Early morning workouts four days a week are pushing the Biggest Winner contestants to new levels of fitness.

But all of that cardio, weightlifting, stretching, running and sweating can be too much for a body to bear if attention isn’t given to recovery.

Recovery is the final piece of the four pillars of this year’s program, which also includes exercise, mindset and nutrition.

What is recovery?

“Our definition of recovery is it allows the mind and body to re-energize and prepare for the next day’s activities,” explains Debbie Roytas, executive director of the Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center. “How do you make sure that you’re prepared to do it all again tomorrow?”

ep-170219942The certified personal trainers working with the Observer-Reporter’s Biggest Winner team as well as the other contestants are arming them with a three-pronged plan to make sure their bodies and minds are recovering after each session.

Passive recovery

The first part of the plan is called passive recovery, and what it really comes down to is complete rest. “That will allow the body time to calm that nervous system and restore your muscles and bones,” Roytas said.

While sleeping and resting muscles is key, passive recovery can include more than just lying on the couch. Meditation and breathing techniques have been shown to be extremely helpful in passive recovery to help calm the mind, which helps relax the muscles.

“Studies show that mindfulness, that meditation, that deep, mindful breathing really help to calm the body, slow down the heart rate and get oxygen to every part of the body, which will help with recovery,” Roytas said. “It’s not only thinking about your workouts, but it’s recovering from your whole day. You might not even work out but you might have so much tension from your day that you need to be able to recover from that.”

She recommends starting with some stretches or a few minutes of relaxation, meditation or light yoga stretches right before bedtime, which can aid in restorative sleep.

“For a while it’s been cool to say you only sleep four hours and can go all day,” Roytas added. “Now, studies show that’s just as bad for you as smoking or being sedentary. It’s so important to have that sleep to recover.”

Recovery nutrition

Recovery means more than just resting – it also includes restoring nutrients to the body.

“During these times, you want to make sure you’re eating right and hydrating,” Roytas said. “That’s a big mistake that people make is that they don’t drink enough water.”

Nutritionists recommend certain foods that should be consumed in recovery as opposed to just before working out to aid in healing muscles and giving the body what it needs to rebuild and restore energy.

So what’s a good post-workout recovery snack or meal? Roytas recommends replacing fluids and electrolytes lost during activity within 15 minutes to one hour after a workout.

“This can be done by consuming water and foods high in electrolytes,” she said. “Both sodium and potassium are lost during sweating and need to be replaced.” Potatoes, yogurt, oranges and bananas along with sports drinks are good sources of potassium. Sodium is found in many foods and can be paired with the high-potassium foods to meet those needs. Be careful to watch the amount of sugar in sports drinks, however, and consume a snack or meal that combines both carbohydrates and protein.

“The carbohydrates are the muscles’ fuel that was used up during the workout,” Roytas said. “The protein is necessary to repair and build new muscle. The quantities of fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates and protein required are specific to the individual’s needs.”

Here are some good post-workout recovery options:

• Scoop of protein powder in juice or milk

• Whole wheat pasta with chicken

– Hard-boiled egg and crackers

• Peanut butter sandwich

• Cottage cheese and fruit

• Yogurt with granola and fruit

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Active recovery

The final part of the equation is called active recovery, and the definition is exactly that: keep moving.

“These Biggest Winner participants are working out four days a week now whereas before they might not have been doing anything,” Roytas said. “So, active recovery is more like taking a yoga class or a light walk or jog or swimming some laps or doing some really low resistance.” This helps to prevent extreme soreness and aids in what’s called myofascial release, which is a soft-tissue therapy to relax contracted muscles, improve blood and lymphatic circulation and stimulate stretch reflex. That is is how massage therapy works, and Roytas recommends massage as a recovery aid, whether by administered by a professional or performing self-massage using foam rollers or an AcuBall.

Roytas said the technique can be as simple as using your thumbs to massage muscles, ease tension and break down knots, which encourages the muscles to relax.

Roytas reiterated that the key is to stay hydrated, as drinking lots of water will help flush toxins and help muscles recover. “Combining active recovery with good nutrition, sleep, proper warmup and cooldown with any exercise program gives the best opportunity to not only recover faster but to get the most results from your exercise.”