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Recovery Tools of the Trade

Stew Smith, CSCS

“Recovery and Maintenance,” We hear these terms often in just about every area of our lives:  from improving your fitness and athletic performance and handling stressful professions to maintaining your health with a strong immune system.  Typically, most people in the military / law enforcement fitness and health genre ask about how to get stronger for Fitness Tests while working long and stressful hours.  While recently, many military members and police officers ask about recovery and maintenance plans to better perform at their job in combat situations. 

Here is a sample email from a Marine who asks a familiar question, Any advice for what should be staple supplements in addition to a healthy diet when looking to gain size, strength, and aid in recovery?”

Yes, many of us want to get bigger, stronger, and faster AND have energy to live another day.  Part of the answer to the question above is in the question, but true recovery comes in several critical areas and if one is lacking, your fitness, nutrition, maintenance, performance training plan and overall health can be in jeopardy of yielding less than optimal results.  Life in general, hard workouts, and stressful professions involved in life and death situations create a rush of stress hormones that the body has to deal with in order to create a healthy, living organism.  The effects of a few of these hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) create immediate survival mode energy.  It does not matter if you are worrying about not being able to pay a bill to having bullets shot at you, the same stress hormones create alertness and energy to deal with the problems, but these hormones can also be detrimental to your recovery and wellbeing if not dealt with properly.  For instance stress / stress hormones:

  • Suppress the digestive system
  • Alters immune system
  • Weakens reproductive system
  • Decreases muscle growth
  • And Controls mood, motivation and fear, however, the following areas are recommended for TRUE Recovery and Maintenance from stress:

Food – aka Meal Plan, Diet or whatever you wish to call it.  What you put into your body matters for mind and body performance, as well as your ability to recover.  Foods rich in protein/good fats (amino acids, omega 3 fatty acids), carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, anti-oxidants, multi-grains) all are required for you to healthfully deal with balancing out the stress hormones in our bodies. 

Great samples of Protein / Good Fats:
Boiled eggs
Nuts – Peanuts, almonds etc  _ source of GOOD fats too
Beef Jerky – watch for MSG
Salmon / Tuna / Chicken – source of good fats too
Peanut butter packages


For carbs:
Any fruit – banana, apple, orange, grapes, etc
 Vegetables – carrots, green leafy items,
 Multigrain breads / pastas  - also source of protein

What about Supplements?  I am not a fan of supplements.  For me personally, a multi-vitamin and omega -3 caplets and just good eating are the BEST thing for recovery from stress and workouts as well.
Every now and then when I cannot get REAL food I will drink a Muscle Milk / whey protein shake.  I like to drink chocolate milk after a long and hard workout as it replenishes sugar, proteins, fat quickly and easily.  I basically treat supplements the same way I do MREs.  I would not eat an MRE if I had a restaurant / cafeteria available, but would when it is the only thing I can eat for a meal / snack, I will grab a supplement drink or bar.  Eating more calories per day (good calories of carbs, fat, protein) along with workouts will increase weight.  Those who have difficulty gaining strength / size typically need to add both carbs and protein to their diets and focus on sleep / proper recovery in between workouts.   

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