We all know that athletes lifestyle, habits, and routines are usually reflected in their sports performance. The high-performance routines require athletes to have discipline, physical effort, concentration, emotional effort and psychological self-control among others. It is crucial for me to comprehend the significance of invisible training. Integrate healthy habits into routines can enhance career quality and extend the sporting life of athletes.
High training loads should be compensated with adequate rest. Performance can be improved by other less visible factors, including nutrition, hydration, good habits, hygiene, and more. Reaching a certain competitive level requires fine tuning in controlling all variables that can help improve performance. Given the unpredictability of our sport, we should control every aspect it is in our control. Our body’s performance is largely dependent on the care we give it.
Invisible training refers to a set of daily activities that athletes perform outside of their training sessions when the coach is not present (Bonigo, 2013). These are basic measures of hygiene in support of sports performance, which, along with mental and physical performance, determine the athletic outcome (Lloret, 1989).
It serves to prepare our body. Countless influencing factors can be found, but the most challenging aspect is to apply them regularly since many athletes think that the only important thing is daily training. Our job is to train the paddler to establish healthy lifestyle habits that will help them maintain or enhance their performance. Its importance in sports performance is fundamental (Rosero, 2018).
On the other hand, Blanco (2014) indicates that invisible training cannot be observed or quantified, but the sports experience shows that it significantly affects the performance of an athlete at social, psychological, physical, physiological, and behavioral levels, setting them apart from the rest. López (2007) defines invisible training as everything that is done outside the sports field.
Components of invisible training include the quality and duration of sleep, physiotherapy practices (massages, sauna, hydrotherapy, cryotherapy), nutrition, biological preparation with pharmacological aids (obviously, legal and permitted products), a healthy lifestyle, and more. As mentioned earlier, this makes it clear that invisible training is a fundamental aspect of the sports process, essential for athletes to reach their optimal state of competitiveness (Rosero, 2018).
The constructive hygienic attitudes that athletes adopt in their periods of sleep, rest, training, diet, clothing, evacuations, habits, sexual relationships, and so on, along with a positive mental disposition and specific sports training, should enable athletes to achieve the maximum performance they are capable of achieving at any given moment, according to their current possibilities (Lloret, 1989).
The podium of the 21st-century athlete is not only about physical training but also includes mental training and invisible training (Arufe, 2009).
Invisible training is a fundamental pillar of the sports training process. Knowing what it entails and how to carry it out distinguishes a good athlete from one who is not as successful (Rodríguez, 2015).
The activities considered most important, reinforced by numerous authors, are: sleep, nutrition, hydration, emotions, and recovery:
Sleep is as important as proper nutrition and hydration. Uninterrupted, deep sleep of at least 8 hours daily promotes adequate muscle and overall body recovery, allowing the athlete to feel optimal for the next training session (Rosero, 2018).
Lloret (2004) advises that it is hygienically recommended for athletes to sleep at least nine hours on average per day. Naturally, each athlete will have their own habits and customs, and what may be excessive for some might be relatively short for others. Among all forms of training, two must be considered and, from a hygienic-sports perspective, constitute a very important part of an athlete's life: sleep and rest periods.
According to Gordo (2008), the high volume and intensity of current training sessions require a greater emphasis on athlete recovery, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through rest and sleep.
According to Lloret (1989) and Zabala (2013), sleep is an essential element in the athlete's recovery process because it regenerates cells damaged during training sessions and eliminates various harmful substances that may have been generated during sports practice.
The bedtime should not vary by more than half an hour, and athletes should go to bed at least one hour or more after dinner. Once in bed, the athlete should understand that it is essential for their rest and body structure to sleep on a firm mattress to keep the spine aligned and prevent various spinal disorders. Napping is reserved for concentration periods, vacations, and professional sports. It depends on personal habits and training loads. If they average 9 hours of sleep, they can do without it. Rest is considered a null period of physical or intellectual activity with the mission of mentally and physically resting the athlete for the next training session or event (Lloret, 2004).
To maximize the effects of rest, Bonigo (2013) suggests a series of recommendations:
- Sleep between 9-12 hours daily.
- Respect rest schedules.
- Rest in comfortable and cozy places.
- If necessary, engage in sessions of hydrotherapy, cryotherapy, etc.
The key is for each athlete to know how to select foods that provide them with all the necessary energy to stay healthy, meet the energy and nutritional demands of their training, and maintain an optimal body composition (adipose tissue and muscle tissue) that enhances athletic performance. Otherwise, if the player, due to lack of knowledge and/or incorrect eating habits, fails to incorporate what they need to nourish themselves properly, their energy will be insufficient, their performance will decline, and the risk of illness and/or injury will significantly increase (Rosero, 2018).
A proper diet in terms of quantity and quality before, during, and after training and competition is essential for optimizing performance. Good nutrition cannot replace improper training or regular physical fitness, but an inadequate diet can harm the performance of a well-trained athlete (Beltrán, 2017).
It's important to know that optimal nutritional status is not achieved through the meal before the competition or even by following specific dietary guidelines one or two days before the event. Good nutritional status is the result of correct dietary habits practiced daily, over a long period, and consistently. Invisible training is not a matter of a few meals.
PRE-COMPETITION NUTRITION: During the week leading up to the competition, the two main objectives are to optimize carbohydrate stores in the muscles and liver (in the form of glycogen to compete with maximum energy reserves) and to stay well hydrated. In the days before the event, it is important that the diet is based on a high intake of carbohydrates (between 65-75%), with the rest divided into 15-20% fats and 10-12% proteins (Palacios, Montalvo, and Camacho, 2012).
According to Rosero (2018), in terms of the quality of foods to incorporate, athletes should be aware of those capable of providing the necessary nutrients and energy for training. Among them, four foods are highlighted that provide key nutrients for athletes: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide muscles and the brain with the fuel they need to cope with the stress of training and competitions. They are the main source of energy and are rapidly available. They can be found in whole grains (rice, polenta, oats, quinoa, wheat, simple and filled pastas, flours), legumes (lentils, soybeans, chickpeas), potatoes and sweet potatoes (complex carbohydrates), and fruits, honey, sweets, and sugar (simple carbohydrates) (Rosero, 2018)
- Proteins: Proteins are important for building and repairing muscles, primarily serving a structural function. They can be found in skim dairy and its derivatives (milk, yogurt, and cheeses), egg whites, lean meats (beef: sirloin, round, tenderloin, rump; pork: tenderloin; chicken: skinless; fish: sea bass, sole, tuna) (Rosero, 2018).
- Fats: Foods rich in fats primarily provide reserve energy and contribute to the supply of essential fatty acids (unsaturated fatty acids: omega 3, 6, 9). It is important to increase the consumption of high-quality fats found in: sea fish, vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, olives, and decrease the consumption of those providing fats of animal origin (saturated and trans fatty acids), such as fatty meats, processed meats, cream, dressings, and all foods made with them, like baked goods, cookies, snacks, among others (Rosero, 2018).
Finally, vitamins and minerals perform regulatory functions in metabolic processes, are essential for disease prevention, and contribute to maintaining good health. They can be found in all vegetables and fruits; the greater the variety of types and colors, the greater the supply of vitamins and minerals (Rosero, 2018).
Proper hydration promotes adequate fluid and electrolyte replenishment to compensate for sweat losses. The intake of fluids before, during, and after exercise is crucial to prevent dehydration (Rosero, 2018).
Dehydration has a negative impact on athletic performance and the players' health. The foundation of all hydration should be done with water and sports drinks for fluid, carbohydrate, and mineral salt replenishment. It's worth highlighting the importance of being able to apply personalized hydration strategies for each athlete based on their individual needs and the environmental conditions in which the sports activity takes place (temperature and humidity), which can lead to significant variability in the players' sweating rate (Rosero, 2018).
What is dehydration?
According to Palacios et al., (2012), dehydration is defined as the dynamic loss of body fluids due to sweating during physical exercise without fluid replacement or when the replacement does not compensate for the amount lost.
Dehydration has a negative impact on health and physical performance because it impairs the ability to perform both high-intensity, short-term efforts and prolonged efforts.
Dehydration can occur due to:
- Intense physical exertion (involuntary dehydration).
- Fluid restriction before and/or during physical activity.
- Exposure to a hot and humid environment (e.g., saunas).
- Use of diuretics.
To replenish fluids, it is recommended to drink 1 liter of liquid for every 1000 calories consumed, and it is essential that this consumption is carried out through proper distribution. Therefore, a fundamental rule is to consume water or a sports drink throughout the day and, regarding training, both before, during, and after it. To achieve the appropriate levels of fluid consumption, it is necessary to develop certain habits (Palacios et al., 2012).
According to Heredia (2005), emotional control needs to be developed to keep the athlete's emotional reactions in balance, especially in adverse, pressure-filled, or disadvantaged situations that may cause stress or distress.
On the other hand, González (1996) states that 50% of an athlete's potential depends on their mental preparation. Those lacking it will fail to tap into 50% of their real possibilities. Psychological preparation is a fundamental part of an athlete's training and serves as the foundation for control in situations that may arise within and outside the competitive context (Rosero, 2018).
All athletes need to undergo psychological preparation, in addition to their regular training. It is important to carry out specific psychological training to self-regulate as athletes and set short-term, achievable, and realistic goals. Many authors agree that athletes increase their chances of success by up to 15% if they can focus their efforts on set goals. In this regard, athletes must establish a psychological preparation program aimed at not decreasing but even enhancing motivation and enthusiasm for the situation they are in. For this, it is necessary that their mental attitude is positive, and if necessary, they should share their experiences and situations with trusted people close to them. Moreover, they should seek to establish relationships and control anxiety before a competition or a significant effort. To do this, it is essential to control the rhythm of breathing and divert attention to things that do not cause excessive stress. In the psychological preparation of the athlete, particular focus should be placed on concentration and maintaining their attention through exercises oriented toward these objectives.
Visualization techniques play a significant role, enabling the athlete to see the most important actions that will occur in the competition, influencing the outcome (Rosero, 2018).
According to Alejo (2007), natural recovery methods aim to increase the body's resistance to loads, eliminate acute forms of fatigue, effectively replenish energy resources, and accelerate adaptation reactions. Athletes who recover well can train more and better.
Natural means should exist naturally, although knowing how to apply them is essential. They are primarily aimed at allowing the body to recover on its own through the establishment of the best possible conditions via well-planned physical preparation that takes individual needs into account.
These natural recovery methods can be summarized in three categories:
- Kinotherapy: This involves promoting recovery through movement, also known as active recovery. Studies oriented toward this recovery have shown that active recovery after exercise is the most efficient way to reduce factors like lactate.
- Sleep: Sleep and relaxation are essential for the body's recovery. The value of sleep in athletes is evident through the secretion of growth hormone (GH) during sleep, which is crucial for muscle regeneration and growth.
- Lifestyle or Invisible Training: It is vital to adapt to the surrounding environment. Athletes should maintain healthy habits that shield them from distractions or emotional imbalances.
The effectiveness of relaxation techniques has been enhanced with biofeedback, allowing athletes to understand their body's physiological response in real time. In other words, it makes invisible training tangible, enabling athletes to increase or decrease their physiological response according to their goals, whether it's achieving the optimal level of activation for a specific task or maintaining their level of activation. This helps athletes effectively handle anxiety-inducing situations that may arise in a sports context.
In conclusion, if you don't consider invisible training, pushing yourself to the maximum doesn't always yield results. The more demanding the plan, the more crucial recovery and rest become in order to achieve the adaptations the body needs in response to training stimuli. Neglecting invisible training can give your opponent an advantage. It's what makes the difference. Eating what your body needs, resting, and staying hydrated are habits that complement the physical hard work.
Written by Carmen Sanchéz Costa
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