Get to your health and fitness goal faster with these six exercises, eating and recovery tips from Spartan Race runner and Optimum Nutrition ambassador David Lawson.
Optimise your performance at Windsor Trifecta Spartan with these 6 tips from OPTIMUM NUTRITION Ambassador David Lawson
David Lawson is a physique athlete and Optimum Nutrition ambassador. Having recently completed the Spartan Race, he shares his nutrition and recovery strategies that helped turn him into a Spartan. Here’s what David learnt from his preparation and how the lessons he learnt can help you perform and recover faster.
Get clever with cardio
I usually do six or seven gym sessions a week, based around hypertrophy and strength training with no cardio, but to train for Spartan Race I had to add in three or four cardio sessions per week to improve my cardio and endurance fitness. I still did my weights sessions, so increased the amount of training I was doing to incorporate more cardio work. In Spartan Race, there’s running but some of the obstacles are also very strength-based, so I needed to retain my muscular size and strength. The main consideration was when and how to fit in these extra cardio sessions to improve my endurance. Spartan Race is around 6km long so I needed to work on my running endurance, and would mix up outside running with treadmill sessions and some HIIT work. I am very used to squatting heavy, but having fast-twitch muscles and explosive power to shift big weights doesn’t do you much good when you have to go for a long run! I was quite self-conscious at first: I am very comfortable in the weights room, it’s my comfort zone, so stepping out and doing a different form of training was a mental as well as a physical challenge. The treadmill sessions were quite boring so I would set myself little mini goals for the workout or do certain durations of sprinting to keep it as fresh and challenging as possible.
Listen to your heart
When you’re bench pressing 40kg dumbbells you get instant feedback about your performance - you can tell how you feel and it’s not hard to notice whether you’re moving the weights or not! But with running you don’t get the same instant feedback, so it can be hard to properly monitor performance and adjust your recovery accordingly. What I did was use a heart-rate monitor to make sure I was staying in the heart-rate zones I wanted for specific sessions so that I knew I was improving and getting faster and fitter. By having this feedback I could also adjust sessions: if my heart rate was higher than it should have been then I would back off a little, or if it was lower than I could push it a bit harder. A big part of recovery is monitoring your in-session performance and making smart changes so you don’t do too much in one go, which could negatively impact the next day’s session or the day after. Being able to listen to your body is really important in recovering quicker and better so you can keep progressing towards your health and fitness goal.
Refuel to recover faster
How and when you eat is one of the most important parts of the recovery process because the sooner you can feed your body the high-quality nutrients it needs the better. After a weights workout, I’ll have an Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey shake to feed my muscles the high-quality protein it needs to rebuild them bigger and stronger. I will follow this up with a proper meal, particularly if I have another training session that day. After a cardio session, I’ll also have my post-workout whey protein shake to repair damaged muscle but I’ll add some carbohydrate like a banana, to help my muscles refuel after intense sessions. Taking on the right nutrition after my morning weights session was what allowed me to get back into the gym later that day to do my cardio session. What I do like to do is have a five-minute sauna after a session: I take my post-workout Gold Standard shake in there and drink it while I relax.
Sleep like a baby
Sleep is one of the most important parts of the recovery process, and without enough quality sleep on a regular basis, you are never going to look, feel, or perform as good as you should. I start to wind down around 30 to 45 minutes before I want to go to bed to help my mind and body begin to transition from an awake state to one that will help me get to sleep quickly. I avoid screens, whether that’s the TV, laptop or phone, before bed as well to help my brain get ready for bed. I’ll also often make some protein pancakes made with Gold Standard 100% Casein adding some berries before bed to drip-feed my muscles with protein and other essential nutrients once I fall asleep.
Keep training fresh and fun
I loved the camaraderie of doing an obstacle course race and will definitely do more. I am not sure I’ll ever do a 10km run or a marathon, but the team spirit you get from obstacle races is amazing, and something that’s hard to replicate in a straight running race or even in the weights room. It’s really important to keep your training fresh and fun if you want to keep progressing, whatever your goal. I will continue to do more cardio training, whether that’s running, rowing, spin classes or some strongman-style circuit sessions, because it’s important to keep your training fresh and stimulating - both physically and mentally. Another big part of recovery is active recovery, so the day after a big legs session I might do a row or a cycle to get the blood pumping to my muscles to flow in oxygen and nutrients to accelerate the recovery process. It’s about taking a smarter approach to both training and recovery.
Make your warm-up matter
The biggest recovery mistakes most people make isn’t actually what they do after their session, but what they do before and during their workout! For instance, I see guys walk into the gym and never do a warm-up: they just go straight into their first proper work set, which is not good for your muscles, tendons or joints because they need to be fully warmed up before the real work begins. The other thing is guys doing their last set of the session, dropping the weights, and walking straight out of the gym back to work. You have to give your body some time to adjust between a “working” state and an “at rest” state to improve recovery. My advice is warm-up properly and then cool-down with some mobility and flexibility work, and you’ll speed up your rate of recovery significantly.