The work you do in the gym is important, granted. Whilst there’s a lot of truth to the phrase ‘No pain, no gain’, in the context of building muscle, I feel something like, ‘No pain, no gain… but remember the days when you don’t go to train’ is more apt (or something similar, but with more sophisticated use of poetry). The point is, your recovery periods matter – almost as much as a training routine itself.
You’re probably familiar with the importance of protein and its role in muscle development. Immediately following your session, whey protein is a fitting choice because it has a fast rate of absorption, initiating the repair/growth process. However, there are other foods and supplements that are sometimes overlooked; these can offer various benefits, which collectively aid your recovery. That way, when you step back into the gym, you’ll feel ready to hit a new level, onwards and upwards in the direction of your goals!
Here are the top five nutrients that can make a notable difference to your progress, post-lift.
Magnesium is involved in literally hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body, which translate to energy metabolism, bone health, and upkeep of the nervous system. It also supports normal muscle function –including cardiac muscle. Magnesium assists muscular contraction and relaxation, but it’s thought to be a powerful antidote to stress, lack of sleep and muscle soreness – all of which impact your recovery.
You can find magnesium in foods like nuts and seeds, brown rice and spinach, yet many of us in the UK are deficient in this vital mineral (without even knowing it). This is largely because the soil which cultivates our crops tends to be low in magnesium; a supplement can provide the solution to this. You can find it as part of a high-quality multi-vitamin/mineral complex, as ZMA (the ‘Z’ being zinc), or as lone supplement. The recommended, therapeutic dose is said to be 400-420mg for men, and 310-320mg for women.
Your body is also able to absorb magnesium via the skin – if you’ve never tried an Epsom salt bath, I’d highly recommend it! When you’re aching after the gym, add a good few handfuls of Epsom salts – which are naturally rich in magnesium – to warm, running water. Soak for 20-30 minutes; you’ll experience some notable relief, and sleep like a baby. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil, and that’s a party for your muscles!
2. Slow-release carbs
With protein at the forefront, it can be easy to overlook the other aspect of recovery: carbs. Fast-release carbs (sugars) have been shown to assist muscle growth immediately following training by causing a peak in insulin, and ‘shuttling’ amino acids into the muscle cells. However, low-GI (slow-release) carbs replenish glycogen stores, and help to sustain your performance in the gym.
Unless you’re cutting carbs for a reason, or you’re following a ketogenic plan, ‘good’ carbs can positively influence your next training session. Good sources include sweet potato, quinoa, wild or Basmati rice, lentils, root veggies and fruit.
Glutamine is so, so, SO important to both muscle recovery and general health. It’s classed as a conditionally essential amino acid, which means our bodies can make it, but levels tend to deplete easily through intense training and periods of stress or illness. Glutamine is one of the most abundant aminos in skeletal muscle, thus it plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis. More than this though – it’s required to keep our immune system ticking over, and contributes to digestive health.
Taking up to 5g daily (on both training and non-training days) promotes recovery that exceeds muscle repair and growth.
Βeta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (try saying that fast!), or HMB, is a metabolite of leucine. Our bodies naturally convert about 5% of leucine to HMB, but supplementing a higher intake can offer a potent, anti-catabolic effect. It can be all too easy to focus on muscle-building – whilst forgetting to limit muscle-breakdown, and risk undoing all the hard work you’re putting in!
Some experts say HMB can help to reduce muscle pain or ‘DOMS’, too. Optimal dose can vary depending on your build, but up to 3g daily is said to be most effective, taken throughout the day (including rest days). Capsules are the most convenient way to achieve this.
Every single cell in your body requires H20 to function, and being dehydrated can knock everything off-balance. It’s easy to ‘forget’ to drink until you’re obviously thirsty; sweating and gasping for water – usually during exercise. However (and I’m guilty of this one), there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to drink water, believe it or not. Not surprisingly, the example outlined above is how not to do it; instead, you should aim to sip water gradually throughout the day, every day.
Water intake varies so much according to all sorts of factors like your size, and the weather/temperature of the room (in hot weather you’ll automatically require more fluids), but as a rule of thumb, between 1.5 and 3 litres daily is about right.
So, there you have it: five nutrients/supps you can consume daily to maximise your recovery, reduce DOMS and be rearing to go for the next gym o’clock!