Surviving Your Workout Aftermath
The people have spoken and we have answered! This next series of articles will be reflective of the Instagram poll we recently ran on article topics. This first article will cover the all-important aspect of workout recovery.
There are a lot of fancy gadgets, supplements, and exercise modalities that you are made to think are the secret to optimal recovery. I’m not saying that those things can’t work, but it can be so much simpler than we make it. In this article we will discuss what true recovery is, why it’s important, and how we can figure out a proper recovery plan to implement in our own schedules.
Recovery? What’s that?
First off, what exactly is recovery and why is it important? Recovery is not only our body’s return to homeostasis, or it’s natural, comfortable state, but the improvement of the body from one day to the next. In his article on Breaking Muscle, Jeff Kuhland explains recovery as follows:
“We have different systems that need to recover. These include hormonal, neurological, and structural. Our structural system includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Muscles recover the quickest because they receive direct blood flow. Tendons, ligaments, and bones receive indirect blood flow and therefore can take longer to recover and be more susceptible to overtraining stress.” (1)
Where we normally think of recovery from a structural standpoint, there are hormonal and neurological components to this as well. I won’t discuss that portion of it in this article, but if people are interested I can definitely do a follow up article later. We are going to cover the structural part of recovery in this article.
Going with the “keeping it simple” theme, I am going to break recovery down into 3 vital elements. We will call them the “Big 3”. The Big 3 are sleep, nutrition, and movement. Next, we will dive into each of these and their impact on the recovery process.
Catch those zzz’s…
Sleep might just be the most neglected and the most “self-pardoned” recovery method in this triumvirate. It is absolutely critical, just like the other two elements of the Big 3, that proper sleep is attained if optimal recovery is the goal. 7-9 hours of sleep each night is recommended but some people may need more depending on the level of activity (e.g. High level competitive sports).
Why is sleep so important though? Sleep is essential for the cellular, organic, and systemic functions of an organism, with its absence being potentially harmful to health and changing feeding behavior, glucose regulation, blood pressure, cognitive processes and some hormonal axes (2).
Let’s put this another way in case there was some confusion there. Along with the dietary protein requires to aid in muscle repair and new muscle growth, your body produces its own muscle-building hormones while you sleep, including human growth hormone (HGH). During the N3 stage of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, blood flow to your muscles increases, and tissue growth and repair occurs. During REM sleep, the muscles relax, which can help relieve tension and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. In fact, many of the critical restorative functions in the body—like tissue repair and muscle growth—occur mostly or only during sleep (3).
PAUSE. Read that last sentence again.
I know proper sleep can be hard to come by sometimes. Trust me, I have an infant. But it’s something we have to stop excusing away and ignoring.
So how do we figure out what our proper “bedtime” is and get on a good schedule? Sleep.org has a simple method of figuring it out that just requires some trial and error on your part. First, take what time you need to wake up in the morning. Subtract 7 to 9 hours from that time. Somewhere in those times is your proper “bedtime”. Then take that two hour window and if you try to go to sleep and are still awake after 20 minutes or so? That is probably too early. Inversely, if you find yourself struggling to stay awake, you may have gone just past that magic proper bedtime. Like I said, it will take some trial and error, but you will figure it out. After that, it’s all about consistency and sticking with that time no matter the day.
You are what your muscles eat.
Next is the super fun, tricky, and monotonous nutrition talk. I will do my best to give you some helpful information without being too vague. Recovery nutrition comes down to protein, carbohydrates and hydration. A lot of these suggestions are largely variable and please consult a certified nutritionist to learn more about your proper quantities for nutrients.
Okay, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, Renaissance Periodization suggests protein intake for proper recovery will be somewhere between 0.3 to 1g/lb of body weight. This is largely dependent on activity levels and your biology. Higher levels can be consumed, this is just a range. The primary purposes of protein in recovery are: 1) to promote training-induced adaptations to muscle fibers and 2) facilitate the replenishment of energy stores.
As “evil” as they are perceived by many to be, carbohydrates play an important part in structural recovery as well. Carbohydrates restore glycogen levels, provide nutrients to the body, and assist in tissue repair. Renaissance Periodization suggests that carb intake levels will be anywhere between 0.3 to 5g/lb of body weight. I know that is a huge range so I am going to simplify it to somewhere between 0.8 to 1.5g/lb for active adults. Remember, all of these are extremely variable based on the individual, so reach out to us for more information or consult a nutritionist if you have questions.
Drink up, buttercup!
Hydration is the ugly duckling of the “Big 3.” What I mean by that is that hydration is largely ignored and forgotten about on a day-to-day basis. The main purposes of hydration are to regain fluid lost during the day, making sure the cardiovascular system is being as efficient as possible, and to remove toxins from the body. A little fact to keep in mind when you are glazing over as I am telling you to DRINK MORE WATER is that muscles are around 79% water. So just think about where some of that water is going, which is making those muscles of yours look good and function at a high level. The Mayo Clinic suggests 3.7 liters a day for men and 2.7 liters a day for women. Now this means total hydration, but it should be largely water (4).
I like to move it, move it! You like to move it, move it!
Movement is the last, but not least, when it comes to the “Big 3.” It is very important to keep moving, even if you are sore for a day or two after your workout. This will help reduce muscle stiffness and soreness by promoting blood flow. Restoring and improving range of motion should definitely be an emphasis. This can mean yoga, general stretching, or something along those lines.
Mobility (dynamic stability through a range of motion) should always be a focus of recovery. Our bodies are designed to move and to move frequently. They are not designed to handle stresses, in or out of the gym, and then go sedentary. Sometimes full rest is very necessary for recovery, but I have found that only applies to about 10% or less of the time. The simple act of going for a walk or engaging in a leisurely performed recreational activity can be a great way to help promote blood flow without causing tissue damage. As a side note and benefit, this can work as a little boost to your caloric burn for weight loss/management purposes.
Recovery is not just the act of coming back to homeostasis but coming back stronger than pre-activity/pre-workout levels. It should be treated as an essential part of your wellness routine. The impact of properly planning your “Big 3” will be felt cognitively, hormonally, and structurally. Notice that at no point did I mention ice or anti-inflammatories as part of this process.
With proper management, our bodies will undergo what is called supercompensation. This is the peak of recovery where we are at our highest level of performance. This level cannot be maintained for long, but can be very easily accessed with the proper focus on training and recovery.
So to summarize a little, treat your recovery with at least the same level of attention that you do your training.
I hope you enjoyed this quick dive into workout recovery and I hope that you tune in to our other reader response articles we have coming up!
Check out this infographic for a breakdown of what we just went over:
This article does not necessarily represent the views/opinions of MadLab Performance LLC. This article is not meant to recommend health solutions in place of a doctor or other medical professional and should only be used to help those reading it gain more information prior to making their own decision.
Josh Kruhm, CPT, USAW-1, WLS, PES
Josh has experience with anything and everything, from prenatal and postpartum care to coaching high school athletes as they prepare for high-level DI careers. He specializes in getting the most out of whoever he is coaching. Josh is the Director of Education for MadLab Performance and manages the company’s personal trainers. He also is a frequent contributing writer for MadLab’s continuing education articles. Josh may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Kuhland, J. (2019, October 17). 7 Essential Elements of Rest and Recovery. Retrieved October 22, 2019, from https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/7-essential-elements-of-rest-and-recovery.
2. Dattilo, M., Antunes, H. K. M., Medeiros, A., Mônico Neto, M., Souza, H. S., Tufik, S., & de Mello, M. T. (2011, August). Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Retrieved October 22, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21550729/.
3. How Sleep Adds Muscle. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2019, from https://www.sleep.org/articles/how-sleep-adds-muscle/.
4. Water: How much should you drink every day? (2017, September 6). Retrieved October 22, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256.
5. Walker, O. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.scienceforsport.com/post-exercise-stretching/