Inflammation in the Body Following Training – What’s Happening?

What is happening within the body when it is ‘recovering’ from training? By understanding the process is it possible to optimise the speed of recovery. Are there any markers, apart from HRV, that provide insight into the state of the body with regards to how well recovered it is at any given point in time?

Well, apart from HR, HRV and pulse there doesn’t appear to be many objective measures of a body’s response to training. Therefore, any proposed solution to speeding up recovery is going to involve a degree of trial and error. Based on what I know so far I’d be needing to focus on the following areas to improve my rate of recovery:

  1. Sleep – quantity & quality
  2. Nutrition & hydration
  3. Exercise
  4. Body manipulation – massages, foam rollers, etc
  5. Minimising & removing environmental stress – ie., relaxin’ and chillin’
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Getting a Good Nights Sleep By Using HRV

Researchers at the University of Salzburg, Austria and the University of California wanted to test the idea that if daytime heart rate variability (HRV) is strongly linked to physical and mental health, would HRV also be a predictor of healthy sleep?

Surprisingly, this has not been tested rigorously before, although HRV during sleep has been assessed in several previous studies.

This is a well-designed and thorough study that controlled the participants’ mental state before bedtime in a sleep lab and compared subjective sleep quality questionnaire results with gold standard polysomnography tests.

What did they do?
29 female subjects took part in the study which spanned over 11 days – one at the start for familiarization/screening and three actual study nights, each separated by a night at home.  A full-length emotionally neutral film about nuns going about their daily tasks was used to normalize the subjects’ mental state before sleep, and thereby minimize the impact of daily stressors. High frequency (i.e. parasympathetic) HRV was measured continuously during the film and used to establish the subjects’ baseline HRV that might predict sleep quality.

During the following nights, the subjects were comprehensively hooked up to ECG, EEG and sleep measuring equipment, from which normal sleep quality measures such as sleep time, delay in falling asleep, sleep efficiency, number of arousals etc. could be calculated. The participants also had to fill in a subjective sleep quality questionnaire. The researchers then looked at correlations between all the sleep indices and the HRV measured during the pre-bedtime movie.

They found significant correlations to daytime HRV for the following variables:

  1. Sleep latency (i.e. time taken to fall asleep)
  2. Number of arousals
  3. HRV during sleep
  4. Sleep questionnaire total score

A higher daytime HRV predicted a shorter time to fall asleep and less arousals during the night, as well as a better sleep questionnaire score. In contrast they found no significant relation to total sleep time or sleep efficiency (time asleep / total time in bed). Interestingly, HRV during sleep which had been studied previously, was only related to the sleep questionnaire score, and less strongly than with daytime HRV.

What does it mean?
Higher daytime HRV was associated with better subjective and objective sleep quality, and the authors go on to suggest that daytime parasympathetic HRV (i.e. HF or RMSSD) is associated with the flexible regulation of arousal.  This makes HRV a key marker once again, of internal processes, this time in the transition from wakefulness to sleep. This makes sense if we think about HRV as an indicator of parasympathetic rest and digest activity, and the counterpoint of the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ state.  In a natural environment, animals would only fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly when they feel safe and are not stressed.

Practical implications
All of us who have used HRV for even a short while will have figured out that a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to revive a low HRV score, but we also know that temporarily reducing our HRV through training workouts is a good way to stimulate the adaptations necessary to improve our athletic performance. These findings place more emphasis on recovery techniques that will get HRV as high as possible before bedtime to allow that all important sleep to be fully effective.

Here are some ideas to do this follow, but please also contribute your own thoughts too:

  1. Try to do intensive e.g. HIIT sessions as early in the day as possible so your HRV gets a chance to recover before bed
  2. Good quality nutrition and hydration (dehydration really stresses your system!)
  3. Cold showers / ice baths before bedtime are proven to increase HRV
  4. Deep breathing exercises increase HRV
  5. Avoid bright lights and LED screens before bedtime

Based on this and the previous post I could adapt the following routine to improve overall sleep time & quality:

  1. Aim to get to sleep by 10.30pm, being process of going to sleep at 9pm by turning off TV’s & devices
  2. Keep to set times for sleep, that is time to bed and time to wake. If I wake at 6.20 then to ensure 7 1/2 hours sleep I would need to be asleep by 10.30pm. In addition, if feeling drowsy after lunch then take a nap of between 30-60 minutes
  3. Between 9-9.15pm drink a cup of hot skimmed milk,
  4. Between 9.15-9.45pm take a shower and finish with cold water to raise HRV
  5. Between 9.45-10 do deep breathing exercises
  6. Between 10-10.30 and where needed, read a book before going to sleep
  7. At 10.30pm close eyes and go to sleep

Sleep & Its Importance To Recovery

Sleep plays a pivotal role in recovery and therefore any disruption to sleep or reduction in the quality of sleep will delay recovery and therefore impede overall progress in training.

Sleep is extremely important for numerous biological functions and sleep deprivation can have significant effects on athletic performance, especially sub-maximal, prolonged exercise. From the available evidence it appears that athletes may be obtaining less than 8 h of sleep per night and that increasing sleep (sleep extension) or napping may be useful to increase the total number of hours of sleep and thereby enhance performance.

In normal sleep, the stages follow a structured sequence starting with wake, then light sleep with stages 1 and 2, followed by deep sleep (slow wave sleep) with stages 3 and 4, and then followed by REM sleep. Such a sequence is called a sleep cycle which has a typical duration of 90–110 min. A normal night consists of six sleep cycles where the proportion of deep sleep decreases from the beginning to the end of the night and the proportion of REM sleep increases at the same time. In summary, about 50–60% of time is spent in light sleep, 15–20% of time is spent in deep sleep, 20–25% is spent in REM sleep, and 5% or less is spent in wakefulness.

The autonomous nervous system changes with sleep. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate are lowered to adapt to the reduced metabolic needs during normal sleep. Consequently, the mean heart-rate values drop from wakefulness to light sleep and further to deep sleep. During REM sleep heart rate increases again showing a high variability, which may exceed the variability observed during quiet wakefulness

The internal structure of sleep shows clear dynamics that follow a physiological imprinted pattern. This pattern can be described successfully by sleep stages ranging from light sleep to deep sleep and REM sleep. The dynamics of sleep stages can be investigated as such by analyzing the duration of sleep stages in the course of the night. The statistical analysis of sleep-stage durations revealed completely different patterns for the regulation of sleep stages and wakefulness episodes during sleep. This indicates that sleep and wakefulness are not just two parts of a sleep–wakefulness control, but that there exist entirely different mechanisms for their regulation in the brain. This fundamental mechanism is not altered in principle by sleep disorders that have a large impact on sleep fragmentation. Only the parameters of the distributions change.

The analysis of the autonomic nervous system during sleep by the investigation of heart-rate variability gives further insight into the regulation of sleep. We found that when the brain is very active as in the ‘dream’—REM stage, heart rate has long-time correlations, like in the wake phase. In contrast, in deep sleep correlations of the heart rate vanish after a small number of beats. In light sleep finally, the heart rate seems to become uncorrelated as well, but only after an increased number of beats. We also compared the altered autonomic nervous system function in obstructive sleep apnea with the results for normal subjects. We found that the differences between the sleep stages are much clearer than the differences between healthy and sleep apnea subjects. This means that the basic heart-rate control in the different sleep stages is very dominant. Obstructive sleep apnea introduces an additional variation on heart rate with a typical bradycardia/tachycardia pattern corresponding to the apnea events, but leaves the basic autonomous nervous system regulation untouched.

The autonomous nervous system changes with sleep. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate are lowered to adapt to the reduced metabolic needs during normal sleep. Consequently, the mean heart-rate values drop from wakefulness to light sleep and further to deep sleep. During REM sleep heart rate increases again showing a high variability, which may exceed the variability observed during quiet wakefulness

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The differences between healthy and sleep apnea subjects were much smaller than the differences between sleep stages. This indicates that the basic mechanisms for heart-rate control on an interbeat level did not change very much with sleep apnea. We assume that this basic mechanism is strongly controlled by sleep stages. It seems likely that the long-range correlations during wakefulness and REM sleep are caused by the enhanced influence of the brain on the autonomous nervous system. When this influence is strongly reduced, as is the case during light sleep and deep sleep, the heartbeat intervals behave in a more random fashion. Our studies support the view that there is a strong interaction between the central nervous sleep regulation and the autonomous nervous system regulation. Both systems interact and the measurable parameters cannot be interpreted without the knowledge about the current state of the other system.

The internal structure of sleep shows clear dynamics that follow a physiological imprinted pattern. This pattern can be described successfully by sleep stages ranging from light sleep to deep sleep and REM sleep. The dynamics of sleep stages can be investigated as such by analyzing the duration of sleep stages in the course of the night. The statistical analysis of sleep-stage durations revealed completely different patterns for the regulation of sleep stages and wakefulness episodes during sleep. This indicates that sleep and wakefulness are not just two parts of a sleep–wakefulness control, but that there exist entirely different mechanisms for their regulation in the brain. This fundamental mechanism is not altered in principle by sleep disorders that have a large impact on sleep fragmentation. Only the parameters of the distributions change.

The analysis of the autonomic nervous system during sleep by the investigation of heart-rate variability gives further insight into the regulation of sleep. We found that when the brain is very active as in the ‘dream’—REM stage, heart rate has long-time correlations, like in the wake phase. In contrast, in deep sleep correlations of the heart rate vanish after a small number of beats. In light sleep finally, the heart rate seems to become uncorrelated as well, but only after an increased number of beats. We also compared the altered autonomic nervous system function in obstructive sleep apnea with the results for normal subjects. We found that the differences between the sleep stages are much clearer than the differences between healthy and sleep apnea subjects. This means that the basic heart-rate control in the different sleep stages is very dominant. Obstructive sleep apnea introduces an additional variation on heart rate with a typical bradycardia/tachycardia pattern corresponding to the apnea events, but leaves the basic autonomous nervous system regulation untouched.

Our studies support the view that there is a strong interaction between the central nervous sleep regulation and the autonomous nervous system regulation. Both systems interact and the measurable parameters cannot be interpreted without the knowledge about the current state of the other system.

So, how can sleep be optimised to aid recovery?

  1. Humans sleep in five phases which repeat themselves every 90 minutes. Five cycles equates to seven-and-a-half hours which is enough for the average adult
  2. Take naps (up to 1 hour) – ideal time after lunch between 1-3
  3. The bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet
  4. Create a good sleep routine by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time
  5. Avoid watching television in bed, using the computer in bed and avoid watching the clock.
  6. Avoid caffeine approximately 4-5 h prior to sleep (this may vary among individuals)
  7. Do not go to bed after consuming too much fluid as it may result in waking up to use the bathroom
  8. Caffeine and liquids high in sugar are off the menu, as are fat-laden meals, which take longer to digest and raise body temperature, which in turn slows the process of falling to sleep
  9. Begin a pre-sleep routine 90 minutes before bed – start turning off televisions, mobile phones and other electrical devices which give off bright light.
  10. Have a shower prior to sleeping. Your body temperature will cool after coming out of the shower and ease you naturally into a state of sleep.
  11. Turn your radiator down – a cool 16-18C is ideal.
  12. Drink a glass of warm milk before bed. Dairy products are rich in tryptophan, which aids the production of sleep-inducing chemicals serotonin and melatonin.

As well as conditions like sleep apnea, alcohol, work stress and intensive exercise late in the day can limit our amount of deep sleep, whereas aerobic exercise and a regular pre-bed relaxation pattern can facilitate deep sleep. In fact, as summarized in this blog post , higher HRV before bedtime seems to enable a more rapid & effective transition to good quality sleep.

 

Nutrition & Performance

On a number of occasions I have noted the positive impact on my performance when I have eaten a meat-rich meal the day before a ride. Yesterday, I recorded my fastest ever time on the Woodbury Rockbeare course coming in at just over 19mph. The day before I had eaten about 400g bbq beef & lamb. On the ride I felt very strong and there was little evidence of fatigue as I ramped up the speed and effort. I also remember from last years Ride London that I had eaten a meat-rich Ethiopian meal with friends. The following day I went on to record a time of 5:30 and an average speed of 18mph for 100 miles. I am beginning to believe there is a link.

Over the past few months I have been reflecting on why it has proven so difficult to shift my excess fat. My conclusion, recorded in a recent post was that the body is self-regulating and no amount of will-power will override what has taken millions of years to evolve. Therefore, I have to work with my body and not against it. I have spent more time reading about paleo diets, that is, diets more associated with our hunter-gatherer ancestors. If we accept that farmed products appeared in our diets only 5,000 years ago (a very short time when one considers that our evolved history is represented by a few millions years) then it follows that we must look more closely at what our diets used to look like as these are more likely to fit better with our bodies needs as they have evolved together over a longer period of time than farmed products and evolution have. My conclusions to date are as follows:

  1. Our ancestors would have spend extended periods of time hunting prey. They would have spent days and probably covered many miles to hunt down prey. Given the structure of the human body it is highly probable that our ancestors ran quite substantial distances after their prey. So, how would our ancestors have prepared themselves for such a task? It is highly probable that they would have consumed a rich protein-dense meal before a hunt. On the hunt itself they would have taken foods that they could quickly consume so as not to delay pursuit of their prey. Following capture of their prey they would then have enjoyed a protein-rich meal. My conclusion is that the body is wired to recognise the signs of 1) preparation for a hunt, 2) the demands of the hunt itself, and 3) the reward of the hunt, that is, protein-rich food. If the hunt was successful then the body was rewarded – it would be well-nourished, it would be able to repair the damage to the body caused by the demands of the hunt, and most importantly it would be stronger and healthier for the next hunt or for procreation. With plentiful food, our ancestors would no doubt rest and eat for a few days. If we accept this argument then we need to prepare our bodies with protein-rich nutrition the day before training, we need to eat quickly digestible food whilst we are training and then we need to eat a protein-rich meal after the training to reward the body for the work it has done and also provide an opportunity to rest.
  2. Carbohydrate-dense foodstuffs would have been in short supply for our ancestors. No doubt they would have taken every opportunity to eat foods as they went about their daily business. Roots, leaves, fruits, seeds, etc would have been gathered and eaten throughout the day. Richer protein foods would have been eaten as a group as they represented a higher value foodstuff, a food so highly valued that it was worth coming together as a group to celebrate and enjoy.
  3. Fats would have been highly prized. They would have been the most delicious of food groups as they would have offered the most calories per gramme, over double that of protein and carbohydrates. The body has evolved to recognise and value fats for its rich nutritional content. Eating a fat-laden meal may also have signalled to the body that it was being prepared for a hunt.

Overtraining

I suppose it would be inevitable that I would overtrain at some point although I have a enjoyed a long period of training without illness. So, what’s happened?

We’ll, recently I have had my 2 best and strongest rides. To be honest I was feeling invincible but hey ho I am now in bed with a cold! So, what can I learn from recent events?

the first of my 2 strong rides, a Wheelers Sunday club ride followed 2 days of bike riding amounting to a total of 140 miles in 3 days. These 3 days followed a steady state session on a stationery bike 2 days before. So, all in all there had been quite a noticeable spike in my total training. The second of my strong bike rides was a steady state on the triangle. compared to the previous steady state session I felt this was easier and as a result I kept going beyond my LT HR of 151

So, although I felt stronger my body was clearly not up to the stresses it was being subjected to. After the training I felt irritable and my eyes wouldn’t recover from some strong sunlight. I felt the need to lie down and rest. Later that evening my throat felt sore and the following morning I woke with a cold. So, what can I learn from this?

  1. I need to use iThlete to more accurately gauge how I am responding to ttraining
  2. i need to do more endurance training in HR2
  3. I need to be more careful how I schedule high intensity sessions. At this stage I can hold back on them and focus more on endurance and weight ttraining
  4. I need to keep within the HR zone specified by the session
  5. i need to continue to give close attention to recovery. It is more probable that someone of my age needs longer time to recover especially from higher intensity training
  6. I need to develop a periodisation plan of training leading up to RideLondon in August. intensive training sessions can be focused on more in late April and beyond. For now I need to concentrate on building endurance through long low intensity rides and building strength through weight training