Recovery: Rest your way to muscle gain and fatloss
It might come as a shock to you that training doesn't make you stronger. In fact, the act of training is very catabolic and destructive on the body. Your muscle cells get damaged, tendons strained, ligaments stretched, and glycogen depleted. On top of that, it's not just localized to the muscular system but your whole body is stressed when you train.
Yet exercise will make your body stronger and more resilient, which seems paradoxical. The secret is that you are getting stronger, faster, building muscle, repairing tendons, and refilling glycogens in the recovery stage. So stick around and learn how to maximize that and get awesome results.
Everybody knows how to bust their ass at the gym and it's often the first thing that gets increased in an attempt to get results. Bench stalled? Bench more! Fatloss stalled? More cardio!
..and end up digging themselves deeper.
Recovery, known unknown
You already know the elements of recovery. They involve things like rest, nutrition, stretching, and foam rolling. What you probably don't know is how to optimize all of them.
Symptoms of poor recovery
- Poor energy levels
- Poor workouts/regression in training
- Low mood
- Persistent muscle/joint soreness
What is the role of recovery in the body?
- Tissue, muscles, tendons, bone and cartilage repair.
- Replenish muscle and cell fuel (glycogen) stores in the body.
- Getting rid of metabolic waste
- Restoring nutrients, minerals and various chemicals
- Restoring optimal neural function.
- Improving the immune system
- Restoring hormones
The tenants of recovery
Sleep better. We won't go much indepth into sleep since we've covered how to sleep better already. Suffice to say sleep is the most important thing for recovery. All the above functions are heavily influenced by sleep. If you are under a lot of stress, physical or mental strain then your need for sleep will go up. Some days 8 hours isn't enough and you might sleep 9 or 10. Finally make sure to maximize sleep quality.
The most striking of these is that animals deprived entirely of sleep lose all immune function and die in just a matter of weeks. This is further supported by findings that many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep. Why we sleep - harvard.edu
A big part of recovery requires calories as well as specific nutrients on top of just rest. For example, when you train you lose electrolytes -salt, magnesium, potassium and others- through sweating. Which if not restored can cause adverse effects such as dehydration, something you see in endurance sports. Nutrition is also critical for glycogen synthesis, the fuel stored in your muscles, liver and brain and is used up as a quick energy source. But perhaps the biggest one is: protein synthesis which is involved in repairing tissue such as your muscles. This process is not only dependent on protein but also energy in terms of calories.
How to get the most out of nutrition for recovery:
- Eat balanced meals and increase your carb intake - carbs are the easiest energy source for your body to use which is essential when its doing energy intensive tasks. Carbs also increase insulin release which is critical in glycogen synthesis - which itself is made mainly from glucose (A sugar/carb).
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and herbs as they are rich in nutrients and minerals which are essential for many body functions. Not to mention there are a lot of nutrients which science hasn't discovered yet or found the role of - hence why a multi-vitamin isn't a viable replacement.
- Maximize post-workout recovery: Have a protein shake + carbs after training. You don't have to have the moment you finish training but the body will be in a heightened anabolic state then and will use the extra calories to speed up repairs and restoration. Although that state lasts up to 24-48 hours.
- Have an electrolytes drink like Emergen-C especially if you are sweating a lot. Symptoms of low electrolytes can be headaches, feeling slugish, feeling thirsty even after drinking a lot of water, having salt cravings or salt tasting especially good. You can also just add salt (sodium), salt substitute (potassium basically) and take magnesium tabs (chelated is best, avoid oxide).
- Eat more omega-3 fats to help reduce inflammation as well as possible joint benefits. The best sources are sea food which you can get from eating salmon, tuna, sardines or other fish. It's also possible to supplement with fish oil caps.
This one is in a category of its own because it's that important. Water is used in nearly ever single function in your body and being even midly dehydrated can seriously effect your recovery and performance. This is even more critical for recovery because a lot of repair and growth happens through inflammation. Inflammation is basically your body detecting something is wrong in a part of your body and mobilizing various cells (such as immune system cells) to take care of it. The reason an inflamed area is swollen and red is due to the increased fluid and blood activity.
Considering hydration heavily effects blood and other fluid volume it becomes apparent why it's important to be well hydrated to ensure optimal function. Water is also involved in clearing metabolic waste.
Finally, glycogen storage also increases water storage. Exercise increases glycogen storage which also means you end up storing more water inside your muscles. Effectively increasing the demand on hydration.
I can go on forever but just drink water. I recommend having a water container accessible at all times and sipping from it all day. You probably want to have between 1.5-4 liters per day. It's hard to drink too much. Of course don't force water down your throat, instead just drink as needed. Ideally you want to avoid dark urine color and instead favor light/colorless.
Massage has been shown to increase anabolic and decrease catabolic genetic expression in muscle cells after training. On top of that I believe foam rolling aids in circulating fluid and addressing density issues such as scarring. We've covered how to foam roll here. If you're looking for a foam roller then we recommend this (36" x 6" Round - unless you don't want it to roll).
Turns out that the massaged legs had all been informed by mRNA to produce more of a protein called PGC-1alpha and less of one called NFkB. In English? Well, increased levels of PGC-1 alpha leads to the creation of more mitochondria, which in turn generates energy for cell growth. Basically, it increases the rate of muscle fiber repair. Reduced levels of NFkB, on the other hand, reduces inflammation.
Not to mention foam rolling just feels good - okay it doesn't always feel good but it does afterwards!
Walk and increase general activity
Activity is essential for increasing circulation, maintaining joint and bone health, and maximizing muscle recovery. Any activity will cause more anabolic activity and speed up recovery - within limits of course, too much activity will slow recovery. What's critical is to avoid sedentariness and do at least 1 activity a day.
It's also good to add in activities different than your main exercise. For example if you do a lot of running for training then you might want to look at swimming or bike riding. But overall low intensity activity shouldn't be so demanding that it hampers your recovery.
I make sure to walk everyday since it boosts my mood, energy levels and improves my productivity.
Wrapping it up
So work on your recovery to feel and look better. There is still a lot you can do such as Stress Management - which we will deal with in a future article. Finally, recovery is really one of the least known secrets of fitness 'gurus' and really anyone who maintains a highly productive lifestyle
Hope you enjoyed this post! Let us know what you do to recover from workouts and if you've noticed any of the effects from poor recovery.