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Finding the Right Balance

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Ben Coomber explains the importance of getting the balance between performance and recovery

As a performance nutritionist, I am always testing new theories on myself and experimenting before doing so with my clients. For me, there are only so many roads you can truly walk down with a client if you have not been down that road yourself.

For example, in the worlds of bodybuilding or triathlon, many will argue that you cannot truly prep someone for a competition without having done one yourself.

Of course, science is science, but part of the battle with coaching others isn’t the science itself, but the application of it. Coaching is all about listening and finding a way to get a successful outcome, and the key point is experimentation with the strategies we use. I don’t often work with high-level individuals in sports I haven’t competed in or experienced myself. This serves two purposes: first, I can’t really be passionate about a sport I’m not familiar with. And secondly, if I can’t identify with where the client is at and how they feel in the environment we’re trying to optimise through coaching, what use am I when my client is struggling?

So, in that vein, are you testing and applying your work to yourself?

Over the last 18 months I have accelerated this journey of experimentation and if I was to single out the biggest area of contention right now, it’s the balance between recovery and performance. We are all looking to train as hard as we can, but everyone has a set recovery capacity, whether that is genetic or environmentally driven.

Many try and exercise intensely for many hours a week, but their recovery capacity doesn’t allow it. How do we know this? Because it’s affecting daily energy levels, DOMS and overall feelings of wellbeing.

It’s hard to argue against the idea that sleep is the #1 integral factor for exercise recovery. This means that if a person’s environment doesn’t allow them to always sleep well, they are not going to be able to push their training. This is because a decline in sleep quality or duration causes a decline in central nervous system (CNS) activity, and thus our ability to apply force and effort – and this is compounded by impaired CNS recovery from hard training. So, if we sleep badly, then can’t train effectively, should we exercise at all in that state?

What we must appreciate here is the context that person lives in every day. Are they elite? Are they pushing for the 1% edge over the competition? Do they need to push hard today, or can they do it tomorrow when they are feeling more rested?

The reality for most of us is that we like to keep fit, we like to challenge our body, and we like to get the best out of this life. But if you don’t get the balance right then it can deregulate your sleep, you might get tired during the day, you might not be able to concentrate on work… you’re just not as good a human outside of the gym.

With many clients I see that there is an element of anxiety around reducing training volume. Some feel they won’t be as fit, some feel they will put on weight, and others worry they’ll lose part of their identity. These are all mental battles that are fixed with functional strategies and an alignment with the science of nutrition.

This is then a broader conversation around physical and mental health and having lots of things in our lives that stimulate us, that we enjoy, and that allow us to grow as people. And sometimes this is part of the coaching process, helping your clients get back in touch with these things if training intensity and frequency needs to drop.

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