Training is an essential part of the equation when it comes to building the body of your dreams, but we often forget that the real magic happens when we recover between exercise sessions.
Lifting weights provides the stimulus needed to change your body, but the real transformation happens when you create the ideal environment for recovery. Here are 5 ways to ensure you don’t get it wrong…
1. Skipping your post-exercise recovery meal
Exercise is a stimulus that causes muscle breakdown, but it also initiates a number of processes that help to stop the breakdown of tissue, and repair and rebuild this damage. However, to be effective you need to supply your muscles and tissues with the nutrients needed to fuel the process and the elements (amino acids) required to repair and rebuild the damage. Skipping a meal or recovery supplement after a workout is a sure-fire way to lose muscle and prolong the inflammation caused by exercise, which can increase tissue damage.
2. Eating the wrong foods
While eating as soon as possible after a training session is vitally important, the composition of your meals should also be an important consideration. It’s vital to get the macronutrient balance right, not to mention the type and form of these macronutrients.
For instance, it’s advised that you avoid high-fat foods because they are more slowly digested. This reduces gastric emptying, which delays the digestion and absorption of carbs and protein – the macronutrients your body needs right after a tough training session. Muscles need a large dose of protein to start the rebuilding and repair process, and carbs to replenish spent energy.
3. Staying up late
When you sleep a number of natural processes get to work to repair and rejuvenate your body. The release of important hormones related to repair and growth increases when we sleep. Your body also shifts blood flow to resting, inactive muscles to aid the recovery process. If you get less than the required 7-9 hours of sleep a night, you aren’t giving your muscles the time they need to repair and adapt to your hard training sessions.
4. Taking a hot shower or bath
Immediately following exercise, especially high intensity exercise that has a higher metabolic impact, one of your body’s primary requirements is to reduce body heat. This is mainly achieved through sweating and a rise in heart and respiratory rates.
There are also a number of processes that are required to return our bodies to a state of equilibrium following exercise. Many of these processes produce heat, which our bodies also need to get rid of. All of these processes have a direct impacton our rate of recovery and, consequently, our performance at our next training session. Jumping in a scolding hot shower or bath will increase the time it takes to bring down our body temperature. This can increase the recovery demands, so instead of taking a hot shower after your training session, try alternating between cold and warm water. You can also drink something that is ice cold, be it a supplement, bottle of water or electrolyte replacement drink.
5. Doing nothing
For many of us a tough workout is normally followed by eight or more hours spent sitting at a desk, or an afternoon spent with our feet up on the couch. However, few things are as detrimental to your recovering muscles.
Extended periods of inactivity reduces the amount of blood that flows to your muscles, which slows the repair process. Electrical activity in your muscles also decreases, which reduces your metabolic rate. All of these factors combine to increase stiffness and soreness, which can negatively impact your next training session.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.