Work it out with Ray - week 4: Recover and repair 

In the final week of his summer fitness column, personal trainer Ray Lally looks at the foods to help you reach peak fitness and shares a simple exercise that delivers big results
Work it out with Ray - week 4: Recover and repair 

'Remain mindful of your progress and track the habits you would like to change without beating yourself up,' says personal trainer Ray Lally. Picture: Larry Cummins

Recovery is an essential part of repairing and building muscle. Although you might want to jump straight in the shower, taking the time to replenish your body with fuel after a circuit workout or strenuous match is an important part of recovery. Finding a way to increase your post-workout nutrition with a healthy meal or snack will help to keep you on track towards your fitness goals and defend your body from injury.

Although it is vital not to skip your post-workout snack, the foods you choose to meet your personal nutritional needs is key. At every level of fitness, reaching for natural foods should be second nature. Natural supplements such as spirulina, carragheen Irish sea moss or hemp are excellent additions to your diet, helping you to improve the overall performance in the gym or on the pitch.

Top recovery foods

  • Favourite meat or fish
  • Turmeric spice 
  • Nuts such as walnuts 
  • Quinoa 

Natural foods have a wide variety of benefits, from reducing the risk factors for heart disease to benefiting gut health and improving the body’s ability to perform to a high, consistent standard. Planning meals or making a note of the meals you've eaten over the course of six weeks is an excellent way to hold yourself accountable without making sudden, drastic, and unsustainable changes to your diet.

Five foods to give you a quick energy fix

  • Banana
  • Apple 
  • Strawberries 
  • Dark chocolate
  • Green tea

Long-lasting foods 

  • Oats
  • Chia and flax seeds 
  • Beans 
  • Legumes 
  • Leafy green vegetables 

Remain mindful of your progress and track the habits you would like to change without beating yourself up for indulging every now and then. Once you understand the obstacles that prevent you from making progress, you can start making changes to your weekly shopping list to incorporate natural, nutritious foods. At every level of health and fitness, you can start taking actionable steps to introduce healthier, natural alternatives to high-sugar treats and processed foods.

For advanced athletes seeking to drop excess fat and improve performance, removing or reducing the amount of processed sugar in your diet is a sure way to drop unwanted pounds. Two to three weeks after incorporating these changes into your diet, you will start to notice changes in performance and mood. As the body releases endorphins during your workout to relieve tension and boost your mood, it is important to connect this positive post-workout feeling with exercise and movement.

On average, we consume 20-35 meals a week, including snacks. By tracking how many of these meals combine fresh, natural and nutritious foods against processed foods, creating a healthy balance in your diet couldn’t be simpler. The key is to introduce small but consistent changes over the course of a few weeks to benefit your mind and body.

Exercise of the week: single-leg squat

Ray Lally demonstrates the single-leg squat - a slow and controlled pace is essential to engage the quads. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Ray Lally demonstrates the single-leg squat - a slow and controlled pace is essential to engage the quads. Picture: Larry Cummins.

  • Start by sitting on a stable chair with two cushions underneath
  • Maintain good posture with a straight spine
  • Lift left leg forward while keeping the right foot firmly grounded
  • Slowly stand up straight, shifting weight into the right leg for support. using only the right leg
  • Slowly return to seated position. Do five reps on each leg

Always keep your entire foot to the ground. Maintain your heel firmly on the ground to work the glutes and hamstrings, and prevent knee injuries. Most people will notice a difference as they switch legs. The non-dominant leg may shake as you continue this exercise, which will help to strengthen and stabilise the joints.

Maintain good posture with a straight spine. Picture: Larry Cummins
Maintain good posture with a straight spine. Picture: Larry Cummins

For beginners, using added cushions will act as a spring to find the correct posture and form. Technique is key to stabilise and place pressure on the correct parts of your body and avoid injury. Maintaining a slow and controlled pace is essential to focus on engaging the centre of the quads, where you will feel a burning sensation as you build strength. This exercise will also work the glutes and hamstrings.

To further step up your practice, slow down your pace and pause at the bottom. Picture: Larry Cummins
To further step up your practice, slow down your pace and pause at the bottom. Picture: Larry Cummins

At the intermediate level, be mindful of the difference in strength and mobility of your legs. Challenge yourself by following this exercise five times on each leg, before taking a break to stretch your muscles. If you are feeling confident, remove one of the cushions when you are practising this exercise on your dominant leg to challenge your core muscles.

To further step up your practice, slow down your pace and pause at the bottom. This will provide an excellent foundation to build up to a pistol (full one-legged) squat.

Even fitness fanatics will find that this exercise exposes them to imbalance, important for improving other aspects of their fitness performance. Regularly incorporating the single-leg squat into your circuit routine will provide you with improved stability and range of movement, as well as fending off injuries that poor technique can cause.

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