Over the last decade, journalist Christie Aschwanden has noticed a steady rise in products for athletic recovery: cryochambers, compression sleeves, infrared pajamas, wine baths, etc. As an athlete herself—Aschwanden runs, cycles, mountain climbs and cross-country skis—she wondered whether any of the hype was warranted. To find out, she researched and personally tested a variety of recovery goods and services, then compiled her findings in “Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn From the Strange Science of Recovery” (W. W. Norton & Co., February 2019).
Since Aschwanden ultimately concluded that the recovery industry is “far more complicated than it needs to be,” we asked her for some simple tips for recouping your body without diminishing your wallet or willpower.
Steer clear of supplements—Aschwanden found zero hard evidence to support claims that supplements improve recovery and performance. The handful of supportive studies are poorly designed and financed by supplement makers. Aschwanden says supplements are not only useless, but because they’re unregulated, they also can be dangerous: “So many athletes have tested positive on drug tests due to substances they’ve inadvertently ingested via a supplement.”
Beware of the hype—“There’s a very strong sense of FOMO,” Aschwanden says. With sponsors paying professional athletes for product selfies, consumers assume that without a given product or service, they’ll lose an essential competitive edge. “Don’t waste your time chasing the latest, newest product,” Aschwaden advises. “Most of them won’t turn out to be near as helpful as advertised.”
Reconsider cold therapy—Icing and cold tubs have been recovery stalwarts for centuries. To Aschwanden’s surprise, however, she learned that these techniques, along with the newer cryotherapy, “might actually blunt recovery by slowing your body’s healing process.”
Prioritize sleep—Aschwanden says that sleep is “the most powerful and potent recovery method known to science.” Nothing she researched even approached the effectiveness of eight to nine hours in bed a night. Since her book, Aschwanden has made sleep one of her highest priorities.
Find a method for stress relief—Aschwanden’s research revealed that psychological stress often intensifies physical soreness or injury. Activities that encourage mindfulness—like yoga, meditation, outdoor time or listening to music— are important parts to any recovery program.
Photo credit: Christie Aschwanden