Recover Like An Elite Women’s Rugby Player With The 100 Points System
Recovery and regeneration are often brushed over, despite their critical contributions to performance.
Consider this - while training, athletes are literally breaking their bodies down.
They’re breaking down available carbohydrates, fats, and even muscle to produce energy. Energy metabolism can leave behind lactic acid, free radicals, and other inflammatory byproducts. Tissues are pushed beyond their limits, forcing muscles to tear more and more with higher demands.
So when do we actually get bigger, faster, and stronger? During recovery periods.
As an easy start for better performance, aim to get 100 recovery points a day during high training periods, and especially after game day.
Tricks to speed up recovery for performance
High Quality Nutrition
The more nutrients you can get per calorie, the better bang for your buck.
Nutrient-dense foods not only give you solid options for your macros (carbs, protein, fats) but also contain lots of micro and phytonutrients that help fine tune your metabolism, immune system, brain function, bone/joint health and more.
Examples of nutrient dense foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, mixed nuts, and beans. Energy dense foods, in contrast, are items such as potato chips, candies, boxed sugary cereals, fast food and more.
In short, in order to make sure the majority of your food is nutrient dense, do the following:
- Focus on whole foods
- Imagine it growing - chances are if you can envision where it came from, it’s nutrient dense
- Limit the ingredients - the more ingredients, the more fluff they’ve packed in (not nutrients)
- Limit processing - the more processed a food gets, even if it was once nutrient dense, the more it’s stripped of the good stuff
While food is obviously important, we can’t forget about water. It’s involved in muscular contraction and energy production, not to mention vital for all cellular activity.
Athletes are often chronically dehydrated due to sweat loss, and most of this is “voluntary”.
Often rugby players will turn down water during breaks or not drink enough due to lack of thirst. When really, before, during and after training are times when water replenishment is critical to performance.
Finally, eating well gives your body what it craves - nutrients and regeneration. But this doesn’t just apply after a game.
Eating well year-round and getting quality sleep on the regular starts recovery ahead of time. If you’re better fed for a match, your body doesn’t break down as much. The same applies if you’re well-rested, so let’s talk about sleep.
A good night’s sleep is one of the most effective tools available to women’s rugby players.
Sleep is magical. It increases tissue repair, allows you to recover faster, learn more, train more often, improves your mood, and enhances your immune system.
Sleep is the complement to exercise. One stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, raising your heart rate, making you alert, increasing blood flow to extremities, and inducing breakdown of tissue. The other features the parasympathetic nervous system, tissue repair, a slower heart beat, and general relaxation.
Sleep helps code your long-term memory so that you can turn profits in sales or recall important information for your dissertation. REM and slow wave sleep especially improve learning as well as launch restorative metabolic processes.
If you’ve had a hard workout or day at the office, getting enough sleep is critical to bouncing back the next day.
The short-term consequences of not sleeping produce a greater stress response in the body, keeping us from relaxing even when we want to. These metabolic changes produce chronic inflammatory responses, reduced performance, and a lower quality of life.
Peri-workout Protein + Carbs
The nature of rugby requires you to push your physical limits, but most of us still want to at least be able to walk the next day after a tough conditioning session… and at most get back after it.
High-intensity exercise causes skeletal muscle damage, and carbs can help limit that (see above). Damage to muscles reduces one’s ability to shuttle glucose into the muscle cell, which lowers ability to replace glycogen stores, which makes for less recovery and more damage the next day. And so on and so forth in that cycle.
By feeding your body protein and carbs before, during, and after workouts, you mitigate breakdown, reduce soreness, and promote recovery. This is especially critical for anyone who trains or competes multiple times in one day, such as 7s players or weekend 15s tournaments.
Get in quick-digesting carbs as early and as often as you can around workouts, and gradually increase your general carb intake alongside training frequency.
Protein, especially those essential amino acids, need to match your activity levels and caloric intake as well to facilitate muscle recovery and repair. The three BCAA’s in particular, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, all activate protein synthesis and make up most of the required amino acids.
Drinking a protein and carb mixture starts recovery ASAP by restoring glycogen in muscle and signaling anabolic processes so you can train harder than your competition. Aim for a liquid recovery drink with 40-80 grams of simple sugars and 20g of protein within 15 minutes after a game or high-intensity training.
Low-intensity recovery exercise following competition minimizes stiffness, promotes blood flow, counteracts inflammation, and can reduce fatigue.
What does it look like? Light, free-flowing movement at a strictly aerobic level. Examples include cycling, going for a hike, yoga, or even a 30-minute dynamic stretch session.
Getting moving the day after a game is critical to recovering by the next weekend.
Similar to active recovery, massage helps in two main ways. First, sports massage targets adhesions and tight tissue. By applying targeted pressure, you can alleviate some of the aches and pains that come from training, as well as reduce chronic injury risk. You're also just creating circulation and increasing blood flow for that water and good nutrition you're eating to repair and refresh.
On top of that, massage can be a vital tool for mental decompression. At moderate pressures, it's been shown to signal a parasympathetic response from your nervous system.
Athletes rarely get an hour of uninterrupted relaxation, so if you can get a massage, be sure to take it.
Compression garments, such as leggings, socks, or sleeves, help speed up recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage. Essentially, it takes the waste away from your muscles and joints and bring back healthier, more efficient metabolites
Studies have shown that wearing them post-exercise can enhance strength and power up to 72-hours after training.
Furthermore, compression socks and recovery boots can flush blood in and out of target areas.
If you have access to an electronically-controlled machine compression machine, 10-20 minutes can remove damaging metabolites and leave you feeling fresh. If not, make sure to wear your compression socks and leggings immediately after games and during travel.
Some athletes swear by ice baths, especially in contact sports where bumps and bruises cover bodies after each game.
As it turns out, cold water immersion actually has mixed results for recovery. In some cases, ice baths can actually slow your results. Recent research showed that cold water immersion stunted anabolic activity after strength training. The only way to know if it works for a specific athlete is to test it out.
Other forms of hydrotherapy, on the other hand, have strong support in science. For example, contrast baths facilitate blood flow in and out of muscle tissue. The idea is that by recycling nutrients, athletes remove toxins and access benefits quicker. Simply getting in the pool removes the effects of gravity, and can provide a soothing effect on athletes after intense training.
While they might seem like extra effort, these techniques are all what helps you be the best rugby player you can be. Feel free to use what works for you and your schedule and set aside what doesn’t… but try not to skip the good sleep and nutrition.
The moral of the story is, the more intention and attention you can give to taking care of your body, mind, and soul off the pitch, the more you can focus on and enjoy the actual rugby on it.