Struggling to recover fully from workouts or illness? New Whoop data suggests that those who recover well are well caffeinated, don’t sleep alone and don’t booze regularly.
2022 has been one bruiser of a year. We’ve felt burnt out for months, swinging from political upheaval one minute to soaring bills and freezing temperatures the next. And that’s all had a knock-on effect on both our mental and physical health. Perhaps you’ve struggled with DOMS for longer than usual or found yourself lying awake at night with racing thoughts. Maybe you’ve struggled to shake off a standard winter bug.
Whatever’s been going on for you, one thing’s for sure: we all want to know how to recover faster. And to know that, we also need to be able to identify the things that stop us from building back better.
Fortunately, Whoop has just released its yearly report looking into how we moved, rested and hydrated in 2022. It’s been gathering data on the top behaviours that improved or hurt recovery this year.
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Four worst habits for recovery
The app found that alcohol slowed recovery by an average of 12%. While you might feel sleepier after a bottle of wine, we know that the quality of sleep you get when boozed up isn’t anywhere as good as it is on a sober evening.
“While alcohol helps you to switch off and initiate sleep, the quality of your sleep is disrupted,” sleep expert Dr Sophie Bostock from TheSleepScientist.compreviously told Stylist. We normally sleep in smooth cycles, during which we fall into a progressively deeper sleep at the beginning of the night, and the later half of our sleep is our REM sleep, during which we process memory, moods and emotions.
“You can fall into a deep sleep quite quickly after drinking, but when it comes to the later part of the night things get more disrupted,” says Dr Bostock. “As you metabolise the alcohol in the liver, it actually behaves as a stimulant, making you more likely to wake up, meaning you spend less time in REM sleep.
“When you’re disrupting REM sleep you’re more likely to wake up feeling a little bit groggy, so even when you slept for the same number of hours, you haven’t had as restorative a night’s sleep as you would have had if it had been true sleep.”
Sleeping at altitude
This won’t be an issue for everyone, but sleeping at high altitude can result in impaired or disturbed sleep – among other things. Presumably, this is one for the hikers on Whoop.
It goes without saying that when we’re sick, our bodies are working overtime to recover. If you catch Covid, it can take weeks – if not longer – to feel like you’re back to your old self again, especially when it comes to cardio capacity. That’s why experts have repeatedly warned folks not to exercise with Covid. In fact, sport and medicine consultant Dr Amal Hassan recommends that everyone take at least 10 days of consecutive rest after first testing positive and having at least seven symptom-free days before attempting to work out.
And when you do eventually start moving again, it should be done in a ‘graduated manner’. That means “being able to get through a normal day before progressing to start on light-intensity activity for short periods,” she says.
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Whoop found that eating late reduced recovery by 3.4%, and that correlates with what we know about ‘chrono-nutrition’. That’s the impact the time we eat has on our health outcomes. “We know that if you eat too late – after our biological night – that we can’t digest the food so easily and it can sit in our bowel for longer, leading to more fermentation and issues like bloating,” explains Sophie Medlin, a consultant dietitian and founder of City Dietitians. “It can, of course, also affect our sleep because our body is unable to fully switch off while it has significant digestion to perform.”
Studies have found that those of us who experience stress tend to have a spike in ghrelin (the hunger hormone) in the evening. The more ghrelin you produce, the more awake you’re likely to feel because your circadian rhythm gets disrupted. It’s a vicious cycle of stress, hunger and insomnia.
Four best habits for recovery
On the other hand, Whoop found that a bunch of really simple habits can speed up recovery, including:
Is there nothing that coffee can’t do? It boosts gut health, extends lifespans and reduces the risk of hip fractures. And, according to Whoop, it’s also the most powerful recovery tool. According to the American Physiological Society, post-workout caffeine can aid in muscle recovery if consumed with carbs. That’s because the caffeine helps to draw glucose from your blood into the muscles – replenishing your stores in as little as four hours.
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Published in the journal Nutrients, 2022 research confirmed that drinking coffee after a hard workout may help us recover more effectively. Scientists got a handful of cyclists to ride for four hours one afternoon and then made them repeat the challenge the following morning. After the second slog, some cyclists were given milky, sugary coffee to drink while others had a non-caffeinated, sugary drink.
Those who drank coffee saw their muscle glycogen supply increase 57% more than those who had the non-caffeinated drink. It’s key to flag that the study didn’t look at the impact of black coffee, but rather a combination of caffeine, carbs and protein – so if you were looking to cash in on the benefits, either team your post-workout americano with something like a banana and nut butter or make sure you’ve got a creamy, sweet mug.
There’s been a whole load of contradictory information this year on hydration. While eight glass of water used to be the gold standard, these days, experts are calling out what they call the ‘great hydration myth’. In fact, a new study from the University of Aberdeen has found that, for most people, drinking two litres or eight glasses of water a day is too much. It’s led scientists to recommend drinking 1.5 to 1.8 litres a day instead.
But Whoop says that drinking enough fluids has helped people to speed up recovery by 4.3%, so if you do workout regularly, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you’re replenishing any lost fluids.
Sharing a bed
It’s often said that sleeping alone – free from pets and partners – is the way to get the best night’s sleep. But Whoop’s data seems to suggest the opposite. In fact, it found that in 2022, sharing a bed with a cat or dog helped people to feel more rested and recovered the next day – even adding up to nine extra minutes to sleep duration.
Feeling in control
Easier said than done, feeling in control was found to speed up recovery by nearly 3%. Now, it’s hard to quantify a feeling but it might go to show that mind and body are more connected than you might think. A positive frame of mind may have some impact on how well we perform physically. In any case, who wouldn’t want to make feeling more in control a goal for 2023?
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