Being fit and physically active is key for being healthy, but we need to know our limits and avoid excesses (also known as overtraining). Recovering from exercise is as important as exercising, so repairing damaged muscle and replenishing energy are critical if we want to see both fast and long-term results. Below we present you the best tips for an excellent post workout recovery.
What is recovery?
Here we will discuss recovery from exercise, including muscle recovery, reducing muscle soreness and fatigue, restoring hydration and energy levels.
Let’s start with an analogy. A mobile phone operates by using a battery, so if the battery is depleted it will stop functioning. Our body is similar: when we use it, we need to recharge it, or eventually it will stop functioning.
During workouts, our body is exposed to more energy consumption, muscle fibers get damaged, water and minerals (in the form of sweat) exit the body, etc. Recovery is the process by which energy is restored, muscles are repaired and liquids replenished, so that you can feel great the day after the workout, just as you felt the day before.
In short, the recovery process can be improved by healthy eating/drinking and resting enough.
Workout in a healthy way
Before thinking about recovery, be preventive, and think about working out correctly! If you put your body in danger by a bad posture or overtraining the recovery will be much tougher.
For a safe and effective workout the body (or the targeted muscle groups) should be well rested, and a proper posture should be applied during the exercises. A warm-up is also recommended to get the body ready and to reduce the risk of injuries.
If our muscles are not rested, and still sore from the previous session, a workout will be counterproductive because it will damage the muscles more than when they had a chance to repair. Overtraining also increases the probability for injuries, tiredness and stress. In women, it can affect the menstrual cycle negatively.
Different sports, different recoveries
Different sports will have different recovery focus. We don’t mean that you shouldn’t want to recover the whole body: you always want to repair damaged muscle tissue, decrease muscle pain, strengthen the immune system, and rehydrate and replenish glycogen levels. But the focus will be different for cardiovascular exercise and muscle building.
Recovery for cardio exercise
For cardio exercise, such as running or cycling, the physical stress is focused on the cardiovascular function, the muscles on the legs, and dehydration. The recovery for these types of exercises should consist primarily in rehydration, energy reposition and reducing muscle soreness and fatigue.
Muscle recovery for bodybuilding
For strength workouts, such as bodybuilding, the physical stress is focused on muscle destruction. Hence, the recovery should be focused on muscle repair and reducing muscle fatigue, and then energy reposition.
How to speed up the recovery process?
Immediately after training you should eat and drink foods that will help you recover:
- Liquids: during workouts, you sweat and lose liquids and minerals so it is important to rehydrate. You should rehydrate by drinking liquids such as water, isotonic drinks or fruit juices.
- Carbohydrates: Also during workouts you use the energy provided by carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) to fuel your activity. After the workout the glycogen levels are depleted so it is important to quickly replenish them by consuming high glycemic carbohydrates. Some recommendations include bread, bananas, potatoes, rice, pastas or fruit juices.
- Proteins: There will also be micro-ruptures in your muscle tissues that you will need to fix with protein (the main constituent of muscle). Some recommendations include meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
The ideal post workout meal
Your post workout meal should be rich in proteins and carbohydrates. You will need to drink plenty of liquids to rehydrate, and have a protein and carb-rich meal to help repair the muscles and replenish glycogen levels. Some great post workout meals include:
- Sweet potatoes, veggies and beef (or chicken breast) and eggs. This is a classic post workout meal for bodybuilders
- Tuna, eggs and rice with a side salad. If you are not on diet, adding some mayonnaise will make it more delicious.
- Chicken stir fry, with veggies and sweet potatoes. Cut the chicken in pieces and stir fry with veggies for a fast, delicious and nutritious meal. Have fruits as dessert.
Supplements for recovery
What you eat is key to muscle recovery, so you can use supplements to speed up and optimize the recovery process.
Muscle is made of protein, which in turn is made of amino acids. BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids) and Glutamine are two examples of amino acids related to muscle repair and growth. BCAA’s are indicated for muscle construction and repair, and Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in skeletal muscle, which gets depleted during a weightlifting workout, and needs to be replenished. You can get them through a protein shake or by individually supplementing 5 grams of BCAAs and 5 grams of Glutamine. Taken after workout they will speed up muscle repair and reduce muscle soreness and pain, shortening the recovery time.
After an intense training session, you should also take fast-release carbohydrates because the body urgently needs to replenish its glycogen reserves. Dextrose, maltodextrin and Vitargo drinks/shakes are some great options to quickly and easily replenish your glycogen reserves.
Resting and sleeping are perhaps the most important step of the recovery process. Repair occurs while we are asleep. It is during sleep that our organism is rebuilt, our memories consolidated, key-hormones regulated, plus a lot of other benefits. The time that you need to sleep depends on your organism, but usually, specialists recommend between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
During training the muscle fibers get teared and it is during recovery that muscle repair occurs. The time that you need to rest in between exercise sessions ranges between 24h and 72h. It depends on how regularly you train, age, the intensity and duration of the workout. If you are jogging 30 minutes a day, 24h probably should be enough. If you are bodybuilding, and train your legs today, you should let at least pass 72h before training the same muscle group again. The time needed for recovery depends on many factors, but as a general rule, if the muscle is still sore, the recovery is not finished.
Recovery: in a nutshell
In conclusion, recovery is as essential as exercise itself. If you are not recovered you may be pushing your body over its limit and doing more harm than good, so learning how to recover is fundamental.
Depending on the type of exercise the focus can change between reducing muscle soreness or restoring lost liquids, minerals and energy, but all these factors have some degree of importance, no matter the type of sports you are doing.
For a faster and more complete recovery you should pay attention to nutrition and rest. We offered some suggestions of foods and supplements that will enhance your post-workout recovery, but a thing to remember is to have a good balance of carbohydrates and proteins. At last, rest and sleep is fundamental and you should not skip it! It is during sleep that the body repairs itself, plus many other important bodily functions happen during sleep, plus, it is free!
So get your nutrition and sleep right and wish you a great recovery! ?
Did you find these tips useful or have any other tips to improve the recovery process? Please let us know in the comments below.