If you find yourself feeling a little sore after working out or any sort of physical activity, it’s probably a good idea to rest so that your muscles can properly recover.
No matter your preferred activity, sport, or hobby, you are putting constant strain and pressure on your muscles to perform. In order to reach peak performance, athletes and physically active individuals must give their muscles time to rest, heal and recover.
Muscle recovery is an important part of the muscle-building process. Muscle recovery is related to overall wellness and more recently, recognized as one of the most vital aspects of physical activity.
If you live a physically active lifestyle, understanding muscle recovery can make or break your fitness goals.
What is Muscle Recovery?
Muscle recovery is the period of time after physical activity that muscles have to recover from an exercise. There are three types of recovery: Immediate recovery, short-term recovery and training recovery.
Immediate recovery occurs immediately after an exercise.
For example, it is the immediate recovery in the glutes and hamstrings during repetitions of squats or leg presses.
Short-term recovery is recovery that occurs in the muscles between sets or intervals of two separate training sessions.
Finally, training recovery happens between workouts. For example, training recovery occurs between your 6:00 am run and your 7:00 pm CrossFit class.
This article will focus on expediting the training recovery process, as it is the longest period of recovery for muscles.
Why is Muscle Recovery Important?
You decide to begin running again after a few weeks of unhealthy eating, irregular sleep schedule and no exercise. After your first run you feel tired, but accomplished. You get home, shower, and begin getting ready for bed. You can’t wait to run again in the morning before work and you even get a great night's sleep because you were physically active during the day.
The next morning you gently wake up, roll over, and plant your feet on the floor. You go to lift yourself from the bed and you are rudely awakened with a tight pain up and down your legs.
This is muscle soreness due to a lack of activity and thoughtful muscle recovery. To expedite this muscle recovery, you can begin to rehydrate, eat a balanced, high-protein diet, maintain a regular sleep schedule and begin stretching, foam rolling and getting regular massages.
Muscle recovery prepares the body for your next round of physical activity. It is essential to improving performance as well as protecting the muscles from a potential injury.
If you find that your workouts have become notably painful or that you are experiencing physical fatigue, it may be time to let your muscles rest. Instead of just popping ibuprofen or aspirin and continuing with your HIIT, incorporate active rest into your workout regimen. Muscle recovery is an essential component of building muscle and maintaining fitness (and avoiding muscle damage and inflammation), so be sure to give your body a break when it tells you to.
5 Methods to Expedite Muscle Recovery
If you leave the gym or track with soreness or you wake up the morning after a workout with pain, you may want to evaluate your current method (if any) of muscle recovery. Five simple methods to expedite muscle recovery include stretching and rolling out muscles, being mindful of your diet, hydration, sleep, and massage therapy.
1. Stretch/Roll Out Muscles Daily
Pre- and Post-workout stretching is one of the most performed activities for muscle recovery. Stretching can decrease muscle soreness, increase flexibility and local blood flow to the muscles, increase overall mobility, and decrease neural excitability. With these effects in mind, stretching has been a useful form of muscle repair following exercise.
There are three types of stretching:
- Static Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching
- Pre-Contraction Stretching
Static stretching involves both active, or self-stretching and passing, or partner stretching and is seen as the most commonly practiced during post-exercise routines.
During static stretching, blood flow is decreased to the region on the body being stretched. After the stretch is released, blood flow floods the region at a significant increase prior to the level it was flowing before the stretch. This variation in blood flow can expedite recovery by delivering nutrients to the recovering muscles and joints while simultaneously improving your range of motion.
Make sure to stretch each muscle group, and incorporate a foam roller into your stretch routine. This can help remove "knots" from our muscles and fascia (connective tissue) more effectively.
2. Be Mindful of Your Diet
There is no doubt that consuming nutritious foods is better for your body than that quick trip to the drive-through (no matter how convenient it is!).
Think of food as fuel. What you consume will be fueling your body’s performance and recovery. When deciding on what to eat, take into consideration the amount of protein, vitamins and nutrients you are consuming.
Having a high-protein meal after physical activity and before sleep can aid in muscle recovery. One study found that protein consumed before sleep was effectively digested and found to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Whole-body protein balance was improved due to this and therefore aiding in overnight muscle recovery. Chocolate milk is another great post-workout snack because it's loaded with protein and carbs.
To expedite the recovery process, focus on consuming foods with a high-protein, high- carbohydrate content. These foods include greek yogurt, whole milk, rice and black beans, and whey protein powder. Of course, chicken is also a great source of protein and can be cooked in a variety of ways to maintain a diverse pallett. These foods will aid your body in muscle recovery and building.
Supplements with magnesium, calcium, fiber, or other vitamins and minerals can also help with muscle recovery, but they shouldn't be used in place of healthy everyday eating habits.
Make sure your reusable water bottle is handy! You’re going to need it.
A major key to muscle recovery is hydration. With water composing up to 60% of the human body, it is easy to see why drinking water throughout the day and especially after completion of an exercise is important. Water rids the body of toxins released during physical activity while also keeping the muscles hydrated. Dehydrated muscles can lead to those uncomfortable body cramps -- no fun!
Water is essential for life and provides a wide variety of benefits to the human body. Two of the main functions of water are to normalize blood pressure and stabilize the heartbeat, which is especially important during and post workout.
It seems that sleep can fix almost any problem, right? The same applies to muscle recovery. Rest is one of the most important muscle recovery techniques. Adequate sleep allows the body to repair its muscle tissue overnight. It is recommended that adults sleep 7-8 hours to allow the body to fully rest and recover from the day before.
Not only do muscle tissue repairs happen in our sleep, so does hormone production. Testosterone increases during sleep, which consequently increases physical and mental performance the following day. This increase in testosterone also reduces chances of injury, and if a sleep schedule is maintained, will remain a consistent source of energy.
If you have trouble maintaining a regular sleep schedule, there are a few methods you can try to unwind before bed.
- Turn off all electronics an hour before bed (TV, phone, laptop, ect). Blue light from screens prohibits the brain from releasing melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone. By powering down before bed, your body will begin to naturally prepare for a good night’s rest.
- Plan your wake and bed time. Try your best to set a designated wake-up time and bed-time, each with a specific routine that allows you time to begin your day and relax before ending it. Having a daily sleep routine is an effective method when
- Implement a brief meditation, yoga or light stretching routine in your nightly routine. This small exercise routine will allow yourself to be mindful, bringing your thoughts away from your mind and back to your body. Mindfulness is an effective technique to unwind and relax the mind before sleep.
5. Massage Therapy
Along with being the ultimate de-stressing activity, getting a massage is an effective muscle recovery technique. Massages increase blood flow to the muscles, which in turn expedites the muscle recovery process. After a tough workout, you may feel soreness in the legs, arms, back or other areas on the body that were strained during the exercise. Through tissue massages, the increase in circulation to the muscles can help reduce soreness as well as fatigue that follows from a tough workout.
BONUS: Create a Mindful Workout Schedule
We all know that working out comes with myriad benefits, from promoting better sleep quality to reducing the risk of health issues. But taking care of your health and wellness requires more than just hitting the gym every day—you need to create a mindful workout schedule that incorporates active rest days and workouts of varying intensities to give your body time to heal.
Alternate between low-intensity workouts like body weight exercises or yoga, and high-intensity workouts like HIIT or CrossFit. This will provide an opportunity for active recovery, which can help lessen the symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and muscle tension.
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Through a combination of active rest, stretching, hydration, rest, massage, and diet, you can optimize your training and mindfully power your muscles. Reach your fitness goals, with BioHealth.