We all know that the most reliable way to improve athletic performance is to work out regularly. What most people lose sight of, however, is that the workout itself doesn’t improve performance. It’s the recovery afterward that makes you both stronger and better able to process oxygen. The purpose of the workout is to cause microdamage to your body so that during the healing (i.e., recovery) process, your body responds by strengthening your muscle fibers.
Mitochondria, Mitochondria, Mitochondria
This strengthening process involves an increase in your muscle cells’ mitochondria. I don’t want to get too technical with this, but mitochondria are cellular organelles that produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a molecule that moves energy into and out of the cell. Healthy mitochondria, then, are what give your cells (and therefore the rest of you) energy.
The bottom line is that after every workout, you need to pause (usually for a day or less) in order to give your muscle cells the opportunity to create more mitochondria. Without the pause, there’s no subsequent performance improvement. In fact, without the pause, there is often injury or overtraining syndrome, a serious condition that doesn’t get enough respect among beginning athletes. It usually takes a sidelining injury or a case of burnout to convince them of the value of rest.
How to Pause for Recovery
The pause after the workout is the essence of recovery. The pause isn’t just idleness. It needs almost as much structure as your workouts. During a recovery pause after an intense workout, you should exercise lightly, sleep, eat protein, hydrate, and get a massage or use a foam roller. Those activities encourage the creation of mitochondria and set your body up for gains in strength and/or endurance.
Research over the centuries has shown that there are technologies that speed recovery. We now know, of course, that they do this by stimulating the growth of mitochondria. Making those recovery-speeding technologies available to people is a mission of Peak Recovery & Health Center. What we offer are mostly cutting-edge versions of centuries old techniques. Cryotherapy, sauna, and compression all have long histories in athletic communities. But one of our offerings, photobiomodulation (PBM), is much newer.
Photobiomodulation for Athletic Recovery
In the 1960s, a Hungarian researcher subjected mice to a low-powered laser to see if it would protect them from cancer. His experiment was successful, but it also opened the door to a host of benefits, many of which I have explained in this blog over the past couple years. Nearly all those benefits result from a dramatic increase in mitochondria.
Study after study (here’s one of the most recent ones) in both mice and human beings has shown that PBM can “restore the function of damaged mitochondria, increase the production of cytoprotective factors, and prevent cell death.”
That makes it sound like PBM could make you immortal. No such luck. It just makes you healed, healthy, and energetic. And those qualities magnify and accelerate your recovery from a workout. That means you can get back out there to work out sooner, which will lead to faster performance improvement. But it also often means that you get back out there with a higher energy level, so you can work harder and increase the impact of your next recovery. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually you’re on the podium — unless your competitors all use PBM, too.
Try a PBM session this week.