So you have this working out thing down. You make time for the gym and get there 3 – 5 times a week. But man, are you sore. You feel like you can barely move by the time the end of the week gets here. You wonder, “Is this what it is supposed to feel like?” Though muscle soreness is normal and part of the bodies normal growth process, there are ways that we can help aid the recovery of our muscles and ensure the body is working optimally. Here are 5 things you can do to help your body recover.
Our bodies have a lot of water in them and require a lot of water to function at their peak levels. I’m sure you all have heard that if you wait until you are thirsty to drink water then you are already dehydrated. Thus it is very important that we consistently consume adequate amounts of water even if we may not feel like we need it. Dehydration will inhibit your body’s ability to regulate its normal functions and not allowing it to recover as efficiently.
Good hydration will also help you more accurately interpret your body’s hunger cues. Precision Nutrition recommends that sedentary individuals take in 2 liters of water a day. This means that if we are active or on a day when we are we need to consume more than that to offset for fluid loss. On days we workout a good goal to shoot for would be 3 liters. This goes double when it is hot out and we are losing more fluid. So during summer months a good goal is 4 liters of water a day.
Drink up! Keep an eye on your urine – pale yellow is adequate hydration; darker yellow and you’re already dehydrated.
Along with proper hydration, proper pre- and post-workout nutrition is key to recovery. Precision Nutrition recommends a combination of protein and carbohydrates during and after exercise to ensure your body has the proper nutrients to facilitate muscle recovery. Rapidly digesting carbohydrates, especially glucose, in combination with a protein isolate will provide nutrients quickly and minimize gastric distress. Then, in the hour to two hours post-exercise, consuming a whole foods meal will further assist in recovery. Supplementing 30 grams of carbs and 15 grams protein post-workout can help give your body what it needs right away.
However, the shiniest and newest supplement on the market is not going to replace a well-rounded, plant-based, whole foods diet, especially if fat loss is your primary goal. Eating foods that are nutrient dense throughout the day and on rest days will allow your body to better absorb those nutrients and recover in between workout sessions. Taking this approach in nutrition will aid in recovery and muscle building while fueling your workouts more effectively.
This one is probably the biggest struggle for people: finding the time to sleep and getting good sleep. Not getting proper sleep throws all off hormone regulation, increases metabolic stress, messes with mental health, and depletes energy levels. Find strategies that will help you get the 7-8 hours of sleep you need. Turn off screens an hour before laying down. Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. Have a pre-bedtime ritual that relaxes you and readies your body and mind for sleep. Take this one seriously – sleep can make all the difference in the world!
After a killer workout, the last thing you want to do is move. Properly warming down your muscles can help ease the soreness and promote recovery. Light, slow dynamic efforts, using the same body parts as the workout, will help keep blood flowing to the areas that need it. Foam rolling and other myofascial release techniques can also promote blood flow and break up knots to help recovery. Going on a walk or jog on rest days are other good ways to get the body moving and help you recover. And, of course, we can’t forget good old-fashioned stretching. My recommendation is to use a combination of all of these techniques to help you recover and be ready for the next workout.
My movement prescription: total body stretching A.M. and P.M. , myofascial release pre-workout, light, easy warm-down post-workout, and a light exercise rest day (walk, jog, swim, or bodyweight).
Lastly we need to minimize the other stressors that we put on our body. Stress is normal. Stress is healthy. In fact, exercise is the act of putting physical stress on our bodies. It is an acute stress that builds over the duration of our workout. Bad stress is chronic stress that stays with us and we don’t let go of. Small bouts of stress followed by recovery allows us to grow and adapt and become stronger. Chronic, constant stress breaks us down and prevents us from being able to grow.
Let’s think of it like holding our breath under water. If you held your breath under water for as long as you could, you would eventually come up for air gasping and breathing heavily trying to get oxygen back in your system. Then after a few minutes you would have recovered completely and would be breathing normally again. If we kept repeating this process you would keep getting better and better at holding your breath and you would be able to do it for longer periods of time. Conversely, if something held you under the water, not allowing you to come up, you could probably hold your breath for a little longer then you did before… until you couldn’t hold it any longer and you started taking in water and you drowned.
This is similar to the way stress works on our body. Small, acute stressors are good in all aspects of our lives. They help us grow, adapt, and become better. But when they are constant and not managed, they overtake us and cause adverse side effects (like drowning). My advice: find what works for you. Find ways to better manage the stressors in your life. Find ways to help relax and let go of your stress, possibly by implementing things like massage, acupuncture, meditation, or yoga. Experiment and take time for yourself. It will do wonders for your recovery, energy levels, and metal health.
These are my 5 keys to recovery. All of them have their place. Some are easier to start implementing than others. As with anything, start small. Try a new habit over the next couple of weeks and see how you feel. If you like it, add another. If you don’t, try something else. Use this as a guide to find what you might be missing. I look forward to hearing what works for you!