that can keep you out of the game and even restrict your everyday life.
Muscle damage is caused when the muscle cells are torn apart or broken as a result of contact. These cells effectively 'bleed' a range of substances such as creatine kinase, nitrogen and urea which can all contribute to those sore legs on a Monday morning. These substances are known as inflammatory or muscle damage markers which typically peak 24-72 hours after strenuous exercise.
So how do you help yourself recover?
Rest or move?
Both active rest and sleep are 2 major factors to helping you feel better quicker!
Active rest should have the aim of increasing blood flow and respiratory rate in order to get more freshly oxygenated blood to the muscles - great ways of doing this include;
20 minute light swim - a non-impact way of getting the blood pumping
20 minute cycle - low impact, lower body focused, aim to gently raise heart rate to around 50%max
20 minute light jog or dog walk! - get outdoors, get some fresh air and increase your heart rate.
Sleep - the ultimate time when the body heals itself. Aim to get 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep following a heavy match or training session. This is often one of the easiest most cost effective ways to help recover, yet so many people overlook it due to the busy lifestyles we all lead. If you are a super busy person, at least once a week get a great long recovery sleep in!
Stretch - this should be a daily activity, but especially in the 48 hours after a strenuous training session or match. There are many ways to stretch, but it should always be done on warm muscles, so get your body temp up first. You can do foam rolling, partner stretching, yoga or if by yourself try this. The video below shows a series of stretches linked together to create a 'flow'. Try using this on a daily basis - it takes about 10 minutes of your time and can even be done in front of the TV!
Plenty of water (2 litres) after a match - try to avoid alcohol as it seriously impedes your ability to recover and a balanced meal high in both carbohydrates and lean protein will provide the fuel your body needs to get repairing itself. Try rice, potatoes, couscous, quinoa, pasta and green leafy vegetables as good source of carbs. Add to that, chicken, turkey, eggs, tuna, salmon, fish or beef as great source of protein and you are well on your way.
Below is home-made pulled beef with rice and peas and a mango/tomato/cucumber salsa - nutrient dense and very tasty!
Ice Baths - do they help? Science says yes and science says no! As with a lot of research you have to read between the lines. However from personal experience I would say that it is personal preference. I run a cold water only bath and sit in it for 3-5 minutes before having a warm shower and I find it helps me a lot to at least 'feel' more rejuvenated 24 hours after a tough game. But if you really can't stand the cold water, maybe it's not for you? Guess you'll have to just try this one out. If you do; 3-5 mins in the cold water 1-3 times with a slow re-warm to room temp in between each 'dip'.
Compression gear - similar findings can be found on compression gear such as leggings and calf wraps. My personal experience has told me that the bigger guys find this one more helpful. The tightness of the garments is designed to minimise the inflammatory response - but the inflammatory markers still need to be flushed out of your system, so in my mind this only really works with the aforementioned basics to recovery covered.
Massage - definitely helps! but it will cost you for the privilege. By no means a waste of money, but relatively its a lot more than getting 8 hours sleep, drinking plenty of water, eating a good healthy meal and doing some stretching. That said you gain a lot more from it. Make sure you get a sports therapist or sports masseuse for your treatment - they are there to iron out the knots, help correct muscles imbalances and stimulate recovery. It's not a candles and pan pipes affair!
If you can afford to, book in for a monthly maintenance massage to help you out.
Foam Rolling - otherwise known as self-myofascial release (SMR) or self massage. There are now many implements and tools available to assist in this area. They key to which is to release the tension that gets built up and held in the connective tissue of muscles. Foam rollers act as releasing mechanisms to help elongate the muscles. I would highly recommend a 5 minute full body foam roll session as part of a warm up or cool down after gym sessions or contact sports matches.
There are of course many other methods you could look into but hopefully this can serve as a quick and easy guide to get you started.
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Lead S&C coach