In the high performance world, stakes are very high. Everything moves faster than in the real world; faster to the top and faster to the bottom.
People get released from rosters and teams like it's nothing. Organisations lose money. Coaches are cut from their jobs and take their whole staff with them. Fans get upset. Athletes get desperate.
Sometimes that desperation combined with ambition becomes rash. Sometimes performance-enhancing drugs come into play. Sometimes it's natural forms of biohacking. Sometimes it's dropping money on more coaches and medical treatments and the newest recovery technology and supplements with cool names that no one can pronounce.
Most of the athletes I work with don't have full scholarships, big checks coming in, sponsors, or, sometimes, even regular salaries. Honestly, it's a stretch for many of them to afford a private-sector coach too.
Thus, we maximize every minute and every resource we have to the fullest.
You know what the real gag is? The "secret" to consistency and performance is not in the workout. It's not on the field or on the court.
Sure, it's important to give 100% effort and diligence to training and competition. But time spent in physical preparation for sport is usually between 2-4 hours daily. If we assume that an athlete goes 3 hours daily, 7 days a week, that's an entire 12.5% of his or her week spent in action.
So what do we make of the other 87.5% of the time, energy, and resources?
What I'm getting at here is basic: recovery is a massive component of performance; it's every single second remaining in the day after one session and before the next. And, especially if we're out here pinching pennies, recovery needs to maximised and optimised in every way possible.
The average GenPop Joe is recommended in the USA to sleep approximately 7-9 hours per night. That's just an average estimate.
If you're an athlete, especially a youth athlete, you're going to need more sleep; the research suggests 9 hours or more.
What we know for sure is that a lack of sleep has many negative benefits: performance decrement, increased caffeine need/intake, issues focusing, body doesn't heal enough, trouble regulating stress, etc. We also know that consistently appropriate amounts of sleep may not only maintain but enhance performance.
The best method I have found to maximize sleep quality and consistency is:
1. Put your technology outside. You can still charge your stuff and leave it on, but put it in the bathroom or the kitchen so that, if you wake up in the night, you don't check your phone and get blasted with rays that wake your body up. It'll also force you to get in to bed when you intend to sleep and get out of bed when you're done.
2. Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends. That doesn't mean you can't have fun or adjust. But try to maintain the time you get in bed, how many hours you spend there, and when you get up as well as possible. Your body creates and wants patterns.
3. Start a bedtime routine. Clean up, meditate, read, stretch, make a to-do list for tomorrow, etc. Do that every night. Can last 5-10 minutes, so that your body knows it's really time to wind down.
4. Prioritize it. Sleep is extremely important for your health. Hard work is not everything. Let your body heal itself for as long as it needs.
5. Take cat naps! Those are cool. In fact, quick naps are known to improve sprint performance and attention!
Food is literally just fuel. That's it.
If you're whipping it in a diesel truck, I know you are not putting regular fuel in it. Because that's not what it needs.
It sounds oversimplified, and maybe it is by just a touch. But truly, your body has an engine that needs proper fuel to keep going. That means quality and quantity, regularly, and with specific components.
Everyone needs carbs, fats, and proteins. We also need vitamins and minerals. We also need water.
Unfortunately, when we talk about food, we over-dichotomize and split things into "Evil" and "Almighty" categories. Superfoods seem to change on the weekly. If we're looking for strict categories, here are a few that, in my experience and expertise, don't change.
Evil: metals, pesticides, extra sugary drinks, extra grease, constant junk food, overprocessed fried foods, chemically-made white bread, etc. Constantly.
Awesome: water, meats/fishes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, etc. At regular intervals. Daily.
(Ice cream and donuts also awesome... maybe more in off-season.)
These lists aren't conclusive. There is too much misinformation, marketing, shame, and general garbage around nutrition that it does get confusing at times, even for those of us well-versed in sports nutrition!
What we know is that athletes require balanced diets that meet the body's energy demands in both quality and quantity on a consistent basis. There are no superfoods. One fad diet isn't actually better than the other. Carbs are an energy source - you actually need them to train/play and to recover, so do not avoid them.
If you're truly in doubt about what to eat and how much, consult a nutrition expert or a coach who can point you in the right direction (I'd be happy to connect you with someone who can help - reach out!).
Also... coffee is cool.
The body doesn't differentiate between stressors.
For example, I had an athlete last week who went to his usual training, which is a stressor. It taxes the nervous system. That's the point - we stress the body by asking it to adapt. When it adapts (new PR lift or sprint time), you get better, so we add a new stressor (more weight/reps/etc.).
In the same week, he had an exam, broke up with his girlfriend, and was moving apartments. Those things are all stressful, and they don't involve barbells or turf. But they tax the body at the same time.
There are tons of stressful things in life. The trick is to not waste your valuable recovery time by staying in Stress Mode. That can only tear your body down and now allow it to recover, let alone the negative affects stress can have in the long term.
If you're struggling with life stressors, find your way. Each person copes differently; perhaps with social support, sometimes with meditation or prayer, sometimes being outside, maybe journaling, sometimes vacation, sometimes with medical intervention, sometimes with a good laugh or a Netflix binge, and sometimes with therapy. There are thousands of ways to balance stress in life. It's your call to find your unique path.
I promise this: although this is a big one, learning how to manage and minimize life stress is extremely valuable. Don't waste your minutes by standing in the way of your own recovery; take that sh*t by the horns! Your body will thank you.
It's a long game.
Life in performance sport is a long game. Don't psych yourself up for the 30m sprint; this is a long, hilly, tumultuous marathon. You're going to need every drop of energy and every bit of time you can get, so don't go looking for more, spending money, and hopping on every promising recovery trend.
If you aren't maximizing your sleep, regulating your diet consistently, and learning to manage your life stress, we don't need to talk about hiring another coach, taking those cool supplements from Instagram, or getting a new TENS unit.
Training doesn't end when you walk about the door of the gym or the stadium. In fact, most of your preparation is ahead of you. Use your other 87.5% well; it's the majority, AND it's free. That's where the champions are made. It comes down to who uses the same 24 hours the best and most efficiently. Think it over. Plan. Execute.