By Dr. Greg Wells, author of Superbodies, and professor of high-performance sport at the University of Toronto.
Want to improve your health and performance? Here are 10 tips on how to live your life like a professional athlete:
1. The Aggregate of One Per Cent Gains – Work Smarter not Harder!
World-class experts in all fields train to reach elite performances by constantly improving small, specific aspects of their skill set. Everyone can revolutionize their health and performance by working to improve targeted aspects of their mind and body, even though these individual improvements are usually very small. Together they can all make a difference. I call this the aggregate of one per cent gains. It’s at the core of what elite athletes do when a fraction of a second can make a huge difference. Anyone at any level can apply this principle to get better at whatever their passion happens to be.
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day so that you get yourself in a good, constant sleep-wake rhythm. Having a consistent wake-up time will also help create a consistent sleeping pattern that will improve the quality of your sleep.
3. Make Time for Recovery
The principles of recovery and regeneration apply to many disciplines beyond sport. For example, musicians need time to integrate the learning and practice periods before growth in their skills can take place. Businesspeople need time to recover after intense days in the boardroom, or following trips around the world to meet with colleagues. As in sport, if physical or mental stress are maintained at too high a level for too long, deterioration in performance will occur. Recovery allows the individual to improve and the body to adapt.
4. Put Away Your BlackBerry or iPhone
Avoid electronics right before bed and in the bedroom when you are trying to sleep. Screens on things like cell phones and televisions produce a constant high speed flashing of light and make it difficult to sleep. This artificial light reduces the production of melatonin, which is a hormone that promotes sleep.
5. Reduce Caffeine Before Sleep and Avoid It When You’re Sick
Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before sleep – try not to have it after lunchtime. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain, blocking adenosine’s inhibitory actions on your brain’s arousal centers. Adenosine concentrations rise the longer you are awake and help you fall asleep, but caffeine blocks their effects. Caffeine can be effective for enhancing performance in athletes in low-to-moderate dosages. Use it as a tool, not a crutch. It is most effective 30 minutes before a presentation, workout or other performance event. This applies to athletes just before competing as well. Caffeine appears to suppress the immune system as well as the inflammatory response, so avoid it when you’re sick.
6. Have a Bedtime Snack
A small snack containing a small amount of protein with some carbohydrate is ideal. A good idea is some cereal and milk. Milk contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is used in the brain to make serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that causes you to become sleepy. Eating carbs along with tryptophan containing foods raises insulin levels and makes it easier for the tryptophan to enter the brain.
7. Stay Hydrated During Exercise
During a workout, drink 250 to 500 milliletres of liquid per hour. Drink water during workouts of up to 90 minutes, and sports drinks if practice is longer. For after training, I recommend drinking 1 litre per 1 kilogram of body weight lost.
8. Train in the Afternoon for Peak Performance
Ultimately, the best time of day to exercise is when you can fit it into your schedule. Training in the afternoon, however, may be better from a performance perspective. We all have circadian rhythms that adjust our metabolism throughout the day, month and maybe even the year. On a daily basis, our temperature changes, and for most of us it is highest in the afternoon. Higher body temperatures are associated with improved muscle performance, so training in the afternoon is a good option if you can be consistent.
9. Omega-3s to Reduce Muscle Fatigue
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to play an integral role in the central nervous system and peripheral nerve functions. They are found in foods like sardines, flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, soybeans, scallops, shrimp and tuna. Supplementation with omega-3 can increase neural membrane fluidity, neural membrane permeability, neurotransmitter release and myelin conduction – critical functions of the nervous system – and can lead to reduced neuromuscular fatigue during exercise.
Stretching should always be included in your daily routine. Scientific benefits of stretching are reduced muscle tension and increased flexibility, enhanced muscular coordination, improved balance, relief from muscle pain, increased joint flexibility, increased range of motion, relaxation or tightened muscles and joints and improved posture. Remember, never stretch when muscles are cold. Scientists advise you stretch only after five to 10 minutes of warm-up or after a workout.
For more tips check out Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.
– Dr. Greg Wells