Recovery Workouts: Two Simple But Powerful Ways to Speed Fitness Recovery

For my entire athletic career, I considered the gold standard of recovery to be sleeping, resting on the couch watching T.V., and generally being still and inactive. Come on, what could be more effective than couch potato mode to recover from the hormonal and inflammatory stresses of marathon training runs or long days of extreme swim-bike-run workouts? I’m kidding (mostly), but it’s not a total exaggeration. Our understanding of fitness recovery has grown exponentially since I was in the elite arena, and it’s exciting to see new and better approaches taking root that genuinely speed recovery and stave off burnout. I’m sharing two such techniques today. They’re simple, mostly free, and accessible to anyone with the most basic fitness opportunities and venues.

Note: Here’s the thing…. This is the stuff you should focus on before considering advanced techniques like exposure to cold or heat, Theragun treatments (although I happen to be a fan of this device), hyperbaric oxygen chambers, etc.

“JFW”

The first recovery technique is to move more instead of just sit around. That’s right, science is validating the idea that if you make a concerted effort to increase all forms of general everyday movement in the hours and days after strenuous workouts, you will help minimize the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by strenuous workouts.

Let’s call this strategy JFW—Just F—ing Walk.

Moving your body through space helps you burn fat better, which will maximize the fat reduction goals of your workouts. Walking also helps boost brain function. A 2017 UCLA study comparing MRI scans revealed that active older folks (over 60 and walking more than three kilometers per day) have faster brain processing speed, better working memory for quick decisions, and better memory consolidation than inactive folks. In his book, The Real Happy Pill: Power Up Your Brain By Moving Your Body, Swedish researcher Dr. Anders Hansen reports that just taking a daily walk can reduce your risk of dementia by 40 percent.

Walking and general movement of any kind improve lymphatic function for a huge recovery boost. The lymphatic system is a plumbing network running throughout your body that detoxifies every cell, tissue and organ through a separate operating system from the cardiovascular system. The lymphatic system operates through a pumping process instead of a beating heart. This means that you’re obligated to move your muscles and joints to turbocharge lymphatic detoxification and avoid the pooling of lymphatic fluid caused by chilling on the couch in the hours and days after heavy workouts. Even the old-time exercise apparatus of the mini-trampoline has come into vogue recently because bouncing around for even a few minutes has been shown to significantly boost lymphatic function.

To help your lymphatic system function optimally, be sure to hydrate adequately at all times. While my original Primal Blueprint presentation suggested that you simply honor your thirst to achieve good hydration, recent science suggests that successful hydration can be a little more complicated. Stacy Sims, Ph.D., a hydration expert who studied thermoregulation at Stanford and is currently a senior research fellow at University of Waikato in New Zealand, is doing some great work in this field. Check out this fantastic infographic. Her research suggests that the female menstrual cycle can influence hydration needs and strategies. Another breakthrough insight is that strenuous workouts have the potential to mute your thirst mechanism; you may become too hot and tired or distracted to notice that you’re actually getting dehydrated. For most minimally active folks, going by thirst might be just fine; the kidneys do an excellent job regulating fluid and sodium balance in the body.

If you are a novice fitness enthusiast, a high performing athlete, or routinely exercise in hot temperatures, a deliberate pre- and post-workout hydration is a strategy worth considering and implementing. Sprinkle some high quality natural mineral salt in each glass of fluid, which will help it become better absorbed in the tissues throughout your body.

“Rebound” Workouts

Joel Jamieson, a noted trainer of world-champion MMA fighters in Washington (8WeeksOut.com—as in eight weeks out from a title bout), and developer of the Morpheus Recovery app, advocates a system called Rebound Training where specially designed workouts can actually speed recovery time in comparison with total rest. The idea that a Rebound Workout can boost recovery is validated through the tracking of Heart Rate Variability. Joel is a pioneer in Heart Rate Variability and has been tracking his fighters and other high performing athletes for decades. Yes, decades, as in dating back to the original hospital grade $30,000 units that required placement of a dozen electrodes on your skin.

The idea that a Rebound workout can beat couch time is an extraordinary revelation. Amazingly, when you drag your tired, stiff, sore body into the gym and do some foam rolling, deep breathing exercises, dynamic stretches, and even very brief explosive efforts, such as short sprints with long recovery on the bike, or “positive-only” deadlifts (lift the weight then drop it to the ground to prevent soreness caused by eccentric contractions), you can stimulate parasympathetic nervous system activity and actually accelerate recovery. The parasympathetic is known the “rest and digest” component of autonomic nervous system, and counterbalances the sympathetic “fight or flight” component.

You can learn more about Rebound Training and see a sample workout here. If you just want to dabble in the concept, know that increasing your walking and general movement in the hours and days after a challenging training session will help boost blood circulation and lymphatic function to speed recovery. I always find ways to walk more and spend more time at my stand-up desk in the 24 hours following a tough Ultimate Frisbee match or sprint workout.

Sample Restorative Workout

The next time you throw down a killer workout, trying heading to the gym the following day and creating a restorative experience.

Start by lying flat on the mat and completing 20 deep diaphragmatic breath cycles. When you’re in the prone position, you can hone good technique by placing your hand on your abdomen and making sure that the abdomen expands upon inhalation. First expand the abdomen, which enables the chest cavity to then expand outward and enable the full use of the diaphragm for a powerful breath. You notice this sequence better when laying down.

After 20 deep breaths, commence 10 minutes of foam rolling, dynamic stretches and flexibility drills.

Then, get a little sympathetic stimulation going with some bike sprints or positive only deadlifts as follows:

  • Exercise bike: Warmup five minutes, then sprint for 10 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of easy pedaling. Repeat for five repetitions.
  • Deadlift: With 70% of your one rep maximum weight, raise the bar three-quarters of the way to the top, then allow it to fall to the ground with minimal muscle engagement. Repeat five times.

The idea with these efforts is that you’ll trigger a brief stimulation of fight or flight sympathetic nervous system activity, but because the effort is so brief, you’ll prompt a compensatory parasympathetic reaction during the recovery period. The net effect of the session is to turbocharge parasympathetic for hours afterward to a greater extent than just chilling on the couch watching Netflix.

Thanks to the gentle nature of the session, you enjoy an increase in energy and alertness from getting the oxygen and blood flowing throughout the body—but without the cellular breakdown and glycogen depletion of a more strenuous workout. You should leave the gym feeling relaxed and a little looser than before the workout.

Implementing “Rebound”-style workouts, along with making a general effort to walk around more in the hours following your most challenging sessions aren’t just fun diversions; they’re part of putting recovery as the central element of your training program.

Final Thoughts…

Speaking of HRV, Jamieson offers a breakthrough insight that has helped me further appreciate the value of tracking HRV over time, and also alleviate some confusion that arose during some data accumulation over the past several years. If you’re a fan of HRV, you know a high HRV on the familiar 1-100 scale is indicative of a strong and rested cardiovascular system. You have a greater variation in beat-to-beat intervals than a lower score, indicating a harmonious balance between fight or flight sympathetic nervous system function and rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system function. A low HRV indicates a more metronomic heartbeat, and sympathetic nervous system dominance over parasympathetic. These are reliable signs of overtraining or a general overstress condition in life, or a weak cardiovascular system in general.

By tracking HRV for several weeks, you can establish a healthy baseline, then gauge your level of stress and readiness to train based on daily HRV fluctuations. Low equals overstressed, high equals healthy. That’s all well and good, but here’s an important nuance I learned from Joel about HRV readings significantly higher than your baseline: An 86 seems better than the usual 72-75, but actually an abnormally high HRV could be an indication of parasympathetic dominance versus a sympathetic-parasympathetic balance. When your parasympathetic kicks into overdrive, it’s possibly because you trashed yourself way beyond healthy limits, and you’re struggling to return to a rested and stress-balanced state. This explained some strange outlier readings where I felt pretty cooked after coming off a jet travel binge or a series of extreme workouts in a tight time frame but delivered a rock star HRV reading.

As I’ve written about before, I’m not a fan of overdoing biofeedback devices. I’ve used them and still do occasionally when I’m attempting something new or just want to check in with some hard data, but too much tech can disconnect you with your intuition—what should always be front and center in your assessments. Dr. Kelly Starrett references scientific research indicating that the single most valuable and accurate metric for your state of recovery is “desire to train.” I wonder how this goes up against the blood lactate meters at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and any ring or watch data you can accumulate. I have confidence it would hold its own in most scenarios.

Thanks for stopping by today, everybody. How do you do recovery? What have you learned over the years in your own study and experience. Have a great end to the week.

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Air Fried Shishito Peppers

Air Fried Shishito Peppers come out charred and blistered with the air fryer, which uses much less oil! A squeeze of lemon over the top and they are delicious!

Air Fried Shishito Peppers come out charred and blistered with the air fryer, which uses much less oil! A squeeze of lemon over the top and they are delicious!
Air Fried Shishito Peppers

Blistered Shishito peppers are usually stir-fried in a wok or skillet. Since you’re using less oil in the air fryer, these are much healthier, less messy and so easy!

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The Definitive Guide To Fish: Why and How To Eat It

In nutrition, there are very few universal consensuses. Conventional wisdom says that fat makes you fat and whole grains are essential, and millions of people agree, but the ancestral health and keto communities (and reality) disagree. Primal and keto folks don’t worry much about saturated fat and limit polyunsaturated fat; conventional health advocates do the opposite. The opinion on meat intake varies wildly, with some people suggesting we eat nothing but red meat, others recommending “palm-sized” pieces of strictly white meat, and still others cautioning against any meat at all. Pick a food and you can find a sizable group that hates it and a sizable one that loves it. You can find researchers who spend their lives making the case against it and researchers who spend their lives making the case for it.

But not fish. Fish is about as close to a universal as any food. Barring the vegans and vegetarians (some of whom, however, are sneaking wild salmon when their followers aren’t watching), everyone appreciates and extols the virtues of eating seafood. Including me.

Sea Food = Sea Change: The Evolutionary Story

Remember: I always view things through an evolutionary prism. It’s where I begin. If something doesn’t make sense in the light of evolution, it probably doesn’t make sense at all. And seafood has been one of the most important dietary factors in human brain development. Without the selenium, iodine, zinc, iron, copper, and DHA found abundantly in fish and shellfish, human brain encephalization—the massive increase in relative size and complexity of the brain representing a shift toward higher order thought—wouldn’t have been easy to pull off. Maybe impossible.

If the human brain came to rely on the nutrients found in seafood for its evolution, it stands to reason that they remain important. The studies bear this out. Fish offers unique and important benefits to humans living today.

Not to mention the imbalanced, inflammatory omega-3:omega-6 ratios most of us have, or had. Even if you’ve been Primal for ten years, you spent a good portion of your life eating the standard Western diet full of industrial seed oils high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s from seafood help correct that balance.

The Modern Picture: Calm the Alarm

But there’s a problem, isn’t there? If you listen to the alarmists, our seas are overfished and full of toxins, and the fish that remain are dripping with mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals. Farmed fish are even worse, some say; they swim in tepid baths of antibiotics, soybean oil, and glyphosate. Besides, oceanic acidification is killing all the delicious fish and shellfish and crustaceans. Pretty soon the only thing served at Red Lobster will be fried jellyfish.

Though there are glimmers of truth to all those claims, they’re certainly exaggerated:

  • There are still plenty of excellent and sustainable seafood choices to make, according to Seafood Watch, which takes environmental impacts, overfishing, and other ecological and safety concerns into account.
  • While some species are indeed overburdened with heavy metal contamination, plenty aren’t. Eat salmon, sardines, mackerel, younger, smaller tuna. Besides, most seafood—in one study, this included shrimp, crabs, squid, and tropical fish in the Atlantic Ocean—is high enough in selenium that it binds to and prevents absorption of mercury.
  • Jellies may be taking over, or they may be following the natural 20-year boom and bust cycle observed throughout history.
  • Even farmed salmon isn’t as bad as we might assume. And farmed mollusks—oysters, clams, mussels—are as good as wild, since they live no differently from their wild cousins.

Even if all those claims were totally on the level, we’re faced with a grand overarching truth: You have to eat something. What, are you gonna eat vegan meat patties instead of cod, salmon, sardines, and oysters? Drink Soylent? Go vegan? Go Breatharian?

Of course not. You need to eat seafood. You know you should.

But isn’t it too expensive?

For one thing, I already mentioned that safe farmed fish exists. Farmed salmon probably isn’t as bad as we’ve been led to believe (or assume), as long as you watch out for the egregious ones. U.S.-farmed trout, barramundi, and catfish show up with very low toxin levels and good nutrient profiles. And farmed bivalves like oysters, clams, and mussels are raised like they’re wild. There’s basically no difference between a farmed oyster and a wild oyster. They both live out in the ocean attached to rocks, munching on what the sea provides.

Two, wild seafood isn’t always expensive.

Restaurant supply shops, Walmart, and other large stores often have frozen wild salmon, cod, and other wild fish for cheap, about $5-6 per pound.

At Costco, you can get wild caught salmon (at least on the West coast) in season for $5-6 pound. You might have to buy it whole, though (recipe down below). They also have other types of wild fish for good prices.

Canned seafood is a viable option.

Fish and Seafood: How To Optimize the Benefits

Why We Need Seafood

First, evolutionary precedent, which I already discussed. It’s folly to ignore the long history of humans eating seafood. It’s higher folly to ignore the importance of seafood in human brain evolution. Wherever they have access, people eat seafood.

Second, the benefits are well-established. Even if the links to better health are purely correlational (and they’re not, since we have controlled trials listed above), seafood looks great on paper: bioavailable protein, high levels of essential nutrients, the best source of long chained omega-3 fatty acids.

Third, seafood is a reliable source of important micronutrients that may be lacking on a terrestrial Primal, keto, or carnivore diet. Selenium, magnesium, folate, astaxanthin, and vitamin E can be tough to get if you’re just eating steaks and ground beef.

A recent study on the ketogenic Mediterranean diet had great results feeding its participants over two pounds of fish per day. Two. Pounds. Mostly salmon, sardines, and mackerel, which are fatty omega-3 rich fish very low in contaminants.

But what about those who say they’re meat eaters, turf people who claim grass-fed beef and pastured pork is enough for them? Fish is meat. Fish are animals. You’re seriously limiting your options—and selling your ancestors short—by willfully avoiding seafood. And you’re probably missing out on some important nutrients. Like iodine, for example, which doesn’t show up in the standard nutritional databases but is incredibly important for brain and thyroid health and almost certainly appears most abundantly in seafood.

What Exactly Should I Eat?

Okay,  so should I just throw in some salmon and be on my way?

Salmon is a great start, but there’s way more fish (and bivalves, crustaceans, and cephalopods) in the sea.

Can’t I just take fish oil? As a fish oil purveyor, I wish I could say that fish oil is enough. It offers incredible benefits not to be dismissed, but it’s not equivalent to food either. The fact is, I do both. Seafood contains a ton more than just the omega-3s. Just check it out….

  • Salmon: Vitamin D3, B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, selenium.
  • Cod: B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, potassium
  • Halibut: B-vitamins, vitamin D3, magnesium, selenium, potassium
  • Sardines (canned): B-vitamins, vitamin D3, selenium, calcium (if bone-in), iron, copper
  • Scallops: Vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, selenium, zinc.
  • Oysters: B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, zinc, copper, iron, omega-3s, manganese
  • Mussels: B-vitamins, selenium, zinc, manganese, folate, omega-3s
  • Clams: Vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, vitamin A
  • Shrimp: B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, zinc, astaxanthin (a potent carotenoid, great for ocular and mental health)
  • Crab: B-vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, folate, selenium, zinc, copper
  • Lobster: B-vitamins, vitamin E, selenium
  • Squid: B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, selenium, vitamin E
  • Octopus: B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, selenium

Although I didn’t mention it, every single sea creature you can eat is a very good source of highly bioavailable protein and, usually, creatine.

And some studies even suggest that fish proteins themselves offer unique benefits.

Most of the research is in animals, but it’s compelling and another good—if speculative—reason to include fish in your diet.

I’m Sold. How Much Should I Eat?

Keeping in mind the contamination in certain varieties, eat much as you can afford/tolerate. It’s hard to eat too much seafood. In my experience, there seems to be a built-in regulatory mechanism that reduces the palatability of seafood at a certain level of consumption. A big slab of wild sockeye salmon is fantastic, but I can’t eat pounds of it like I can with a grass-fed ribeye.

You can also use omega-3:omega-6 ratio as an indicator. Run the numbers on the seafood you’re eating and aim for a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio and you should be golden.

In my opinion, leaner fish has no upper limit. Eat as you desire.

Keep in mind that the keto Mediterranean diet study I recently discussed gave over 2 pounds of fish to participants every day, and they had great results. Two. Pounds. Mostly salmon, sardines, and mackerel, which are fatty omega-3 rich fish very low in contaminants. After 12 weeks of that:

  • They lost 30+ pounds.
  • Their BMIs dropped from almost 37 to 31.5, from the middle of class 2 obesity to the bottom of class 1 obesity.
  • They lost 16 centimeters, or 6 inches, from their waist.
  • Fasting blood sugar dropped from 118 (pre-diabetic) to 91 (ideal).
  • Triglycerides dropped from 224 to 109.
  • HDL increased from 44 to 58.
  • They went from prehypertensive to normotensive.
  • Their liver enzymes and liver fat reduced and in some cases completely resolved.
  • All 22 subjects started the study with metabolic syndrome and ended it without metabolic syndrome.

As always, pay attention to how you feel. Eat and observe. Make it an official N=1 experiment and look for the feedback it provides.

How I Do Seafood

Okay, but how do you eat it? How do you prepare it?

Admittedly, there’s a lot less room for error with seafood.  It goes bad more quickly, cooks faster, and simply isn’t as forgiving. We’ve all had the experience of buying some salmon fresh from the butcher, keeping it in your fridge a half day too long because we weren’t sure how to prepare it, and having to throw it out. That’s the worst.

I’m not a big “recipe” guy (I have people who help me parse out my creations into legible formats for blog posts and cookbooks). I like to improvise. A dish here, a dash there. So, I’m just going to give a freeform account of how I eat fish, shellfish, and other seafood. If you need clarification on something, feel free to ask in the comment board.

I like doing a kind of pseudo-ceviche using any high quality lean fish—halibut’s great—marinated in Primal Kitchen® Greek Dressing & Marinade with a few splashes of tamari or soy sauce and some diced fresno chile. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then plow into it. Really good, even though if you tried to serve this in Peru they’d probably arrest you.

I always have canned sardines from Wild Planet in my pantry. A favorite quick (and keto-friendly) meal is to do a can or two of sardines mashed up with an avocado and a tablespoon or two of Greek Goddess dressing.

If I’m doing salmon, I’ll sometimes marinate the fish in the Primal Kitchen No-Soy Teriyaki.

Another great way to cook fish is in a curry. Sear the fish, making sure to get crispy skin if it’s on. Set aside. In the same pan without washing or draining, heat up some garlic, ginger, chili peppers (if you like it hot), and onions (or shallots), adding more fat if you need it. Salt. When they’ve softened, add the curry powder or paste. Cook for a minute or so. Then add some bone broth and coconut milk. Reduce until you’ve reached the texture you desire. I’ll keep gelatin powder on hand to whisk in if it doesn’t have enough body. At the last moment, add the fish back in and toss to coat.

Scallops? Either raw at a good sushi joint, preferably separated by thinly sliced lemon, or seared in butter followed by a pan reduction with white wine and butter. By the way, for those who are interested, Butcher Box has some killer scallops now (it’s literally the last day to grab the deal—apologies to anyone reading this tomorrow.) And full disclosure—I’ve always been a proud affiliate. They do things right there.

Clam chowder is still the best way to eat clams, roasted on an open fire on the beach with a little sand still in there. Maybe it’s just the New England in me.

Anytime I’m out at a decent restaurant I trust with oysters on the menu, I order them. At least a half dozen, raw. I also like the canned smoked oysters from Crown Prince.

Mussels I like the classic way: cooked in butter, white wine, and garlic. Only modification I make is after the mussels have cooked, I remove them from the pan, sprinkle in some gelatin powder, and reduce down to make a viscous sauce.

Cod or other similar lean white fishes are best in lots of butter and garlic, followed by a squeeze of lemon.

Whole salmon? Clean, gut, and scale. If you can, keep the liver. It’s delicious. Salt and pepper the interior and exterior of the salmon. Cut some deep vertical slashes in the outside, on both sides. Stuff shallots, garlic, and lemon slices into the interior and inside the slashes. Coat with avocado oil, then grill over indirect heat with the cover on until skin is crispy and flesh is lightly pink and flaky, or bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes.

If I’m ever cooking a cephalopod, it’s all about the Instant Pot. Throw some bone broth, lemon juice, and olive oil in the pot with the squid or octopus and cook on manual for 15-20 minutes. If you like, you can take it out, allow it to cool, then grill it over coals or open flame. Save the broth.

Whenever I cook fish, I use either monounsaturated fats (as found in avocado oil and olive oil) or saturated fats (as found in butter and coconut oil). Both types of fats enhance absorption of omega-3 fatty acids, whereas omega-6 fats inhibit it. Both omega-3 and omega-6 compete for the same absorption pathway.

When applicable (as in curry), I also use turmeric to cook my fish. Turmeric and its curcumin enhances absorption of omega-3s, specifically increasing DHA levels in the brain.

I know seafood is intimidating for some people. They don’t like the “fishiness.” They don’t know how to cook it. It’s “too expensive.” It goes bad too quickly. Hopefully, after today you feel a bit better about cooking and eating seafood. Hopefully, you feel equipped and empowered to incorporate some salmon, cod, trout, oysters, and other marine animals into your diet.

Take care, everyone, and please leave your favorite ways to eat seafood down below. How much seafood do you eat? What’s your go-to recipe? What underrated sea animal do you covet but others do not?

Thanks for reading!

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