Workout recovery is one of the most important components of your exercise plan. Find out why, and how you can reap the rewards of your rest period.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING RECOVERY?
While you’re relaxing on the sofa or getting a good night’s sleep after a workout day, your body is busy repairing and rebuilding tissue.
So what do our bodies get up to during recovery?
1. MUSCLE REPAIR
During vigorous activity, our muscle fibers tear and break down. These micro-tears are repaired during recovery, and our bodies produce more muscle fibers, as an adaptive response to extra demand on muscles.
More muscle fibers mean more bulk and increased strength and stamina the next time you train.
2. MIGHTY MITOCHONDRIA
Mitochondria provide energy in cells. Muscles have a huge demand for energy and so contain more mitochondria than most cells in the body.
During recovery periods, we make more muscle cells and also more mitochondria.
The more mitochondria we have, the more energy we have, which we can channel into even better workouts after recovery.
3. MAKING ANTIOXIDANTS
When we exercise, we create inflammation in the body.
This sounds bad but this inflammatory response plays a role in the rebuilding and repair of muscle. And, in moderation, is very healthy, because our cells produce their own antioxidants in response.
This surge of antioxidant production protects our cells and helps protect our mitochondria.
THE RISKS OF NOT HAVING ADEQUATE RECOVERY
Lack of proper rest between workouts leads to:
- Poor muscle growth
- Lack of energy
- Greater risk of injury
- An imbalance between exercise and other areas of your life
HOW LONG SHOULD RECOVERY BE?
Most sports scientists recommend a 48-hour recovery period. This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid exercise for two days. If you’re focused on weight training, for example, you can work on one set of muscles during one session and work on another the next day.
We also have two different types of muscle – fast-twitch and slow-twitch. You can work on fast-twitch on one day, which requires low reps using heavyweights. On the next day, focus on building slow-twitch muscles using high reps with smaller weights.
If you’re a runner or cyclist, fast-twitch muscles are exercised during high-intensity interval training, such as sprinting.
Slow-twitch muscles are used for endurance activities, e.g longer, slower runs or bike rides.
THE BENEFITS OF CROSS-TRAINING
Cross-training is a great way to allow your body to repair and recover but still build stamina and fitness.
And for those who find it hard to do nothing on rest days, this is a good compromise.
Cross-training involves doing an activity that is very different from your normal workout. For instance, if you’re training for a running event, you can swim on your non-running days.
This gives your joints and muscles you normally use a rest, but still allows you to work on stamina and breathing.
If the main emphasis of your exercise is weight training. You can do more aerobic work on rest days, such as walking, cycling or a little running.
Gentle yoga is also a great way to build flexibility, balance and mental focus.
The key is to go easy and don’t push too hard.
BEST NUTRITION FOR RECOVERY
PROTEIN AND CARBS
Having protein soon after a workout is crucial to recovery and muscle building. Proteins provide amino acids, the building blocks of muscle and all other tissue in the body.
You can use protein foods, such as meat, eggs, and pulses. Whey protein powders are also very useful as a quick, convenient way to get your protein in. It also means you know exactly how much protein you’re getting.
Amino acids are most effectively absorbed when ingested with carbohydrates. So adding a banana to your protein shake is useful, or you can add rice or pasta to a meat-based meal.
Casein powder is a dairy-based protein that is much more slowly absorbed than whey protein. If you want that extra boost, take casein at night and allow it to work on your muscles while you sleep.
BCAAs stand for branched-chain amino acids and are the most important amino acids for building muscle.
While protein foods and protein drinks will contain these BCAAs, you may want an extra boost post-workout. You can buy protein powders with BCAAs added or you can take them as a separate supplement.
WATER AND ELECTROLYTES
We can potentially lose a few liters of fluid as well as important minerals during exercise, especially if the activity is prolonged and/or in hot weather.
Keep rehydrating post-workout and add some electrolytes to your drink to help replenish lost mineral salts.