Updated: Aug 7
I make it a point to mention four areas of interest to every physical therapy patient that walks through the door: Sleep, Nutrition, Hydration, Stress - all of which affect recovery from injury, training, and overall sports performance quality. These life variables can magnify or decrease pain and they can improve or diminish your sports performance.
We are all aware of these variables however often times they require a bit more focused attention. In the initial physical therapy evaluation, you want to make sure all your bases are covered when it comes to recovery/healing. I’ll do my best to keep this as short as possible while emphasizing the relevance of each topic as it pertains to sports performance and rehab.
Simply put, your body requires consistent sleep to repair and regenerate the tissues of your body. If you listen to any of the popular performance/sports podcasts these days, you’ll realize how prevalent poor sleep is these days. Most people are overworked and tired. I won’t go into every stage of sleep, but an important point to remember is that the “deep sleep” phase of your sleep cycle is when growth hormone is released to help injured or recovering tissue. Moreover, reduced sleep (<8 hours) is related to 1.7x more risk of having an injury and a negative effect on recovery after training. Sleep is also extremely important for overall hormonal balance in all of us, I won't get into specifics (maybe in another post) but keep that in mind.
Getting consistent 7 to 9 hours of shut eye a night will do wonders to your recovery from injury or intense workouts. Add the importance of the next 3 topics below and you’ll give your body an optimal environment to recover both mentally and physically (remember all of our systems work together, think synergistically not separately when dealing with the human body).
After a good night’s rest, it is important to fuel your body appropriately when recovering from an injury or even just from a high intensity workout. A well-fueled person with a balanced diet has more energy to perform their rehab protocol and fight the excess inflammation associated with their injury. The human body needs energy, especially protein and unsaturated fatty acids to counteract the inflammation of an injury as well as an abundance of micronutrients from healthy foods (I’m sure we all know what’s generally healthy and what’s not these days), which contribute to the overall healing process.
Sidenote, remember inflammation isn't all bad, but that's a loaded topic for another day. Regardless, whatever fits your lifestyle and keeps you fueled in terms of healthy foods, do it and do it consistently. Notice how all of these areas require consistency ;)
Hydrating, or drinking enough water/fluid, helps performance, cognition, and injury recovery. Again, this all seems common sense, but we need more people walking around with a nice, big water bottle in their hand. Usually it’s just coffee (not that coffee is terrible for you), or worse, nothing! In a very general sense, water helps transport nutrients throughout the body. It thins the blood and allows for oxygen and the “good stuff” to be transported to the damaged tissues. More blood to the area is a good recipe for an optimal recovery environment. Of course, all these topics are based on individual activity level and other details, but as stated earlier, being more aware of these variables is a great first step for better overall recovery.
So how much water/fluid should you drink? Probably more than you think, and more when you wake up in the morning after not ingesting any fluid all night. Some simple things to note: if your urine is clear, that’s usually a good sign of hydration; if it’s darker/more yellow and with odor, you need to drink more water. In other words, drink more water than you think you should (get a 50-60 oz jug and chug all that water daily!), and always remember that sufficient fluid intake helps flush out the “bad stuff” and shuttles in the “good stuff” when recovering from any injury. Did I mention you should be consistent with this?
This is one loaded topic, but let’s just focus on how stress management can help the patient become more aware of how stress affects recovery and performance. Stress is stress, your body reacts to any type of stress very similarly (physiologically and psychologically). When certain stress (mental or physical) causes distress, leading to interference in one's life, that's when we run into problems.
Stress impacts us all. It aids us but it can also break us down. However, from a recovery and performance perspective, stress impacts our physical and emotional wellbeing leading to poor sleep, poor nutrition, and as you may have guessed, poor hydration - all of which lead to a poor recovery environment when healing from an injury or trying to optimize performance. The 3 variables listed earlier become less of a priority as do other things. There is also the topic of actual stress hormones but being more aware of your mental stress/stress management should keep those at a comfortable level (don't stress the details). Try to find whatever stress management strategies work for you whether it be meditation, social activities with friends/family, exercise, journaling or reading (or all of the above). Find what keeps you grounded, it will do wonders for your well-being. And remember, consistency is key.
In summary, take these four simple but important variables to heart. Not only will you speed up your recovery, you will feel better overall. And for those who are not on the path to recovery or are simply here for sports performance advice, these four simple ideas could very well be your guide to an overall healthier you. Watch and monitor these areas, play the long game, and little by little, see how everything starts to feel better.
That’s it for now but do keep an eye here for more discussions about physical therapy, recovery, as well as sports performance. If there’s any topic (fitness, physical therapy, sports performance related) you are interested in or would like to know more about, drop me a message below. Thanks for reading :)
Sources: Papadopoulou, S. K. (n.d.). Rehabilitation Nutrition for Injury Recovery of Athletes: The Role of Macronutrient Intake. Hannibal, K. E. (n.d.). Chronic stress, cortisol dysfunction, and pain: A psychoneuroendocrine rationale for stress management in pain rehabilitation. Charest, J (n.d.). Sleep and Athletic Performance: Impacts on Physical Performance, Mental Performance, Injury Risk and Recovery, and Mental Health