Recovery is one of the most important keys to optimal performance in CrossFit but is often overlooked and underappreciated. More often than not, athletes have formulated a stigma that CrossFit is pumped full of strenuous WODs and smashing weights over and over again will attain their goals and aspirations. Wrong… sorta. Hard workouts are great don’t get me wrong but without paying due attention to recovery techniques and supplementation you’re going to find yourself out of the game before you’ve even started. Recovering faster and more effectively means harder training sessions (woo hoo!) and getting back in the box ultimately leading to PRs and surpassing potentials.
Fatigue. That big, bold, and annoying elephant that places itself in your workout right when you don’t want it. Not only then, but you notice it’s harder to get up in the morning and get going, simple workouts seem heavy and overdrawn. It goes on for days, then weeks, then a month.
What happened? You over-trained.
How is it possible to beat fatigue, get the most out of your workouts, and still keep firing on all cylinders? Focus on recovery techniques. Just as important as form and mobility throughout your WOD, recovery has its own formula for success and it starts with you. It comes down to three things: rest, nutrition, and supplementation. You’ve made it this far without it – now imagine the possibilities if you dial in all three. It’s limitless, literally.
What is Fatigue
Fatigue is the barrier that stands between you and your athletic potential. If you could defer fatigue and reduce the consequences of it, it's a no-brainer that you’d wake up feeling better, perform better, and reap better results from the work you put in each day. Right? Right. Unfortunately, we will never be able to rid our bodies of fatigue as it is our natural way of our minds telling our bodies to slow down to incite recovery tactics. By raising your fatigue threshold with nutrition, supplementation, and rest, you’ve got yourself a winning combination.
Fatigue means a serious drop in power and performance over time and can eventually lead to burnout in the worst cases. Other than overheating and dehydration throughout workouts, there are four major components that contribute to overtraining and receiving serious effects of overtraining.
Increasing System Acidity
Accumulating hydrogen ions in the blood and fluids surrounding muscle cells leads to the eventual increase in the body’s acidity and are a direct cause of fatigue during short, high-intensity workouts. This can be felt with heavy, labored breathing and burning sensations in the exhausted muscles. This form of fatigue can be managed by training near or slightly above the body’s anabolic threshold. In order to gauge this threshold based on your own personal athletic ability, it is recommended to complete a 30-minute time trial at max effort. The last 20 minutes will be the average closest to your anabolic threshold.
Reduced Levels of Glycogen and Glucose
Glycogen is the carbohydrate form of fuel stored in working muscles. Early on in your endurance/functional fitness workouts, glycogen and fat are the primary sources used as fuel for energy generation. In order for this to work, carbohydrates must be present in the muscles. As glycogen stores start to deplete after exercise performed over time and over 70% max VO2, the body then looks to the carbohydrates in the blood stream, called glucose.
Glucose is sourced from the blood which is pumped out from the liver. When the supply of glycogen and glucose is used from both the muscles and the liver, insert fatigue. The crash. The burn. The dreaded wall of blah. The party is over and you’re not ready to go home yet. Every individual’s supply is different meaning levels of fatigue varies from athlete to athlete.
The only way to prolong or avoid this type of fatigue is to accurately replace carbohydrate storage by taking in fuel during exercise. This can be via liquid or solid form and should be gauged based on the needs of the individual athlete.
Neuromuscular Junction Failure
The nervous system transmits electrochemical impulses from the spinal cord to the muscle fiber. The point at which the nerve axon meets the muscle fiber is where the muscle innervation occurs. When this type of failure/fatigue onsets, the athlete is unable to fully stimulate and contract a muscle or muscle group. This is not only a form of fatigue but also leads to those uncomfortable and painful muscle cramps.
Avoiding neuromuscular junction failure is hard to pinpoint but some tips include drinking adequate levels of fluids throughout the day, consuming appropriate levels of electrolytes, and balancing training in preparation for competition so that the output matches the input
Increase of Tryptophan in the Brain
This type of fatigue is probably one of the least understood factors when it comes to fatigue, unfortunately. Typically speaking, during long events (3+ hours), there are changes that take place in the blood amino acid levels leading to chemical reactions in the brain that cause you to feel sleepy, yawny, and depressed energy. Simply finishing a WOD may become an extremely hard task and is not actually recommended in order to prevent injury.
During exercise or competition days that require an extremely high level of output over long durations of time, certain types of tryptophan and the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) enter a competition with each other as a race to the brain on the same blood ‘carrier’ – albumin. More often than not BCAAs will the race and are able to reach the brain in larger quantities and faster uptakes than tryptophan. But as the BCAAs are depleted, the tryptophan levels increase where it is then converted into a chemical widely known as serotonin. You may think that increased levels of serotonin through this process will lead to happier mood, increased social behavior, appetite, and memory, but in this case, serotonin contributes to sleep, function, and digestion. Talk about no Bueno for the body midway through your WOD.
By supplementing with BCAAs (see AMRAP from Elivate Nutrition) you, the athlete, will benefit from longer endurance, better recovery, and avoid this variation of fatigue. BCAA dosage varies by the athlete and can be taken prior to, during, or post- workout depending on personal preference. They can be ingested via flavored BCAA powders that you mix with liquid but our recommendation is through flavorless, dye-less, non-proprietary blended capsules such as the one’s that Elivate Nutrition offers here.
Going Beyond Fatigue
Effective training is so much more than just brutal workouts day in and day out. Effective training is an adequate balance between stress and rest at a steady rate and increase. When this balance is appropriately achieved fitness and health levels are able to be increased at a stable rate. When rest exceeds stress, the body quickly achieves an intense level of preparedness to compete – this is called tapering.
When stress greatly exceeds rest, for prolonged periods of time, athletes begin to experience merciless levels of fatigue and exhaustion. Adaptability is compromised and the body’s natural defense mechanisms intended to actually prevent death (homeostatic reaction) are initiated. This is called overtraining.
It is important to understand that although overtraining may occur from too much exercise and not enough rest it might be related from the other factors that affect our daily lives. This includes work, school, relationships, finances, nutrition, etc. Even if you have a near-perfect fitness balance between physiological expenditure and rest if these other dimensions of your life are out of whack, chances are your fitness is going to be severely impacted as well. Sometimes this is called ‘over-living’ in comparison to ‘over-training’. Regardless of what it is called the body reacts the same way.
Now please don’t take this the wrong way – this doesn't mean you can’t have your cake and eat it, too! Simply means that you must regularly reassess and realign your priorities and goals with not only fitness, nutrition, and supplementation but the other dimensions of your overall health and wellness as a functioning human being. By paying close attention to the elements of recovery, especially rest, nutrition, and proper supplementation, you can actually avoid overtraining all together and improve your fatigue threshold and athletic potential.
You May Not Even Notice You’re Overtraining
In some cases, individuals and athletes become so accustomed to the extreme fatigue and stress they place on their body, that overtraining isn’t even a second thought. Overtraining happens to be a condition that is unique to each individual’s circumstances and regimens. Although certain characteristics are common, there is no one-size-fits-all way of defining it. Two major symptoms to note though are decreased performance regardless over the input of training as well as chronic, and often seriously high levels, of fatigue.
The Downward Spiral and How to Avoid it
Overtraining is a downward spiral that plummets an athlete into decreased and depressed output and performance. Pushing yourself to the limit day after day resulting in decreased appetite and reduced caloric intake formulates an opportunity for incomplete recovery, fatigue, and actually lackluster training. Regardless of how motivated you may be, this pattern is repeated week after week and suddenly – you’re over-trained.
Macronutrients and Overtraining
Many studies and articles that you will find on the internet lack the focus and importance on an adequate and nutritious diet in the process of overtraining.
Why Carbohydrates Are Important
This does vary, but most Functional Fitness and Advanced to Elite CrossFit Athletes are capable of storing up to 2,000 calories stored away as carbohydrates. Most of this storage can be found in the muscles as glycogen, with smaller amounts in the liver and blood (glucose). Compared to the availability of energy sourced from fat and protein, glycogen and glucose are rather limited, making up only about 1 to 2 percent of the body’s complete energy storages. Although storage is low, we must not underestimate the importance of this energy source for these type of athletic demands.
As carbohydrate storage is depleted, the body no longer encompasses the ability to use fat as an energy source (the most abundant source) and turns to using protein. Using protein as the main energy source comes at a time when the body is facing large levels of fatigue. Because of the body’s inability to maintain an adequate use of glycogen and glucose stores ultimately leads to poor performance and overtraining. The last thing you want to do when strength and endurance training is forcing your body to use the muscle you’ve worked so hard to gain. Talk about a training season no-no.
Why Fats Are Important
You may have noticed when looking into various types of eating habits and diets that there is a confliction between what people believe about including fats and carbohydrates. We’ve all heard claims but what are we to believe? There’s plenty of research supporting that well-trained Functional Fitness, Endurance, and CrossFit athletes can achieve positive results on a nutrition program that is somewhat higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates than is typically recommended. The real focus should give light to recovery tactics such as BCAAs, Nitric Oxide (see AMINO2), Krill Oil (see OMEGA 3/6/9) and protein (source first from food!).
In fact, a higher-fat diet proves to be beneficial because the body becomes more efficient at burning fat (refer to glycogen and glucose section above) for fuel while actually sparing glycogen. This type of nutrition plan's benefits is reciprocated when an athlete performs long, slow endurance training in the base period(s) of a program. Keep in mind though, as the intensity of training increases in the building period of a program, the athlete will require more carbohydrates to prevent the catabolic effects of high-intensity training (as seen in both functional fitness and CrossFit) to restock the significantly depleted glycogen stores in the muscles.
Finding an adequate balance between fats and carbohydrates during different periods of your training regimens will greatly assist you in reaching and surpassing your athletic goals and potentials. While also keeping protein intakes relatively consistent you will set yourself up for avoiding overtraining, extreme fatigue, and burnout.
Why Protein Is Important
Post-workout recovery is essential for avoiding overtraining altogether. If nutritional and supplemental action is not taken after training sessions, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure from the get-go. You’ll notice a gradual decline in performance and can lead directly to overtraining in as little as one week. We stand by the belief that protein source, even post-workout, should come from food first. The reason for this is simple – it’s the most natural source of protein, has not been refined, has no added sugars, dyes, fillers, or plumper’s, and quite honestly tastes better. Don't you have time to cook a chicken breast post-workout? You don't? Fine. Take 20 minutes and stove-top cook 4 breasts every other morning and have them on hand in the fridge.
In other aspects of your life, maintaining adequate protein intake throughout the entire day is the next step you can take to elevate your performance not only as an athlete but a human. Focusing mainly on increased amino-acid and BCAA profiles will help you in the short-run but will eventually catch up to you. Protein is necessary to repairing muscle damage, maintaining immune system function, manufacture hormones and enzymes, replacing red blood cells that happen to carry oxygen to the muscles, and provides a great source of energy for exercise when carbohydrate sources are depleted.
Some examples of inadequate dietary protein symptoms (and similar to those of overtraining) are:
- Cessation of menstrual periods
- Frequent colds and sore throats
- Sugar cravings
- Reduced and prolonged recovery times
- Lack of and poor mental focus
- Chronic fatigue
- Slow results regardless of high training level input
Pairing a BCAA Supplement with Protein
The highest-quality protein is sourced from food. Natural sources of protein are available to the body for easy absorption and include large amounts of all the essential amino acid profiles. Specifically speaking, animal protein fits this definition and should be included in all meals throughout the day. And as a no brainer, the more you train, the more critical this advice is for avoiding overtraining and boosting recovery.
Of the essential amino acid profiles found in animal fat, four stand out as being critical to recovery and can be found in Elivate’s BCAA AMRAP: leucine, isoleucine, valine, and glutamine. The first of the three amino acids are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). During exercise, blood levels of BCAA and glutamine decline, contributing to central fatigue, lasting in longer events (such as CrossFit Competitions, marathons, and triathlons for example). This type of fatigue, lasting for more than a few days, can also be a result of a strenuous training program and a nutritional program that has inadequate protein requirements.
Micronutrients and Overtraining
It’s something you don't think about on a day to day basis but really should start doing. Low micronutrient and inadequate micronutrient intake is seen in all levels of athletes and is compounded by normal losses during periods of increased training. These types of deficiencies lead to decreased performance, fatigue, weakness, weakened immune response, overtraining, anemia, and many others. But more often than not, you won’t realize you’re deficient until it’s too late.
All of this once again underscores the importance of eating a healthful diet that is rich in micronutrients which all help recovery from your chosen exercises. Just as eating an inadequate diet can set you up for overtraining, relying on supplements ONLY instead of a balance between the two sets you up for failure. The best training regimen starts with the basics: a training program, healthful nutritional program, and supplementation. A few great staple products to incorporate into your training and recovery programs are a Multivitamin (LYFT), Krill oil (OMEGA 3/6/9), and a Probiotic (PROBIOTIX) to begin. Micronutrient supplements should always actively compliment your Macronutrient profiles.
Understanding the balance between training and rest, much like the balance between nutrition and nutritional supplementation, is a completely personalized approach. Unfortunately, with overtraining, the progression is so gradual that you may not recognize the impending doom that is lingering around your training. By the time you realize what has happened, overtraining has become completely onset and your only recourse is the loss of fitness by reducing training and increasing rest. Find the fun again in your training, listen to your body, and remember why you started.
Take your recovery seriously.
It is a far better option to take a gradual increase in pace with training than pushing yourself so hard that it takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to recovery.
Your training plan should always include a nutrition and supplementation program and fit your unique demands as an athlete (meaning your sport, age, illness, injury, recovery, and goals). And don’t forget about how the other aspects of your life affect your training. Health and wellness have multiple dimensions that require nourishment and attention. Own your recovery, take pride in your training and see the results. But don’t forget…. Good things take time.
Elivate Nutrition is here for the long run, to join you on your journey towards whatever aspirations and goals you might have. We’re here to help you and believe in you as well as provide you with honest, beneficial, and effective supplements. Send us a message today to get started on customizing your perfect stack or visit one of our supplement collections today!