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Sports Recovery

Brad Farra - Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I get a lot of questions from my athletic patients about how best to recover from sport. Completing two 24 hour races in the past 3 weeks has inspired me to blog a little bit about recovery. Whether you are recovering from a single sporting event or a week long stage race, what you do for recovery can make a big difference in how you perform or how you feel the day after or even weeks after the event.

Recovery starts before the event ends. Ensuring proper hydration and nutrition during your event is the first step to ensure optimal recovery. The event duration will dictate how much and what types of macromolecules you will need to take in during your race. If it's a single sporting event like a soccer match you may only need to get some sports drink in to replenish fluids and electrolytes. If it's a 24 hour race your fueling needs are much more complicated. In a long distance event you will need to intake protein in addition to carbohydrates for your calorie needs. A 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein is a good goal to ensure proper fueling and to reduce the post race protein deficit.

Your next concern is immediately after your event. STRETCH!! I can not emphasize enough how important stretching is after your event. Research is really pointing to post event stretching as being much more beneficial than the pre-event stretch. Pre-event warm-up and post event stretch. Your stretch is preferably done while your muscle are still warm from competition, but don't stop there; stretching more than once the day of the event and depending on the intensity of the event you should be stretching several times a day in the days following the event.

Now it's time to consider post race nutrition. Your big concern here is protein. You need to be sure to recover with more than just carbohydrates. There is a window of time immediately after your event when your body us better able to absorb and store carbs. So, it's important to get those carbs in right after the event. Protein is key to the rebuilding aspect of recovery. If you don't get enough protein in after your event, your recovery will be longer.

You've stretched, you're fed, and now...ice bath. No one likes it, but everyone will benefit. Even if you have only just played in one football game, you will benefit from an ice bath. Shoot for about 55 degrees Fahrenheit for a tolerable yet therapeutic temperature. Ten to fifteen minutes is all you need to reach maximum benefit. Any longer and you reach the point of diminishing return and any less you won't get the maximum benefit. If your event was primarily a running event (soccer, football, etc.) you can just soak from wast down. If you're a baseball pitcher then you'll want to just soak your elbow and shoulder. Soak what you used. You can repeat the ice bath several times a day, just be sure to allow for complete re-warming in between sessions. You can also combine ice baths with warm baths for the complete contrast therapy treatment: 10 minutes ice bath, then 10 minutes warm bath, finishing with 10 minutes ice bath. If you have no time or you're too big a sissy to get in an ice bath then you can elevate your legs above the level of your heart while you are resting and that will improve blood drainage and from the legs while you are resting your muscles, which will speed recovery.

A quick note on supplements. I recommend a multivitamin for daily use, but it's even more important in the days before and after your sports event. Another helpful supplement is omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oil; you'll want to shoot for 1000 mg per day split between EPA and DHA. This will help with reducing inflammation among other important functions. If you are an endurance athlete you should be concerned with the possibility of having a slightly depressed immune system for up to a week following your event. Garlic is a good supplement to help with immune system function and also benefits the cardiovascular system. The world of supplement research changes on a weekly basis, so I won't go into any more detail. You should know that if you are an athlete it's hard to get in enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to ensure the fastest recovery. I do recommend taking advantage of sports science, but each sports supplement should be considered on an individual basis for it's efficacy and safety. If you have questions ask your sports physician before starting any new supplements.

Play hard and recover well.


Dr. Brad Farra

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