Sleep As An Essential Part of Recovery Training
What you do outside of the gym is just as important as what you do during a workout. Recovery training is necessary for enhanced performance. Many underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep. Learn how to make sleep an essential part of your recovery training for improved results.
What is Recovery Training
Recovery training is basically what the name implies. It is taking time to recuperate from the training. Recovery strategies include the following:
- Active recovery exercises
Nutrition as Part of Recovery Training
As with building and maintaining muscle, diet also plays a large role in the recovery process.
Carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals are needed to avoid fatigue and injury [R].
Protein should be consumed after working out to enhance recovery, immune function, and growth and maintenance of lean body mass [R].
Carbohydrates are another nutrient needed by athletes and high-performance exercisers. This macronutrient will provide energy for the next training session or competition [R].
For the rapid replenishment of glycogen stores, it is recommended to consume a protein and carbohydrates post-exercise meal or snack [R].
Foods rich in protein, carbohydrates, antioxidants, and/or anti-inflammatory nutrients are also favorable for improved recovery training [R].
Hydration as Part of Recovery Training
Hydration is an important part of recovery training.
The greater the workout, the more likely you will sweat. Along with water the body will lose critical nutrients like sodium, potassium, and chloride can diminish athletic performance. One way to recover after a long sweaty workout is to put back these electrolytes [R].
Water alone is not gonna cut it if you want optimal recovery. Proper hydration includes adding back those lost electrolytes as part of your recovery training to get your body back to an optimal nutrient status [R].
Active Recovery Exercise as Part of Recovery Training
Rest does not mean spending the day lying around. For optimal recovery, you need to still incorporate movement into your day. This means involving active recovery activities.
These low-impact exercises will complement those vigorous workouts. It is the yin to the high-intensity training’s yang.
Exercises include walking, stretching, yoga, and swimming.
Though these activities may not get your heart rate going they can be very effective for improving your recovery.
Fatigue was prevented by twenty minutes of post-exercise active recovery exercises after strenuous exercise by the same muscles [R]
Sleep As a Vital Part of Recovery Training
Of all the areas involved in recovery training, one of the most vital is sleep. It can be the best way to improve performance over time [R].
There is a symbiotic relationship between exercise, fitness, sleep, and recovery. Exercise can help you sleep better and getting quality sleep will also improve physical performance.
For the best results after a hard workout be sure to include a good sleep regimen. Sleep improves fitness, endurance, and speeds recovery time.
What Is Poor Sleep
Athletes and those taking part in high-intensity endurance exercise need more sleep than the average person [R]. Unfortunately, many of these individuals do not get enough hours of sleep a night.
Sleep is assessed by the quantity and quality of sleep attained over the night.
Quantity refers to how many hours of sleep a person gets a night [R].
Quality sleep is measured by the following:
- The type of sleep someone gets.
- The time it takes to fall asleep
- The total time spent in bed asleep
In quality sleep, the body goes through two stages: slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. SWS is the deep sleep that restores and repairs the body. REM sleep is needed for cognitive function and memory [R].
Quality sleep is also measured by the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and the total time spent asleep in bed known as sleep-onset latency (SOL) sleep efficiency (SE) [R].
Poor sleep is typically characterized by taking more than 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep [R]. It is also measured by the number of hours a person sleeps. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night is associated with impaired performance and five or fewer hours a night is considered poor sleep [R].
Poor Sleep Impairs Cognitive and Motor Skill Function
Athletic activities require high levels of cognitive function and getting enough sleep can make or break a performance.
Physical and cognitive impairment has been seen within 24 to 36 hours of sleep deprivation. Negative effects can also take place with less than 2 to 4 hours of sleep a night [R].
The quality and quantity of sleep have been found to improve both memory and motor skills in activities that occur following a night's sleep. [R]. It can also lead to a feeling of apathy and low energy.
Sleep deprivation can lead to decreased running performance, decreased levels of muscle glycogen, reduced strength and distance covered [R].
Poor Sleep Impairs Strength, Power, and Muscle Synthesis
Sleep also affects strength and anaerobic power [R].
The reason why sleep deprivation impairs anaerobic performance is unclear but there was a significant decrease in healthy males who were sleep-deprived for 36 hours
when compared with those who got a full night’s sleep [R].
Lack of sleep can affect strength training.
Decreases in submaximal exercises (bench, leg, and deadlifts) were found among eight men aged 18 to 24 after three nights of sleep deprivation consisting (3 hours of sleep per night). The mood was also altered by the third night showing an increase in confusion after the second night of reduced sleep. Fatigue and vigor started to wane after the first night of sleep deprivation [R].
Poor muscular performance can also occur with a lack of sleep. The torque and speed of knee extensions decreased after 30 hours of sleep deprivation among 24 U.S. Marine Corps volunteers [R].
Exercises can sometimes result in muscle injury. Sleep deprivation has been found to alter hormones and immune function delaying or preventing muscle recovery.
Ten men aged 21.6 to 33.5 years old were split into two groups and told to perform knee extensor exercises that induce muscle damage followed by specific sleeping patterns. One group had three nights of regular sleep, while the other group had 48 hours of sleep deprivation followed by 12 hours of normal sleep [R].
Those in the deprivation group were found to have higher levels of inflammatory markers. The cortisol to testosterone ratio also increased in this group.
When sleep-deprived protein repair and synthesis are hampered causing further trauma and preventing healing [R].
Mice subjected to 72 sleep deprivation exhibited muscle impairment after eight weeks of high-intensity swimming [R].
If Getting Enough Sleep is a Problem
No one is immune to bad sleep habits. Even athletes can have problems getting enough sleep.
According to a 2017 survey over two-thirds of student-athletes are getting poor sleep quality. Forty-three percent are getting less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep. Fatigue is also a problem for 23 percent of students [R].
Those with a lack of sleep were also found to have worse athletic performance [R].
Training For Better Sleep
Just like body conditioning, sleep habits, and hygiene can be consistently worked on and improved. Creating regular routines and an optimal environment for sleep will improve the quality and quantity of rest. Train yourself on how to get better sleep with the following recommendations [R].
- Go to bed only if you are sleepy
- Start a bedtime ritual such as reading or taking a warm shower or bath
- Get up at the same time every day including weekends and holidays
- Get a full night’s sleep (7 to 9 hours) every night and avoid naps
- If you need a nap keep it to under 1 hour and before 3 p.m.
- Use the bed for sleep and intimacy only
- Avoid caffeine if possible (if must use caffeine, avoid after lunch).
- Avoid alcohol if possible (if must use alcohol, avoid right before bed).
- Do not smoke cigarettes or use nicotine, ever.
- Consider avoiding high-intensity exercise right before bed
- Keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark like a cave
- Reduce fluids intake before bed to prevent bathroom trips in the middle of the night
- Keep the room between 60 and 70 degrees for a cooling temperature
- Keep hands and feet warm (socks and gloves may help during winter months).
- Check the age of your mattress, anything over 10 years should be replaced
- Work on stress and mental relief as a way to improve sleep
- Avoid screens at least 2 hours before bed to induce sleep (phones, laptops, monitors, TVs, etc) or use blue-light blocking glasses to prevent blue light exposure
- Let bright, natural light from the sun awaken you
- Don’t hit the snooze button
- Get a dawn-simulator alarm clock if you have trouble waking
- Meditation and deep breathing can help you get ready for sleep
Nutrients for Better Sleep
If you are having trouble sleeping after a workout you may be suffering from poor sleep you may want to look at your diet. What you eat plays a large role in sleep. Certain vitamins and minerals may help facilitate better quality sleep.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. Amino acids are needed to build protein in the body. Essential amino acids need to be obtained from the diet. Tryptophan is important for sleep because it makes the substance 5-HTP when consumed. 5-HTP causes the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to improve sleep [R].
Serotonin also helps produce the hormone melatonin. Melatonin has been found to help regulate sleep and improve the quality of rest [R].
Tryptophan is found in the following foods:
- Sesame seeds
Incorporating these foods into your diet can help to boost your melatonin production and lead to better sleep.
Glucose rich foods can also help tryptophan to move across the blood-brain barrier and be converted to serotonin. This can improve sleep [R].
Theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves. Like tryptophan, it is a relaxing agent. It acts as a neurotransmitter and creates alpha-waves in the brain. The effects on the brain cause the body to feel relaxed.
The production of alpha-waves in the occipital and parietal regions of the brain was found within 40 minutes after taking 50 to 200 mg of L-theanine [R].
A review of sleep medication on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) patients found that L-theanine was ineffective at increasing total sleep time but was able to increase sleep efficiency. More research is needed to know the true effects of this substance [R].
An open clinical trial of 20 men (4) and women (16) found that taking 250 mg of L-theanine in addition to their current medication a day for 8 weeks helped improve sleep in those with major depressive disorder (MDD). The supplement was found to be safe though additional placebo-controlled studies should be done to learn more about its long-term effects [R].
Zinc is a mineral needed for many body functions including brain function, metabolic reactions, and immune health. It is not stored by the body and needs to be replenished daily.
The best sources of zinc are red meat, poultry, and seafood like oysters, crab, and lobster. Plant sources include beans, nuts, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products. Plant sources of zinc foods also contain phytates. These compounds bind zinc and prevent their absorption. So ultimately, the availability of zinc in these foods is less than animal products [R].
Zinc is also a popular supplement and added to cold medicine to prevent illness. New research shows it may be helpful for regulating sleep [R].
Dietary zinc improves sleep quality in humans and increases REM sleep in mice.
Two groups of 30 volunteers absorbed daily 15 mg of zinc from 40 g of Pacific oysters or a placebo for a period of 12 weeks. Those who were given zinc had improved sleep efficiency and sleep onset latency when compared to the control group [R].
REM sleep was increased for 6 hours in mice given a zinc-containing yeast extract of 80 mg per kilogram of body weight [R].
Zinc has a large effect on the central nervous system leading to relaxation and sleep. Zinc levels help to regulate the sleep/wake cycle but it is unclear how this happens. More research on zinc needs to be done to understand how zinc improves sleep [R].
When studied supplementation of zinc has been found to improve sleep quality in various population groups.
A double-blind, randomized controlled trial of 54 intensive care unit nurses was given 220 mg zinc sulfate capsules or a placebo every 72 hours for one month. Subjective sleep quality scores were used measured prior to starting the supplement.
Sleep quality was significantly improved in the intervention group when compared with those given a placebo. Serum zinc levels were also higher in those given the supplement. These results show zinc supplementation of 220 mg for one month may be associated with improved sleep quality [R].
A cohort study showed an association of sufficient zinc levels and good sleep quality in school children. Those with poor levels of zinc were found to have insufficient sleep duration, sleep disturbances, and poor sleep quality in adolescence (ages 11 to 15). but no association at preschool age (3 to 5 years old) children. The findings suggest that sufficient zinc concentration is associated with good sleep quality, dependent on the developmental stage in childhood. The short and long term status of zinc on sleep needs further clarification [R].
When compared with short (less than 7 hours) and long sleepers (longer than 9 hours) higher levels of zinc were found in those who had normal sleep (7 to 9 hours) [R].
Magnesium is another essential mineral that is responsible for over 300 reactions in the body including energy, protein synthesis, and muscle function [R].
Foods rich in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, black beans, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables [R].
Magnesium is also responsible for improving sleep.
One way that magnesium is thought to regulate sleep is through facilitating the production of melatonin. Magnesium has been found to increase the enzyme that produces melatonin.
To test this theory two groups of rats were placed on either a magnesium-deficient or magnesium adequate diet for four weeks. Plasma levels of melatonin in the magnesium-deficient rats were lower than rats given a magnesium-rich diet [R].
Low magnesium has also been associated with chronic inflammatory stress. Moderate magnesium deficiency can result from disrupted and deprived sleep in animal studies [R].
An experiment of 100 adults (22 males and 78 females) aged 51 to 85 years with poor sleep quality were given a 320 mg of magnesium or a sodium citrate placebo daily for seven weeks [R].
Magnesium supplementation increased blood levels of magnesium and also decreased the inflammation markers when compared with the placebo [R].
Further research needs to be down to determine if low magnesium is actually a cause or effect of poor sleep [R].
Supplementation of 500 mg of magnesium improved subjective and objective measures of insomnia when compared with a placebo daily for 8 weeks in 46 seniors.
Subjective measures included sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, and early morning awakening. Objective measures included markers related to quality sleep including renin, melatonin, and cortisol [R].
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is needed for vascular and hormone function. It controls blood pressure, muscles, and nerve transmission. Only one percent of the body’s calcium is used in these metabolic processes. The other 99 percent is found in the bones and teeth [R].
Foods rich in calcium include milk, yogurt, and cheese. Non-dairy sources include Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli [R].
Reduced calcium intake has been found in those with insomnia. Calcium is associated with the regulation of sleep and decreases in the difficulty of falling asleep [R].
Calcium also helps to induce the production of tryptophan. Tryptophan is needed to make melatonin the hormone that improves sleep.
Improved sleep quality has been seen with the use of dairy products [R].
Calcium-rich foods like cheese contain the sleep promoter serotonin [R].
Rats given night milked cow’s milk in conjunction with tryptophan supplementation improve the sleep quality in rats [R].
Low calcium has been associated with difficulty sleeping and staying asleep [R].
Herbs and other compounds have been found to aid in sleep. They have been formulated into supplements for an easy way to improve sleep.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that reduces neuron activity in the brain. This inhibition helps to relax the body.
GABA was more effective for sleep quality and length when used in combination with L-theanine to increase sleep duration than when used alone in animal studies [R].
A mixture of GABA/L-theanine (100/20 mg per kilogram of body weight) given to rats showed a decrease in sleep latency but an increase in sleep duration [R].
Rats given the GABA/L-theanine mixture had a significant increase in both REM and SWS when compared to controls. The use of GABA/l-theanine mixture was more beneficial rather than GABA or l-theanine alone [R].
Valerian Root Extract
Valerian root comes from the flowering plant Valeriana officinalis. The extract of the root of this plant has been used to treat sleeping conditions in Europe for decades. It is becoming very popular in the US as a self-prescribed treatment for insomnia due to its calming effect on the body [R].
Valerenic acid is to be believed the most active compound found in valerian root and what gives it the sleep effect [R].
When given to mice, the valerian root prevented GABA from breaking down. The presence of GABA sedates and induces sleep [R].
Valerian root may improve sleep quality but most studies were small in sample size. Larger studies need to be done to find true evidence on the positive effects of valerian root [R].
Melatonin is a hormone your brain produces in response to darkness. Melatonin was found to increase total sleep time and sleep efficiency [R].
The consumption of foods containing melatonin such as milk and cherries may improve sleep quality in humans [R].
Knowing this hormone is helpful for sleep it has also been synthesized into a supplement [R].
Research on the effect of melatonin on insomnia shows mixed results. In some studies, it showed no effect on insomnia when compared with a placebo [R, R]. Other studies showed melatonin had positive effects on insomnia.
Melatonin was found to have similar effects of insomnia medications. Nineteen of the 24 patients who discontinued benzodiazepine for melatonin therapy maintained good sleep quality [R].
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 746 patients aged 18 to 80 years tested the effects of a prolonged-release melatonin formulation (2 mg) over a 6 month period.
Melatonin improved sleep latency and sleep quality over placebo with no signs of withdrawal or rebound insomnia [R].
The overall consensus is that melatonin supplementation may not be effective for insomnia treatment. More high-quality studies need to be done to show stronger evidence to recommend melatonin for insomnia [R].
In those with trouble falling asleep, it is uncertain if melatonin can really help due to the limited size of research studies.
A small review of two studies showed melatonin supplements decreased the time it took to fall asleep by about 22 minutes [R].
A four week trial of 307 people found going to bed at a set time and taking melatonin one hour before going to bed led to falling asleep 34 minutes earlier, getting better sleep during the first and third night, and better daytime functioning [R].
Multiple Sleep Supplements
Often sleep supplements will come as a blend of multiple nutrients or herbs to help increase sleep. These include melatonin, magnesium, zinc, and others.
A study of 43 long-term care patients suffering from insomnia was given a supplement of 5 mg melatonin, 225 mg magnesium, and 11.25 mg zinc or a placebo one hour before bedtime for 8 weeks [R].
When compared with a placebo the food supplement improved sleep quality by increasing the following [R]:
- Ease of getting to sleep
- Alertness the following morning
- Total sleep time
Over the counter sleep agents containing melatonin and valerian root were studied for their ability to improve sleep. Melatonin, especially longer-active formulas, had the most beneficial effects on sleep quality when compared with a placebo [R].
Valerian root and immediate-release melatonin were not as beneficial [R].
Risks with Sleep Supplements
Before taking a sleep supplement it is important to look at any safety concerns related to that product.
Nutrient Supplement Concerns
When consumed in excess, vitamins and minerals can have negative effects on health. That is why each nutrient has a tolerable upper limit. This is the amount when a substance becomes toxic to the body.
Tryptophan Risks and Side Effects
Caution should be taken with tryptophan supplements. Many side effects may occur with short term use. They include heartburn, stomach pain, belching and gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Some people have also experienced headaches, lightheadedness, drowsiness, dry mouth, visual blurring, muscle weakness, and sexual problems. Long-term use has not been researched and should be avoided [R].
Tryptophan supplements may cause a rare disorder known as eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). This condition affects various organ systems including the skin, lungs, and muscles. It comes on suddenly with a rapid progression. Symptoms include muscle pain or weakness, skin rashes, cramping, difficulty breathing, and fatigue. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, tryptophan supplements were linked to over 1,500 cases of EMS and 37 deaths during the late 1980s.
Tryptophan can also interact with antidepressants and sedative medications by escalating serotonin levels. This can lead to problems for people on medications that promote serotonin production like tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), MAO inhibitors (MAOIs), pain relievers like tramadol and meperidine, triptan migraine medications, and cough syrup that contains dextromethorphan [R].
Theanine Risks and Side Effects
No major side effects have been to occur aside from stomach upset.
When studied theanine shows to be a safe effective sleep aid. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also classified it as “generally recognized as safe” when used in accordance with manufacturer's directions [R].
Studies on the toxic effect of L-theanine were also limited in size so there should be some caution when using this product especially by those who are on any medications [R].
Calcium Risks and Side Effects
Calcium toxicity will often result from supplements since getting too much calcium from food is rare. The upper tolerable limit for calcium is 2,500 mg per day [R].
Calcium supplements can also interact with various medications including bisphosphonates, antibiotics, levothyroxine, thiazide-type diuretics leading to absorption issues or high levels of calcium in the blood [R].
Magnesium Risks and Side Effects
Depending on the form of magnesium found in supplementation can affect how it is absorbed. Magnesium in the aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms has been found to be more completely absorbed than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate based on small studies [R].
Too much magnesium from supplements can result in diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps.
The tolerable upper limit for adults is 350 mg per day. Signs of magnesium toxicity include low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, facial flushing, depression, and lethargy leading to muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, very low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and cardiac arrest [R].
Anyone with impaired kidney function is at risk for magnesium toxicity since the kidneys are responsible for removing excess magnesium [R].
Zinc Risks and Side Effects
Too much zinc can lead to nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches [R].
Taking 150 to 450 mg of zinc per day has been shown to lower copper status, alter the iron function, and reduce immune function. Copper status can be compromised by taking about 60 mg per day for up to 10 weeks [R].
High doses of zinc may also affect the urinary tract system and lead to hospitalization [R].
The tolerable upper limit for zinc for adults 19 years and older is 40 mg per day [R].
High doses of zinc (142 mg per day) can affect magnesium levels [R].
Zinc can also interact with antibiotics and penicillamine, a rheumatoid arthritis medication [R].
Melatonin Safety Concerns
The short-term use of melatonin seems to be safe for most people. There is no information available on the long-term risks of supplementation [R].
Typical side effects that occur with melatonin use are headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps, and irritability [R].
The risk of allergic reaction is also possible when taking melatonin supplements [R].
Melatonin also interacts with various medications including sedatives, birth control pills, caffeine, fluvoxamine, diabetes medications, anticoagulants, epilepsy, and blood pressure medications [R, R].
Like most supplements, melatonin is not regulated by the FDA. Often the amount of melatonin listed on the product did not match the actual amount of melatonin present in the supplement when tested. Some melatonin products also contain serotonin which can cause side effects even in low doses [R].
The dosages found in these supplements is often higher than what the body would normally produce. There is no upper limit prescribed for melatonin. More research needs to be done on how much melatonin is too much [R].
Valerian Root Safety Concerns
Short-term use of valerian root has been deemed safe when taken up to 28 days. The safety of long-term use of this herb is unknown [R].
Valerian root may cause side effects including headache, stomach upset, slow reaction times, excitability, uneasiness, heart issue, dry mouth, vivid dreams, and insomnia [R].
Some have felt sluggish the morning after taking valerian root especially at higher doses greater than 600 mg. Increased sleepiness was felt the morning after taking 900 mg of valerian [R].
Long-term use has been associated with withdrawal. It is best to wean off to prevent these symptoms [R].
Valerian root has been known to interact with sedatives, herbs, and supplements with sedative properties: benzodiazepines, barbiturates or depressants, St. John’s wort, kava, and melatonin. [R].
GABA Safety Concerns
There is not enough evidence on the risks of GABA supplements. Some reported side effects include upset stomach, headache, sleepiness, and muscle weakness.
It is also unknown if it interacts with any medications, herbs, or other supplements. Some have said it can interact with blood pressure medications [R]. When in doubt speak with a healthcare professional before starting a GABA supplement.
What to Look for in a Sleep Supplement
Since supplements are not regulated by any federal agency it can be hard to know what you are getting. Look for a brand that is the third party tested for accurate potency. Be sure to avoid a product with any fillers, additives, or preservatives.
How to Take a Sleep Supplement
It is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when taking a supplement. Stick to the recommended dosage on the package.
A healthcare practitioner can also be helpful to avoid any potential drug interactions.
Dosage Requirements for Sleep Supplements
When taking a mineral or vitamin supplement you want to stick to a level that is below the upper tolerable limit to avoid toxicity. Also, check to see if any other supplements you are taking already have those nutrients so you are not getting a double dose.
Tryptophan is available as the supplement 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Doses of 5-HTP range between 100 and 900 mg per day [R]. For better sleep, the recommended dosage is 100 to 300 mg 30 to 45 minutes before bed [R].
There is no specific research on a safe dosage but generally, theanine is taken in doses of 100 to 200 mg per day [R].
Melatonin doses range from 1 to 5 mg and can be taken up to an hour before bed [R].
More research needs to be done to find a set recommended dosage for GABA supplements.
It is best to start with a lower dose and see if there are any adverse side effects.
Of all the recovery training activities sleep is the most important and often overlooked. Strict sleep habits should be enforced for improved performance. If adequate quality sleep is a problem look to the diet to see what nutrients can be incorporated. Certain foods can help activate the brain chemicals needed for a good night’s rest. Sleep supplements may also help to give the body it’s needed nutrients. Supplements should be used with caution due to possible side effects. Be sure to speak with a healthcare professional before starting a sleep supplement especially if you have any health conditions or are on any medications.
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