Exercise offers a range of benefits. It makes you fitter, stronger, and faster. But, if you're like most people, adapting to a new workout regime can be hard - you may face extreme muscle soreness. Ever wondered why? Exercising muscles can cause microscopic tears to them, fluctuate hormone levels, and increase inflammation. While they all sound negative, these are undoubtedly positive effects on the body. Following a strict workout regimen can improve posture, muscle growth, insulin sensitivity, better respiration, and heart health. If workouts are that good, then why is recovery important?
Post-exercise recovery (PER) is a vital component in a training program. Allowing the body to actively recover from working out lets you to perform better in subsequent exercise routines. Personal trainers often include various measures - changes in nutrition, compression garments, and cold-water immersion. These would help in quick recovery from their intense regimes and aid in consistent performance in their next workout.
For non-professionals, post-exercise recovery helps in becoming leaner, more flexible, and reaching your personal fitness goals! Repeatedly training a muscle group with no recovery time only leads to tissue breakdown instead of building.
Importance of exercise recovery
To understand the importance, let’s look at an extreme situation. Over-training syndrome (OTS) is when an individual over trains and pushes themselves to limits without paying attention to nutrition, rest, and emotional status. This leads to depression, decreased performance, excessive fatigue, restless sleep, loss of appetite, decreased immunity, and so on. Muscles do not grow as you work them, but grow as you actively rest.
Recovery also leads to the following benefits:
- Keeps muscles flexible
- Reduces toxic build-up in muscles
- Increases blood flow
- Helps in maintaining an exercise routine
Types of exercise recovery
Passive recovery is to be completely at rest after an intense workout. This could include lying down, sitting, and being inactive. This is not recommended for everyone, and should only be done if faced with a serious injury, or in pain. It is also good to follow passive recovery if you feel mentally/physically exhausted from your workout regime.
Active recovery, on the other hand, is mostly recommended. This includes doing light, low-impact exercises and routines that help the blood flow, allowing toxins (liked built-up lactic acid) to be flushed out. Examples of active recovery include yoga, walking, low-impact cycling, tai chi, or foam rolling. There are many ways to actively recover, you may follow a cool-down routine after your workout, or following cross-training- details will be covered later.
Genetics of exercise recovery
Like several fitness traits, the average time of recovery you'd need post-intense workout is determined by your genes. Many different genes are involved, two of widely studied ones are CKM and MMP3.
Creatine Kinase, M-type (CKM) codes for a protein that is involved in energy homeostasis. It is used in energy transfer channels within the body. This protein is also involved in maintaining body mass index, muscle damage repair, and inflammation response.
Variants of CKM gene
Certain variants of this gene influence your recovery time. One allelic variant is G. If an individual has GG genotype, they would have average time for recovery after an intense exercise. However, having a TT genotype would be requiring a longer recovery time than most.
The proteins of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP3) gene family help in tissue remodelling and wound repair. They have also been implicated in conditions like arthritis. Until triggered by another enzyme, these proteins remain inactive.
Variants of MMP3 gene
Gene variants of MMP3 has been linked to PER time. The A allele at a particular region in this gene is significantly related to a longer recovery time, which could be attributed to inflammatory responses being triggered.
6 ways to recover post-workout
1. Structured rest
It is important to schedule a break from intense training to allow the body to rest and repair itself before another set of intense training. This could be even last a week of no intense training, but of mild, low-impact exercises like walking. This allows for muscle growth and repair.
A good 8-hour sleep would help in repairing muscles. The body secretes growth hormones that help in muscle growth and repair. Try to avoid any distractions before sleep- like using mobile devices and having caffeine, and ensure that you clock in the 8 hours.
3. Active recovery
Incorporate active recovery into your training schedule. Ensure that you cool-down after exercising by doing yoga and stretches. This would help release the built-up lactic acid, and help in conditioning your muscles and flexibility. You could also cross-train- in this way, you avoid working the same group of muscles, giving ample time for recovery. Foam rolling is also a reliable active recovery, to relax strained muscles.
4. Massages and extra treatments
Athletes and professionals usually have ice baths that help tremendously in muscle recovery. Massages are also helpful to relax over-stretched and overused muscle groups. Wearing compression garments also help in quick recovery times.
5. Mind work
Active visualization exercises, and listening to music with a slow tempo has also been seen to relax muscle groups, aiding in recovery.
6. Anti-inflammatory creams and medicines
If the muscles are over-trained, you may massage in some muscle creams, or take an anti-inflammatory like aspirin, to reduce the pain.
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Recovery: The nutrition way
Even if you train optimally, if the nutrition is insufficient, you may suffer from increased muscle soreness, reduced performance, and increased fatigue.
It’s important to replenish lost water within 12 hours of training. Rehydrating should be done right after a training session. Dairy-based drinks like smoothies offer the full package from carbohydrates, lipids, protein, and electrolytes. For other goals, regular meals are enough. Drinking chocolate milk is also good, the protein kickstarts recovery, and the carbs in this drink energize the body. Tart cherry juice is another option, as it reduces inflammation. Skip alcohol for two reasons, one is because it could dehydrate you, and interferes in protein production, delaying muscle repair.
Proteins help in repairing and building muscle. Consuming the right amount of protein provides enough resources for the body to use to replenish the amino acid stores in the body. About 0.14-0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight is recommended. Eating protein before sleeping helps the body in repairing muscles overnight, and eating protein in the morning helps curbs cravings. Eating protein before and after workout serves the same purpose- you trigger the repair mechanism even before you work out.
Fats could reduce the rate of absorption of a meal, however, adding a small amount of fat can help in promoting muscle growth. Saturated and trans-fats (fats derived from animals, or synthetic fats) are to be avoided due to their deleterious effect on health and recovery. Essential fats are important, and can be sourced from avocados, chia seeds and nuts.
Replenishing carbs is important for recovery. The amount of carbs is dependent on the intensity of training. If you do more endurance sports like swimming and running, then you would require more carbs. Also, if you train more often during the day, then it is imperative your glycogen stores by having adequate carbs. The ratio of carbs to protein should 3:1.
Some sample meals post-workout could be:- grilled chicken with roasted vegetables, salmon with sweet potato, cottage cheese, and fruits, pita bread with hummus, multi-grain bread, and raw peanuts.
4 common misconceptions about recovery
1. Rest days are for lazy people
This is a common misconception, but depending on the intensity of your training, it important to take 1 to 2 days of just to rest. This could be active or passive recovery, but the aim is to allow the body to repair itself so that you can come back to stronger.
2. Sleep is not important
Sleep is the most important factor when it comes to goals of gaining muscle or losing weight. It is the prime time when the body gets to repair muscles. As mentioned before, growth hormones have secreted that help in this process. Lack of sleep, reduces the amount of this hormone, leading to sabotaged fitness goals.
3. Recovery is all fancy ice water immersions and foam rollers
While these tools and techniques may help, it is not essential. The most important rest is sleep, and you need to make sure you get the full 8 hours’ worth of it. Diet is another important factor, and always listen to your body and do not force yourself to train if you aren’t ready for it.
4. Antioxidant supplements helps in recovery
As mentioned above, exercise does, in a sense, damage the body. But this damage is good, and once you've recovered, you become stronger and more fit. Studies on the effect of taking antioxidant supplements (like Vitamin C and Vitamin E) after working out show that it does not affect the reduction of ROS produced by exercise. While it is important to keep your vitamin levels in check, there is no need to include it in your post-workout meal.
7 awesome tips to stay fit
Now that we have seen the importance of recovery, let’s look at other tips to stay fit.
1. Have an intention
People tend to stick to an exercise routine when they have a definite goal. Work towards that goal. Stay determined. You got this!
2. A little bit goes a long way
You don't have to have intense workouts every single day, the idea is to get moving- this, in turn, would produce endorphins and would motivate you to work harder.
3. Take baby steps
Start with easy goals. When you finish them, this would motivate you further to set tougher goals.
4. Use variety
If you don’t like lifting weights, try dancing, or if that doesn’t suit you, then try yoga. There are a lot of different routines that you can follow, and if you enjoy what you’re doing, the fitness goals become secondary.
5. Increase the intensity
Plateauing is normal while working out. When you feel that a routine is too easy, try adding more weight, or try to run faster, this also brings about some variety and pushes you further.
6. Listen to your body
If you feel you cannot move or you just can’t work out for the day, it is also good to take a day off, just to recover.
7. Clean your diet
Even if you work out every day, you won't see any progress unless you stick to a healthy diet. Try opting for fresh meats, green and leafy vegetables, fruits, and dairy.
Recovery is a part of your workout routine and has just as much importance as cardio or strength training. Over-training, pushing your body to limits, without allowing time for recovery, would only sabotage fitness goals. Try to take a holistic approach when you begin a workout regime. It is good to push yourself, adapt, and grow, but keep in mind active recovery practices to make your exercise effective.
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