If there is only one thing you take away from any of the nutritional tips and recommendations I’ve shared so far on the Obliteride Blog, (check out previous posts here: macros, digestion, hydration) this would this – hit the pillow and rack up anywhere from 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Studies show that sleeping 7 – 9 hours every night may improve your athletic performance. Sounds pretty good, am I right?! However, the more you cheat yourself of sleep, the more likely your performance is to suffer. This can mean anything from work performance, brain and cognitive performance, athletic performance, hand-eye coordination, and even your nutrition.
Sleep isn’t just something you can make up by sleeping longer the following night. While we’ve thought for decades that we can just “catch up” on sleep, the body actually doesn’t quite work that way.
As we tend to prioritize electronics consumption at all hours of the day and night, sleep is truly an area of life that is affected and gets over looked. We live in a time where we are no longer able to do our jobs without a smartphone or tablet, most work is done from a computer, we are always plugged in on the bus, in our cars, and (I hate to say it) on our bikes. Our eyes, brain, and body literally have no break and no time to rest from blue light consumption, or low frequency EMFs and high frequency EMFs (electromagnetic fields). This puts us into a sympathetic state (fight or flight), which can impair EVERYTHING we do. Now factor in sleeping fewer hours at night and your whole system can become imbalanced and set up to fall apart.
I love sleep and it’s become a non-negotiable with me. I prioritize 8 – 9 hours of sleep and I work my schedule around it. Yes, sometimes that means going to bed at 10pm on a Saturday night. Not glamorous, I know, but when I’m having the best ride of my life the next morning due to a good nights rest and logging all the hours that my body needs, you do the math.
“Sleep is the greatest legal performance-enhancing drug that most people are probably neglecting in sport.”
Matthew Walker, PhD
I recently had the chance to read Dr. Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep, and my head exploded. While I wish I could talk about everything that is in this book, I’m just going to put it out there that you should check this one out from your library (or buy it). It’s a must read!
Sleep is one of the main ingredients for athletic performance and for proper recovery from athletic performance. It’s crazy to me that anyone would not want to prioritize it. It truly is the legal performance-enhancing drug that many of us just aren’t taking. (hint hint, start taking it!)
“Numerous studies have shown that sleep improves the motor skills of junior, amateur, and elite athletes across sports as diverse as tennis, basketball, football, soccer, and rowing. So much so that, in 2015, the International Olympic Committee published a consensus statement highlighting the critical importance of, and essential need for, sleep in athletic development across all sports for men and women.” (2)
This not only applies to Olympic athletes, but many other professional sports teams and elite athletes are jumping on board the sleep train now that there are over 750 scientific studies available showing significant relationship between sleep and human performance.
“Obtain less than eight hours of sleep a night, and especially less than six hours a night, and the following happens: time to physical exhaustion drops by 10 to 30%, and aerobic output is significantly reduced. Similar impairments are observed in limb extension force and vertical jump height, together with decreases in peak, and sustained muscle strength. Add to this marked impairments in cardiovascular, metabolic, and respiratory capabilities that hamper an under slept body, including faster rates of lactic acid buildup, reductions in blood oxygen saturation, and converse increases in blood carbon dioxide, due in part to a reduction in the amount of air that the lungs can expire. Even the ability of the body to cool itself during physical exertion through sweating – a critical part of peak performance – is impaired by sleep loss.” (3)
It is while we sleep that our body begins the repair and recovery process from all of our hard efforts. Sleep (and meditation) allows the central nervous system (CNS) the ability to process “what just happened” to the body in an attempt to recover. Whether it is a HIIT workout, Crossfit, a 50-mile bike ride, a Criterium race, or short miles with a lot of elevation, most activity that includes intensity will definitely tax your central nervous system. To ensure proper recovery from all of your hard efforts so that you can get back up and do them again, it would be smart to start prioritizing your sleep TODAY.
So how can you start prioritizing your sleep today?
Tips to start making sleep a priority TODAY:
- Clear any and all electronics from your bedroom and unplug all devices from outlets. EMF exposure is on the rise and the bedroom is the one place that you want to reduce as much EMF exposure as you can (This is where your body does most of its’ repair and recovery. EMF exposure can stunt recovery as you sleep, so it’s important to reduce it as much as you can in the bedroom.) Consider buying an analog alarm clock with batteries to remove one more thing that needs to be plugged into an outlet, creating less exposure to dirty electricity, and EMF exposure.
- Create a dark space for sleeping. Adding blackout curtains to your room or simply sleeping with an eye mask (like I do) will ensure that your sleeping zone is dark as can be. A dark room and limited light exposure signals the body to keep making the hormone melatonin (you need this to fall asleep). When we are exposed to light our melatonin production is stunted. When we sleep in a dark room, or with an eye mask, this allows all light to be blocked until we are ready to wake up and be exposed to light. It allows us to wake when we’ve had our 7 – 9 hours of sleep.
- Sleep in a cool environment. Set your thermostat near 65 degrees (or set up fans as necessary this time of year) to create a cool sleeping environment. A cool temperature helps to keep you sleeping longer through the night and ensures you’re not woken up in the middle of the night from stimuli such as an elevated room temperature or body temperature. Time to settle in under those covers!
- Turn off electronics and shut down screens 2 hours prior to getting in bed. By shutting things down earlier in the evening you eliminate added blue light exposure, and you actually allow the body to produce melatonin as it’s supposed to. Make sure to set all electronics to airplane mode to reduce EMF exposure as you sleep at night. The longer you are on your devices at night, the more revved up your brain becomes when it should actually be powering down. A good idea would be to set an alarm 2 hours before bed as a reminder of when to shut things down.
- Do not eat a big meal right before bed. Make sure to give yourself ample time for digestion between your last meal and bedtime (2 – 3 hours is good, but 3 – 4 hours is even better). Digestion is likely to turn off as you hit the pillow so do yourself a favor and eat earlier in the evening, or time your last meal to give your body a chance to fully digest before bedtime
- Regulating your blood sugar will help to improve sleep. This means eating foods and macros that will not create a huge blood sugar spike. Think healthy fats, organic veggies and greens, complex carbohydrates, and quality-sourced proteins. A high sugar intake can cause you to wake up more often at night. (3) Removing refined and processed foods, as well as sugar (duh), can help in this case.
- Eating the right carbs at dinner. While it’s important to regulate your blood sugar and watch the types of carbs you are eating (see #6), it can be very beneficial to your sleep to include healthy complex carbs at dinner. Studies show that a decent amount of starchy carbohydrates from real, whole-food sources like sweet potatoes, yams, squash, beets, or plantains at dinner, significantly improves sleep. (4)
Now that you have some great tips for getting a good nights rest, I want to tell you something so real right now. If you are riding the Obliteride 50 or 100 mile course, getting sleep the night before is going to suck, unless your normal wake up time is somewhere between 4am and 5 am, you’ll be fine. For the rest of us who don’t usually find ourselves awake at those hours, and who need to be at the starting line between 7am and 8 am, life is going to be very hard come Saturday morning. I would highly suggest going down the list above and prioritizing sleep TODAY.
The sooner you can start incorporating these habits into your daily and nightly routine, the sooner you’ll be on your way to a stronger and faster recovery.
And while I can’t talk enough about the importance of sleep for recovery, here are a few other techniques to employ when looking for optimal recover from Obliteride, or from any other training and racing.
Tips to ensure a healthy and quick recovery.
- Eat protein post-ride. This is at the top of my list for a reason. It’s definitely one to prioritize first thing after you ride or workout. While we often hear to eat protein post-workout when strength training or bodybuilding, the same can be said for cardio. Too much cardio can cause muscle wasting and the creation of small, skinny legs (i.e., most professional cyclists). It’s important to refuel properly after a ride with quality protein sources in an attempt to feed your muscles and prevent any further wasting. I like to eat somewhere around 20g – 30g of real food protein post ride (think chicken breast, lean turkey, eggs or egg whites, protein pancakes, or white fish).
- Hydrate. While you’ve heard me rattle on about hydration in a previous blog post, I want to tell you that it is just as important post ride. It is the middle of summer here in Seattle, WA and the temperatures have been anyhere from 85 – 90+ degrees. It’s nearly impossible to go out for a ride without being soaked in your own sweat during the first 20 minutes. All of that sweat loss is made up of water and minerals; the important components to proper hydration. Maintaining adequate hydration post ride can alleviate muscle cramping, it creates proper blood flow to muscles, and water is necessary for transportation of minerals and nutrients in the blood to the rest of the body. You absolutely want to stay on top of your water game pre and post exercise.
- Increase your omega-3 consumption. Inflammation can be caused by many things in our lives like injuries, food allergies, and poor blood sugar regulation, but inflammation is also created from exercise and training. In fact, over training and lack of fatty acids will enhance inflammation in the body and can increase your injury potential. For this very reason it is important to have good fatty acids in the body for recovery and repair, and what better than omega – 3 fatty acids as they are known for fighting inflammation. I recommend to my clients to start increasing their fish consumption 2-3 x’s week. If you can do more that is great! If getting in quality fatty fish, think salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, and sardines, is hard for you then start by supplementing with a serving of quality fish oil first thing in the morning and at night. I like Carlson’s and Nordic Natural brands.
- Meditation can open up a pathway that allows the body to enter into a parasympathetic state. I talked about a sympathetic state and your central nervous system earlier in this article, but when we allow our body to be in a parasympathetic state we set ourselves up for the ultimate recovery. Meditation (and sleep) let the body (CNS) calm down, reset, catch up, and recover from our hard efforts. Parasympathetic tells the body that it is no longer in “fight or flight” and that everything is ok. While I know meditation isn’t for everyone, this is one thing I hope you will try atleast once. If you’ve never done meditation before, try starting with a 2 minute meditation and slowly work your way up to 5 minutes, then 10, and so forth. If 2 minutes is your jam, then stick with that. However long you decide to meditate, just know that is time you are giving to yourself, your body, and your recovery. I highly recommend the OAK meditation app. It’s FREE, easy, and it has a handful of options to choose from. HEADSPACE (link to the app please!) is another option, and you can always find guided meditations for FREE on YouTube.
- Epsom salt bath. This is one of my favorites and I often combine this with #3 (yes, I meditate in the bath). Epsom salts are made up of magnesium sulfate, which helps to alleviate muscle pain, cramps, and inflammation in the body. Soaking in the tub post ride will not only put you into a parasympathetic state (check!), but it will cause your muscles to relax, and it will set them up for the recovery process.
- Sports massage. Studies show that massage post-exercise will reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. Sign me up! I experienced this first hand when I was running marathons. I absolutely could not recover well if I did not schedule a sports massage the day after my marathon. It was a game changer for my recovery! (2014 study, 2015 study)
- Foam roll. This is one that I encourage you to do pre and post ride. The idea behind foam rolling is to move blood to our tissues in order to wake things up, warm things up, and prepare us for our exercise. Why it’s so great post work out is that it does the same thing by moving blood to the tissues for recovery. This is also where being hydrated comes into play. When we are hydrated our blood is able flow smoothly and easily to our muscle tissue not only for performance but for recovery. This creates a quicker response time for muscle recovery. If you are new to foam rolling there are many guides that can be found from a quick Google search. However, I prefer being taught by an expert. I love the team at Tangelo Manual Therapy and Movement in Seattle, WA. Their friendly and highly educated staff can walk you through many different ways to foam roll for athletic performance and recovery.
- Take a walk around the block. Standing and walking are actually our most natural and primal forms of movement. It’s no wonder that walking contributes to a host of many health benefits. The low impact of walking is a great way to improve circulation and get good blood flow to your muscles with out over exerting yourself. Walking may also help to break up and move any lactic acid build up in your muscles therefore promoting a quicker recovery. Start with 20-30 minutes everyday post exercise.
With any recommendations given, please remember that these are all bio-individual. What works best for one of you may not be the magical recovery technique for another. The tips I share are recommendations that have worked for myself, my clients, and other athletes I train with.
With Obliteride only a few weeks away it is time to start putting everything I’ve talked about so far into practice. Do the best you can, do what works for you, and please, please, please, prioritize sleep!
Because I’m such a fan of Dr. Matthew Walker, PhD, and his work, I leave you with a really great video podcast of Dr. Walker from the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, episode #1109, as he talks all things SLEEP. You are going to love this on so many levels!
*DISCLAIMER: explicit language.
Here’s to great sleep and recovery!
Laura McQueen, NTP
“I help athletes fuel their sports performance with real, whole foods in order to train smarter, race faster, and recover quickly. Whether this is your first Obliteride or you’ve been joining us for 6 years now, I want you to feel strong and confident on the bike.”
(1) “Why We Sleep”, Matthew Walker, PhD, (2017): 128
(2) F. Bergernon, M. Mountjoy, N. Armstrong, M. Chia, et al., “International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development,” British Journal of Sports Medicine 49, no. 13 (2015): 843-51
(3) & (4) “Paleo Magazine” June/July (2018): 29