Results Happen During Recovery — Why You Need to Prioritize Rest Days

Fighters work hard. They don’t miss practices, they don’t dodge sparring rounds, and they certainly don’t skip workouts. But many fighters who put in the hard hours do themselves a disservice when they step off the mats by failing to rest and recover properly.

This is a major issue for both amateurs and pros, who need all the R+R they can get to feel fresh and sharp during practice or in the lead-up to a fight. Overtraining can also lead to injuries: the “small knock” you picked up yesterday suddenly becomes a full muscle tear during the next day’s workout if you don’t rest adequately.

That said, it can be frustrating to take time off — but remember: you grow when you rest.

So how can you prioritize rest days and get the most from your time outside the gym?

Recovery Days

The easiest way to understand recovery is from a purely physiological perspective. When you train hard, your skeletal muscles are usually lengthened and the membrane around your muscles may tear. Following these micro-tears, a cellular pit crew arrives on the scene to repair the muscle membrane. At this time, growth occurs as your muscles become stronger and more resilient. 

However, if you fail to take a rest day, your body will not have the time or resources necessary to repair these microscopic tears properly and promote muscle growth. This means that rest days are vital for anyone who wants to train hard, make physical gains, and maintain their sharpness in the gym.

A good rest day will look different for everyone. Ideally, you’ll take a rest day when you have a day off from work, as you’ll still be busy actively recovering during your rest. Try to sleep in a little more than usual, but keep your time in bed under 10 hours if possible.

It’s tempting to slump on the couch all day, but instead, you should schedule light exercises like taking a walk or a gentle yoga session. If, like most fighters, you have chronic injuries then consider a low impact alternative like swimming or cycling. Light exercise on rest days is a great recovery strategy and will ensure you don’t stiffen up too much.

Rest also helps you stay mentally alert, as stepping away from the gym for a day will leave you feeling sharper when you return. To get the most from this time, try to think about your game from a holistic perspective, and jot down two or three questions about techniques or questions throughout the rest day.

Sleep

Sleep is gold dust to any serious athlete. It’s the time when your body uses hormones to “take out the trash,” and is essential to all physical and mental functioning. However, plenty of fighters fail to get enough sleep or don’t understand how to improve the quality of their sleep for maximum gains during the night.

When you fail to get enough sleep, your body enters a “sleep debt.” Sleep debt is a serious problem for fighters, as it forces your body to play catch-up during your waking hours. This can lead to poor hormonal regulation which increases your risk of injury, infection, fatigue, and illness. Additionally, your body will not recover adequately, and you’re likely to suffer from weight gain and difficulty focusing.

There are plenty of reasons why a fighter may struggle to sleep. Start by taking care of the basics: don’t use any screens an hour before bed, and try other relaxing activities like reading or journalling instead. Make sure your sleeping environment is clean, and create a calming environment. Good sleeping habits can make the difference during hard rounds and help you recover from all kinds of small injuries.

Diet

You can’t outwork a bad diet. No matter how tough or naturally talented you are, a poor diet will handicap your physical performance and will stop you from reaching your potential as an athlete. To support your athletic goals, you need to stick to an appropriate diet throughout the week — even on your rest days.

It can be tempting to give up on a healthy diet during your rest days and gorge on sugar-rich junk food. But you can stay on track with healthy habits by planning your rest day thoroughly, and using the extra hours to treat yourself by cooking a healthy meal that takes time to prepare.

There are plenty of diets that have worked well for athletes. In general, though, you’ll want to eat between 1.2 – 2.0g of protein per kg of body mass (so, an 80 kg athlete needs to eat between 96 – 160g of protein). The rest of your diet should come from a split of slow-burning carbohydrates like rice or pasta and a little fat from sources like avocado or fish.

Conclusion

Recovery is an essential part of every athlete’s training regime. Young athletes might get away with a night out or poor sleep, but those who want to get the most from their hard work should treat the rest with as much respect as they do sparring or weight sessions. You can invigorate your rest by getting better sleep and by creating a diet plan that works for you and your athletic goals.

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