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Muscle Recovery After Exercise

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Despite what you may read on fitness blogs, the simple truth is that there’s no better way to help your muscles recover than healthy food and getting a good night’s sleep.

A healthy lifestyle is critical to maximising strength and nervous system recovery; you can undo good work through poor nutrition and a lack of sleep. This also applies to expensive supplements to achieve results from their workouts. Before you rush out and buy tools, supplements and accessories, take care of the basics first.

This article gives you Thirteen proven tips to maximise your muscle recovery and gains to help build consistent progress.

How long does muscle recovery take?

Muscle recovery to recover from exercise depends on the dose (workout intensity or duration), Fitness levels, and the frequency of the workouts.

Light workouts may take less than 24 hours. In contrast, heavy exercises such as legs may take 2 to 3 days depending on several factors such as sleep, nutrition, recovery tools and techniques, and external stress.

Training makes you worse, and recovery makes you better; activity acts as the stimulus, and recovery is the key to healing, recovery and gains. Time, It’s essential to give your body time to recover fully after a workout; otherwise, injuries become a risk. Recovery tools, proper sleep and nutrition can accelerate the process. Common overworked muscle groups include Biceps and calves as they are often overworked by specific exercises and indirectly as a secondary movement in alternative activities. Compression boots and arms can assist in faster recovery in these two areas.

Progressive overload in training with a scheduled de-loading week every 3rd or 4th week should ensure healthy progress towards gains and fitness improvements.

14 Proven Tips to Maximise Muscle Recovery

1. Active Recovery

Light movement such as walking, leisurely swimming or cycling on your rest days can help promote blood flow to accelerate waste removal and nutrient delivery to repair the muscles and remove metabolic waste products. This should be easy to work into your day, such as taking the stairs rather than the lift or making time for 10 minutes of walking.

2. Scheduled Recovery Days

Scheduling recovery is essential to avoid overloading muscle groups and creating the time and space for recovery. For example, here is a three muscle group strength schedule giving a whole week to recover:

Monday: Back and Biceps
Tuesday: 40 mins easy bike or jog
Wednesday: Chest and arms
Thursday: 30 mins swim
Friday: Legs and core
Saturday: 75 mins bike or walk.
Alternative days have active recovery in the form of cardio.

3. Post-workout Protein

The proteins that make up your muscle fibres become damaged when you exercise. Protein after your workout can significantly boost the repair of muscle damage, translating into faster recovery and gains.

Not all protein supplements are the same; those that are lactose intolerant may not get good results with Whey based. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives. In any case, I suggest starting with natural food where convenient.

A rule of thumb is that 20 to 40 grams of your trusted source of protein are enough to maximise recovery and muscle growth.

4. Pre-workout Protein

preloading with protein before a workout may help increase muscle protein synthesis. As with post-workout recommendations.

5. Post-workout Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are stored in muscles as glycogen for energy. During High-intensity workouts, your muscles use this glycogen as their primary form of energy.
Suppose you need to rapidly restore glycogen levels in less than four hours, such as when performing back-to-back workouts. In that case, the recommendations are consuming 1.2 g/kg of body weight per hour, focusing on carbohydrates with a higher glycaemic index (GI) (> 70 such as oats, brown rice, pasta, whole grain bread, legumes and potatoes)

6. A balanced diet is your friend

Quality real food in an overall healthy diet can ensure that you don’t develop any nutrient deficiencies that may impair your muscles’ recovery ability.
As a general rule, this means:

  • don’t eat food that comes out of a packet,
  • eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit and getting protein of at least 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kg of body weight per day
  • Inflammation Busters – Certain foods after exercise may reduce inflammation, muscle damage, and muscle soreness. these foods include
    tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, spinach, kale, collards, nuts like almonds and walnuts, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and fruits strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.

7. Stay hydrated

Dehydration is the enemy of muscle repair and growth. Naturally, this is more of an issue in hot, humid climates. Rule of thumb, for hot climates, 750 ml to 1l per hour of exercise, preferably with a suitable electrolyte source of trace elements such as sodium, magnesium and potassium; these are the body’s generals that manage healthy cell energy transactions and will cause performance ad recovery issues if depleted.

8. Creatine monohydrate

Creatine is confirmed to improve muscular strength when combined with resistance training. It has also been proven that creatine may help athletes recover from intense training by helping reduce muscle damage and inflammation and replenish muscle glycogen.

9. Protein powder

Protein supplements such as Whey or plant-based powders are convenient for adding more protein to your diet.
There are many more plant-based alternatives to Whey available now for those that are lactose intolerant. Protein in bars or ready to drink options is widely known to ensure optimal protein intake timing within 30 mins of your workout completion.

10. Sleep more

sleep muscle recovery

Is muscle built during sleep?

Sleep is the body’s #1 recovery modality for muscles and the nervous system, the great regulator for growth and repair. Athletes typically need more rest than the average person due to the additional recovery requirement.

Don’t be too legalistic about setting the alarm every morning for an early morning training session; It is not unusual to require up to ten hours of quality sleep a night, measured by 25% REM, 25% Deep and 50% light sleep.

How long should you rest muscle groups?

Sound strategies for allowing enough recovery time under a training program are the split session, +4, +8 and +24 hour rule.
let me explain –
+4 means refers to hours delaying a morning training till lunchtime
+8 means delaying morning training until the evening
+24 means complete rest day and complete the session the following
Split session – where a long morning ride, run or swim is scheduled in the morning, split into 40/60% of volume in the morning and evening. This will give you the same volume at a lower cost on your recovery.

The downside of lack of sleep is muscle recovery impairment and the body’s inflammation reaction, and the associated production of growth hormones. BTW Ice baths also mess with this natural process in the wrong way.

11. Massage

A good sports masseuse is worth its weight in gold and should be a regular fortnightly or monthly appointment on an athlete’s calendar. A good practitioner will break down scar tissue and restore the normal range of movement for muscles trapped in a repetitive range of motion, e.g. running, cycling, or swimming. Beware, you may feel temporarily worse for a few days after a massage. To schedule a recovery week and far, far away from competition dates.

12. Compression garments and Compression boots

compression recovery

Although the jury is out on wearing compression garments, it has become common among athletes over the past several decades. The issue with them is that they offer a small amount of static compression (20mmhg) and are only effective when you are moving.

A limited number of studies have confirmed minimal effectiveness in speeding up recovery from exercise. Active recovery, such as an easy jog or swim, can help. This results in muscle contraction to assist with lymphatic drainage and venous return; however, this process can be accelerated by using a compression boot.

A more recent tool for recovery is the compression boot. There is science behind it from the medical world, but in short, they help SPEED UP your Recovery and assist you in being able to train and play harder sooner! Who doesn’t want that?

How it works – The body will naturally remove metabolic waste via the body’s lymphatic system; however, our muscles contract to push the lymphatic fluid blood back out of the leg as lymphatic and the venous systems cant pump it out by themselves.

Recovery boots accelerate the body’s recovery and naturally remove bi-products that contribute to muscle soreness.

Active compression is applied using the boots, compressing the vessels (from the toes up) like the muscle when they contact. The increased circulation (10 x that of a compression sock) improves metabolic waste elimination during the squeeze phase and, just as important, accelerates the delivery of oxygen and nutrients in the release phase.

This turbocharging of recovery with compression boots has also improved sleep quality for many athletes as it puts the athlete into a parasympathetic mode (rest and digest)

13. Contrast therapy and ice baths, and Cryotherapy.

Contrast therapy involves alternating periods of submerging in the hot and cold water of around 10c.
This temperature change stimulates the contraction and dilation of your blood vessels and changes your heart rate.

Cryotherapy exposes your body to a freezing temperature for 2 to 3 minutes.

There is evidence that it may be able to speed up recovery by reducing pain, inflammation, and muscle tiredness after strenuous activity.

Ice Baths – Ice baths are helpful for collision sports such as rugby or fighting sports, as they control internal bleeding and act as pain relief; however, for all other sports, ICE may be detrimental to recovery as they delay the body’s natural inflammation response which is the first phase of healing and recovery.

Clinic based vs home based recovery – the convenience of home-based recovery trumps occasional visits to clinics – when it comes to recovery, convenience is essential. It will lead to an increased frequency of treatment, so focus on tools that you can regularly use at home rather than an occasional visit to a clinic. The frequency of use will pay dividends.

14. Alcohol

Many people love a drink; however, moderation or abstinence is the key. Consuming alcohol impairs glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis after endurance exercise.

The takeaway

underestimating muscle recovery puts yourself at risk of injury -Injuries can range from mild to severe tears.
Whether being a competitive athlete or training for fitness, healing can stagnate improvements in your fitness level; maximising your muscle recovery requires a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep.

No magic pills, potions or tools can make up for bad habits in these two areas so make recovery your daily ritual towards marginal gains.