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The body is not idle during the recovery phase. On the contrary, periods of rest are highly active phases during which the body builds itself up.
Do your training partners or coach have to remind you to take a rest? Can you hardly bear to take a break from training and have a tendency to carry on without allowing enough time to rest?
Siri Lindley has earned a reputation as one of the sport’s top coaches and a real maker of champions. She confirmed the assumption many hold about top athletes, saying that all her athletes are very nervous about losing their fitness. “After three days of rest my athletes start to become worried about their skills,” Lindley says. “To convince them to take a rest costs more effort than pushing them through the session. You won’t believe it, but I also have to give them a program what to do [with their time], if they don’t train.”
Many amateur athletes have the exact same behavior patterns, fearing that time off will erode fitness while the competition uses that time to train harder and improve. These four principles explain why that isn’t true and why you can rest with a clear conscience.
Principle 1: The body is a system of intertwined feedback loops and interconnected circuits
The human body is obviously much more complicated than a simple balance (for a mental picture, think: the scales of justice) but many endurance athletes nevertheless fall into the trap of treating their bodies as such. More and more of a good thing (training) can turn really bad (fatigue, injury) because the training stimulus must be balanced by many processes going on in the body. The key to a balanced body is regulation.
Regulation is a complex phenomenon—a whole body state—that creates balance, oscillating between perfect balance and horrendous disintegration. It comprises the regulation of temperature, pH, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen uptake, blood sugar and many, many more factors. Until today natural science has a hard time to tackle and investigate the various states of regulation and its dysfunction.
Principle 2: Training incurs inflammatory processes. Healing processes require recovery.
Endurance training creates micro-injuries in the muscles, ligaments, tendons and the smallest blood vessels. These tiny injuries are required in order for the muscle to adapt to a higher performance level. They can be so tiny that the athlete does not even notice them or so bad that long lasting muscle pains arise.
The reasons for these micro-injuries are not only due to mechanical forces but are also due to a rising and falling temperature in the tissue, disturbed blood flow, shifting of the pH, flooding with free oxygen radicals and/or missing energy supply and exploited buffer systems. They all influence the extent of the inevitable but necessary muscle injury.
All inflicted injuries lead to inflammatory processes in the body regardless of where they may be located. The inflammatory processes are the foundation for all healing and adaptation processes that finally bring about the training effect as desired.
Principle 3: The immune system steers the inflammatory and healing processes
The immune system is involved at all times. It initiates, spreads, controls and coordinates the inflammatory processes to bring forth healing. Any form of inflammation takes its toll, be it an injury or an infection, by consuming energy and consequently leading to a drop in performance. An intact immune system can heal micro-injuries within three to five days. If micro-injuries do not heal well due to a weakened immune system and insufficient recovery, then serious injuries to the muscle and connective tissue may follow.
Principle 4: Build-up processes only happen during recovery
Intensive training and racing throw the body into states of stress. Under these circumstances, the body is breaking itself down to supply the resources need to perform—carbohydrate and fat stores are used primarily and if absolutely necessary even muscle protein is broken down for fuel. Stress hormones increase and the inflammatory components of the immune system are activated.
Recovery is different. Build-up processes dominate. Now, energy is used and needed to create protein structures and the adaptation of the muscles to achieve a higher level of performance can begin. Muscle build-up only happens during recovery. Conditions within the cells change as well. The inflammatory stimuli are joined by metabolic stimuli. The cells and their environment are both highly active and protein synthesis runs at full speed, but only if you allow them to work by allowing the body to rest. This is the paradox of recovery: You may have a bad conscience when not training, but your body is working hard.
How to assess your need for recovery
Recovery is a very individual thing and finding the amount each individual needs takes a lot of experience. Even though science has tried to define parameters or body conditions such as heavy legs syndrome or heart rate the decision to carry on with the workouts is in the end primarily made by feel.
Pay attention to your quality of sleep, motivation, mood and emotional state, state of mind, extent and duration of fatigue, duration and extent of muscles soreness, appetite, craving for sweets, body weight and temperature sensation can help you to assess your general fitness and well-being. If you have problems to fall asleep or your sleep is fragmented, if you develop mood swings and you are emotionally imbalanced, if you lose the motivation for the training, if your appetite is not good, if you are excessively tired, if you have protracted muscle pain, if you lose body weight or you can’t lose weight despite the hard training or if you are highly sensitive to temperature changes—you are sweating when it’s cold or freezing when it’s warm), then it is high time to take a break from training.
In a condition of inflammation beestings (AKA colostrum) works as an anti-inflammatory agent and the growth factors it contains influence cellular regeneration. These factors foster muscle growth and the repair of the disrupted lining of the surfaces of the gut, the bronchi or the stomach.
Susann Kraeftner, MD, the founder and scientist behind Biestmilch, has worked in intensive care and the pharmaceutical industry. For many years she was looking to escape medicine and find a way to get involved with a more creative line of work. Since 2000 I have pursued my life experiment to resuscitate beestings as sports nutrition. We call it Biestmilch. Go to Biestmilch.com to learn more.