A good night’s rest, in the form of a deep relaxing sleep, is essential to helping the body to recover from the stresses of the day and to prepare you for the rigors of tomorrow. If you engage in regular strenuous exercise, this sleep time is even more important, both to help your body recover and to help you perform at optimal levels during the exercise.
The physical stresses experienced during exercise deplete the body of protein, water and other essential nutrients. These can be recovered somewhat by consuming protein and ensuring proper hydration after each exercise routine. Exercise stress and emotional stress also increase the demand for certain hormones in the body. Chief among these is cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress.
Elevated cortisol levels are needed for immediate ‘flight-or-fight’ situations that can be resolved quickly, thereby allowing the body to relax and return to normal. Regular strenuous exercise, combined with modern stressful lifestyles, can keep cortisol levels raised far beyond what is required for an immediate threat. Cortisol pumps glucose into the body to help prepare the muscles to respond to stress situations. A consistently elevated level of cortisol raises blood sugar levels and can interfere with the immune system.
Managing and reducing stress is important to repairing the damage and resetting the balance of hormones in the body. A deep relaxing sleep helps the body to restore its hormonal balance, which allows the process of recovery to occur. In fact, the building of muscle, tissue and stamina that you hope to gain from exercise all takes place while you are asleep. The exercise depletes resources and the body restores them when we are at rest.
Depriving yourself of sleep also deprives your body of the vital time to repair and rebuild. The result can be lower performance. Repeated stressful exercise without recovery weakens the body over time. Studies show that sleep-deprived athletes have measurably lower muscle power. This effect is apparently increased for individuals who rose early, compared to those who went to bed late. Getting up at 4:30 AM might seem a fine time for training, but it may come at the expense of your performance and development.
Of course, good nutrition is also essential to good physical performance. Choose foods high in nutrient value and proteins that will supply the essential elements the body needs to repair and rebuild muscle and tissue. Good nutrition also helps to rebalance cortisol and other hormones. The combination of good nutrition and good sleep is the key to optimal performance, in exercise and in daily life.
Finally, drink plenty of water. If you exercise regularly, you need to stay hydrated and not only when you exercise. Caffeine is a natural diuretic, so drinking two large mugs of Seattle’s finest in the morning will set you up for dehydration at the time you need to exercise. Drinking water then won’t help to replenish the water you have already lost. The specific amount of water you need to drink each day depends on many variables, including your size and activity levels. Not drinking water regularly will increase the stress on your body.