Bruce Lifrieri just wrapped up his 24th season as a full-time trainer for the New York Rangers, which means he’s spent almost a quarter century helping the team recover after grueling games, practices, and workouts so they can get back out on the ice the next day (and the next, and the next). And as a result, he’s pretty much an expert in how to get your body to bounce back after you push it to its limits.
“It really hasn’t changed too much since I started out — the basis to recovery is still sleep, nutrition, hydration, massage, and stretch,” he says. “Those five things all work together to maximize what you can get out of your body.” The good news: You don’t need to have a multimillion-dollar contract or a jersey with your name on the back to use his tricks.
Nutrition: You’ve emptied the tanks, so you need to refuel yourself. “Try to eat around 30 minutes after a serious workout,” Lifrieri says. “At that point, your body is more receptive to the nutrients in the food, so it can absorb more of what it needs.” What does it need? Carbs and protein. Or, if you want to get super specific, .8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight and .2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. And go with healthy options. It might sound boring, but the Rangers dine on brown rice, some chicken or other lean meat, vegetables, and a salad.
Hydration: If you don’t step on a scale after a tough workout, you should. It’s an easy way to figure out how much fluid you need to replace. “Some guys sweat more than others and can lose up to five or six pounds in a single game,” Lifrieri says. Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid — water is fine but get some electrolytes in there, too — for every pound lost through sweat.
Stretch and Foam Roll: After the workout, don’t forget to cool down and work on mobility. “Some of the top injuries hockey players get are sports hernias, groin and hamstring pulls, and lower back sprains — stretching and foam-rolling are huge for avoiding those,” Lifrieri says. “We have them focus with the roller on tight areas, which are almost always the back, groin, hamstrings, and quads.” As for traditional static stretches, the guys limber up those same areas as well as their neck, wrists, shoulders, obliques, hip flexors, calves, Achilles’ tendons, and abductors.
Massage: The key to reducing post-workout pain is reducing inflammation and removing lactic acid from your muscles, and massage is a great way to do both of those things. “When I started out, I was one of only two full-time massage therapists in the NHL,” Lifrieri says. “Now every team has one.” Can’t squeeze this step in? Another way to flush out the lactic acid is by alternating a cold plunge with a warm shower. “The cold constricts your muscles, forcing blood out, and the warm opens them back up, flushing out the lactic acid,” Lifrieri says.
Sleep: Clocking eight to 10 hours a night is optimum for your body to recover. “It’s so hard for the players to unwind after a game — they’re so wired up — which is one reason why most have an issue with sleeping,” says Lifrieri. But the average person usually doesn’t get nearly that many hours. One way the trainers try to improve athletes’ sleep? By encouraging them to wear activity trackers, since it forces you to see how bad your sleep habits really are, and get educated on the best bedroom environment. Pro tip: A cool room is key.