‘It isn’t hard to be good from time to time. It’s hard to be good every day.’ – Nick Bollettieri.
Recovery is a crucial part of any fitness regime. It has a major impact on your progression and performance in sport or at the gym. Unfortunately, in a bid to experience fitness gains faster, many of us will overtrain our muscles and not allow them the rest they require to function optimally. Excessive training of our muscle groups leads to tissue breakdown as opposed to building, which is certainly not the aim of all those hours of hard training.
In order to maximise your training potential, you should implement a post-exercise recovery routine.
If you expect your body to be ready for the next physical challenge (endurance/ muscle building), you need to provide your body with the nutritional components it requires for an effective recovery. Complex carbohydrates are necessary to restore depleted glycogen stores and high quality protein is essential to repair damaged muscle tissue.
Ever heard of the one-hour window? Research suggests there is a window of opportunity, which lasts up to one hour post-workout. Following a workout, muscles are damaged, depleted and biochemically primed for nutrient uptake. Ingesting carbs and protein during this time frame can help replenish glycogen stores and shuttle protein into muscle for optimal repair and recovery.
Whey protein shakes are ideal as they are rapidly absorbed and utilised by the body.
Water supports metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve recovery. We also lose essential electrolytes through sweat when we exercise so it is important to replenish these. Electrolyte fuel sports drinks are perfect for this purpose. If you prefer water, sprinkle salt onto your post-workout meal to ensure you regain the sodium your body needs.
Your body has an amazing capacity to look after itself if you allow it some time. Time is the ultimate healer after all. However, if you want to speed up this process you might want to try...
High intensity exercise results in increased levels of both intramuscular and circulating levels of lactate. These increases in lactate have been shown to inhibit contractile performance and cause premature fatigue.
Athletes use active recovery in two ways; between sets or post-workout as a cooling down phase.
A study conducted at the University of Essex found that active recovery encouraged lactic acid removal and helped speed recovery (Micklewright, Beneke and Sellens, 2006). Low-intensity activity assists blood circulation which, in turn, helps remove lactic acid from the muscle. Low-intensity active recovery appears to significantly reduce accumulated blood lactate and speed muscle recovery.
I know this will be the most difficult task to get you onboard with, because it is the LAST thing you want after a hard workout right?
If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a massage or persuade someone you love to give you a massage, then you will be improving circulation and reducing inflammation of those aching muscles at a cellular level. Of course, there is the added bonus that it feels really good and helps to relax you both physically and mentally.
New studies have also found that massage appears to promote the growth of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle. If you didn’t already know, these are the cells which are powerhouses of energy!
If you are lonely because you spend too much time working out and have no time for a social life, you can buy a foam roller or massage ball to apply pressure to those sore muscles yourself.
Ice baths and contrast water therapy (alternating between hot and cold temperatures) aid fast recovery, reduce muscle soreness and prevent injury.
When you get into an ice bath for 5-10 minutes, the water causes your blood vessels to tighten, restricting blood flow to the limbs and extremities. When you get out of the bath, blood will begin to fill the vessels that are now expanding and invigorate the muscles with oxygen. This blood will then circulate, helping to remove the lactic acid that has built up as a result of exercise. A considerable amount of professional athletes use this method to help their muscles stay fresh and avoid injury.
Contrast water therapy is designed to repeatedly constrict and dilate blood vessels to help flush out waste products from the tissues post-exercise. Research has shown that this method can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
If you do not regularly get enough sleep you risk limiting your motivation, energy levels and ability to recover from exercise.
Between 7-9 hours is recommended for adults but we are all unique and you may not fall into that time frame. Studies have shown that less than 5 hours is detrimental to health. There is no conclusive evidence to support the theory that too much sleep has a negative impact on us, so if you have the chance, sleeping in on the weekend could be just what you need!
Try to gage how much sleep you need depending on how you feel and how you perform. If you feel extremely fatigued during your training sessions, odds are that you are doing more harm than good!
Van Loon, L.J., Saris, W.H., Kruijshoop, M., & Wagenmakers, A.J, Maximising post-exercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures.(2000) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72, 106-111
Micklewright D, Beneke R, Sellens M H, Gladwell V, Blood lactate removal using combined massage and active recovery (2006), Biology of Sport, 23(4).