Anatomy Trainer Tip by Marc Megna Autonomic Nervous System and Recovery The autonomic nervous system controls all of our body’s functions that are not under conscious control such as our heart beating and food being digested, absorbed and transported. This autonomic nervous system has two branches, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as the fight or flight side of the autonomic nervous system, is responsible for increasing our heart rate in response to stress, dilating our pupils in the dark and decreasing non-essential functions when in danger. When we workout, we are tapping in to our sympathetic nervous system to help us lift more weight or run faster. But when we are finished training, we want to promote the other half, the rest and digest side, the parasympathetic nervous system, to help us recover and adapt for the next stress that comes our way. There are many strategies to promote the transformation of the autonomic nervous system from a sympathetic to parasympathetic state post-workout. The first is nutrition. Not only does the tried and true method of combining protein and carbohydrate in a shake at a one to three or four ratio promote glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis, but also these processes occur because of a parasympathetic shift. Avoid inflammatory foods such as those containing gluten immediately after and for the larger post-workout meal as much as possible. Fish and vegetables are an excellent choice for a post-workout parasympathetic promoting meal. In addition, immediately post-workout some sort of relaxation must occur. Finishing the workout in a hurry and rushing off to the next life event does nothing to take the foot off the sympathetic nervous system. Performing any light activity that keeps the heart rate in the magical vagal tone (this is main parasympathetic nerve driver in the body) range of 120 to 130 beats per minute for ten to thirty minutes or simply meditating or performing quiet, deep breathing for the same time frame will promote the shift. In addition to low intensity activity, massage, whether manual or self-directed, can also increase vagal tone. Finally, the time in which the parasympathetic nervous system is the most dominant is during sleep, therefore, establishing great sleep habits can be the final piece to the autonomic nervous system puzzle.

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