Training hard is great, and necessary to improve your paddling to a good level but its not the only thing you need to get dialed in. You need to be able to recover from the sessions you do, then you'll come back stronger and fitter and able to train even more. We've compiled a top tips list of the key things to consider.
Sleep Getting enough sleep is critical to recovering. The optimal amount seems to vary between individuals, but 8 hours is the standard recommendation (wherever that came from!). Maybe more important is the quality of your sleep, having a dark room helps as does sticking to a regular sleeping schedule, relaxing before going to bed and avoiding looking at screens close to bed time. Whilst you're asleep you get growth hormone and testosterone releases, vital for strength and fitness gains, and nervous system (CNS) recovery which is vital for technical improvements. Taking magnesium before bed can help to calm you down and relax your muscles, I personally like taking a zinc and magnesium combination (ZMA) which helps a lot with sleep quality.
Massage, foam rolling and stretching They are all a bit different but do similar jobs, trying to improve tissue quality and keep aches and pains at bay. Massage and foam rolling are types of soft tissue work, of which there are many more, that aim to reduce excessive tightness in your muscles and break down adhesions and trigger points. Getting a massage is expensive but can make you feel much better, but most of the time I just stick to foam rolling to get some of the similar benefits. Rolling is a great addition to your gym warm-ups and makes most people feel much better, even if the science of exactly how hasn't really been worked out yet. Static stretching can reduce muscle power output if done before training so I tend to stretch in the evening, when you can take advantage of the fact it is relaxing since it activities the parasympathetic nervous system.
Food Eating proper, decent quality, food not only gives you energy but also a whole range of nutrients that are needed for proper metabolic functioning. Remember, if you aren't healthy then getting fitter and stronger is going to be a lot harder, coming down with a cold can really set your training back. Ensure you're getting plenty of vegetables, fruit, quality protein (getting around 1.5g per kg body weight), a balance of fats and enough carbohydrate to fuel your exercise. Essential fatty acids, primarily fish oils, may be useful if you're having any joint soreness (they certainly help me). For some more information have a read of Joe's introductory nutrition post.
Post workout nutrition You can get all sorts of drinks and shakes designed to be drunk post-workout, they are fantastically convenient and should have the generally recommended 3:1 ish carbohydrate to protein ratio. Don't forget the real food though, in your post training meal aim to get quality carbohydrates and protein in, such as chicken and rice. The sooner it will be until your next session the more important the post training window is going to be, if you're training again later in the day then getting a shake in soon is probably a good idea. Consider rather than having just a pre-made powdered recovery drink, which are generally very sugary (they are sugary for a reason as simple carbs will help increase protein synthesis and glycogen recovery rapidly but that doesn't mean having hundreds of grams of sugar is always a great idea) it may be worth making your own – some whey protein, oats and fruit is a good starting place (and maybe milk depending on how well you get on with it) – and then you can still get the carbs and protein but also a load of micronutrients as well.
Hydration I'm not convinced there's that much point recommending a set volume to drink each day, variations between individuals, training volumes, whether you're training inside of outside and what the temperature is during the day just have too much effect. However, pay attention to if you're thirsty or not and if your urine is overly dark and then try to drink enough for you that day. If you're training a lot in hot conditions then adding some electrolytes to your drink might be useful, especially if you ever suffer from cramping. Being dehydrated hurts performance so keep on top of it, it's not hard as long as you don't forget!
Active recovery Active recovery is basically just doing gentle exercise rather than nothing at all on a rest day (or rest morning / afternoon). The idea is to get some blood flowing and thus speed up recovery from proceeding sessions. The lines always seem a bit blurred here, what is “active recovery” and what is just a easy session? I think the main thing to think of is, don't spend an entire rest day just sat inside as you'll invariably end up tight and sore, you'd be better to go for a walk, or a quick swim (swimming is great here as there’s no impact) or some easy sport based skill practice. Mobility exercises can also be a good addition here. Depending on how far you take the active recovery towards being an easy session you can start to get some aerobic benefits coming in, but without much stress so sessions later in the day / week shouldn't be effected. Yoga or pilates would fit nicely in here, though you could consider those stretching too, and a bit of extra flexibility would probably help a lot of people who spend too much time sitting down in front of a computer (some of the GB canoeing team include pilates).
Photo credit Augusto Mia Battaglia
Other non “core” techniques
Meditation / mindfulness. A bit more out there for some, and not something I know a great deal about, but potentially quite useful. Developing control over your mind can help you sleep better and cope better with stress.
Contrast showers, ice baths. Ice baths are intended to reduce the swelling and inflammatory response in your muscles that you will experience after hard training
Epsom salt baths. Relaxing in a warm bath can be pretty rejuvenating on its own. Adding Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) is meant to mean you can absorb magnesium through your skin which helps muscle relaxation. Magnesium is used in loads of processes in the body and many athletes are deficient. Magnesium certainly helps me to sleep better, one of its purported benefits.
Compression garments. Loved my some, and thought useless by others but maybe worth a look if you're scratching round for some marginal gains
Conclusion Training is hard! so don't let the effort go to waste by failing to consider all the things you can do during the rest of the day to support your training. If you can recover faster then you can train more often or you can train harder during your sessions. Compounding all the tiny extra improvements makes a big difference of the years. Train hard, recover well.