“I don’t care if it hurts. I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul”
I like to think of recovery as a couple of things; post workout recovery, and time off recovery. Sometimes the latter one can be something that we forget about, especially when we get so wrapped up in training and are training hard to make gains in our performance. I’m guilty of this myself. I forget that the body needs time off, and yes, the mind too. Usually this is because we think that if I train hard 5 days a week and have been making gains, then obviously training 7 days a week will be better, right? Not necessarily and in most cases, no, it’s not better.
Most times too much of a good thing ends up being harmful. The right amount of sunshine provides your body with vitamin D, but too much will cause sunburn, skin damage, and in the worst case skin cancer. The proper amount of protein will help in muscle development, but too much can cause kidney damage, and possibly renal failure.
Following the pain and exhaustion
You’ve just completed your tough workout, giving it everything you had to get through it. You feel great, no, you feel awesome! Endorphins are flowing through your body, giving you that workout high that feels so good. You’re feeling good too because you gave it everything, left it all on the floor, and that feeling of accomplishment is overwhelming. It should be. You should feel great about what you just did. You dug down deep to get the strength and determination to finish the workout strong, and you finished strong! Enjoy and relish the moment as you should because you are a warrior doing something that most people won’t. And you will reap the benefits of giving it everything you had.
But now that the workout is over, what do we need to do so our body will reap the benefits of that hard workout were we took our bodies to the point of failure? Believe it or not, what you do after the workout will determine what you are able to do for the next workout, and also what level of gains you will realize from working hard.
First, let’s understand what our body was doing as we were ‘killing’ ourselves. If you have read my previous posts, you may already understand that ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the currency of energy. Anything we do, from breathing to sprinting requires ATP. For us to have ATP, our body needs to create it and it creates it differently depending on the intensity of the activity. I’m not going to go too deeply into how our body manufactures ATP that will be another post. For the purpose of this post, I want to talk at a somewhat high to mid-level how ATP is created when we train.
When we train at an intense level for the most part our body is using glycogen and glucose to create ATP. Yes, fat and creatine phosphate is also involved, but again, I want to talk about glycogen and glucose. Glycogen is basically carbohydrates stored in the muscle cells and glucose is carbohydrates stored in the blood. As we train at a high intensity level, our glycogen and glucose stores are used to provide fuel for this activity. If we no longer have any glycogen or glucose to fuel our activity we are literally forced to lower our intensity to a low level so our body can use fat for conversion to ATP. This is why it’s important that we eat before training, and that we also eat balanced meals so our glucose and glycogen fuel stores are topped off and we don’t deplete our source of fuel before we complete our workout. Have you ever had a workout where maybe half way through you feel like you have hit that wall and can’t go on anymore at the level of intensity you want to? Look back on what you did before your workout including the 12 hours before. Did you consume enough complex carbs, or was your diet high in protein and fat? It’s a good chance that you didn’t consume enough complex carbs and your body ran out of fuel. High endurance athletes will do what’s called carb loading before an event, taking in high level of complex carbs to make sure their fuel tank is full before an event.
After the workout
Now that we know our body is using all of our glycogen and glucose to fuel our workout, it only makes sense that we need to replenish these stores after the workout. It’s commonly believed that following a workout, we need to get lots of protein into our body because our body needs to repair itself. You just ran your body into the ground, stressing it beyond normal limits. I need to repair those muscles I just broke down! Absolutely! No doubt about it we need to repair those muscles, but we need to do that at the right time. The right time is after we have replenished our fuel source for our body.
Let’s think about it. ATP is the currency of energy, from breathing to sprinting, to anything we do. Of course! It makes sense now! Anything we do would include digesting our food we eat. So, if we eat a protein heavy meal after our workout that depleted our glycogen and glucose stores, what is our body going to use to create energy to digest our meal? It’s going to turn to using protein, which isn’t an easy process for your body to do. Your body does not want to use protein to create ATP as it is a very inefficient process. So now we need to ask the question, where does this protein come from? In extreme cases where you have totally depleted your glycogen stores and no glucose is available your body will resort to using muscle tissue for its supply of protein.
WTF! My body is consuming what I am trying to strengthen and build up to fuel something as simple as digesting my meal! It’s literally like your body is turning on you, cannibalizing you without you even knowing it. It seems like something out of a book Stephen King would pen. But that’s the reality of it that your body will need to do what is needed to provide fuel to any activity, breathing, your heart pumping, muscles contracting, and digestion.
Knowing this, let’s look at what we should be consuming after our workout:
- 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein
o Examples are a smoothie, a banana and apple with some nut butter, trail mix with dried fruits and nuts
- 1 hour later, consume higher protein meal including healthy fats, preferably in liquid form
- Replenish water lost from workout. How much water did you lose? Weigh yourself before and after the workout to understand how much water you have lost. Drink 20 ounces of water or sports drink for each lost pound of body weight
Later in the day
We’ve covered what we need to do immediately following our workout, what can we do later to aid our recovery? Lots of things.
Let’s start with sleep. Pretty straight forward, right? We need sleep, we all know that. Sleep is even more important if you are involved in intense training. Our body requires sleep to repair our muscles we have been tearing down. During sleep our body releases HGH (human growth hormone), the substance athletes have taken illegally to enhance performance. HGH is used to repair muscle tissue, tendons, ligaments and cells.
Do I need to talk about why you need to get a massage, other than what a great way to relax and feel good! Yes, there is a benefit to getting a massage other than its relaxing. Massages will help in increasing muscle flexibility and can increase range of motion in the joints.
Another reason to take the time to relax and do something for yourself. Besides being relaxing, and giving you some time to reflect on your day and your workout, Epsom baths will help in regulating muscle and nerve functions due to the absorption of magnesium. The magnesium will also aid in the absorption of vitamins.
Yeah, ice baths suck! No one likes them, who would? But the dreaded ice bath does have its benefits. An ice bath can aid in reducing inflammation and can also aid in reducing the muscle soreness you will experience after a workout. Maybe save this one for after those really hard workouts where you know you will be more sore than normal.
Foam rollers can help in breaking up tight muscles which will help in maintaining range of motion and flexibility.
The above methods are not arranged in any specific order, but are things you can do to aid in your recovery following your workouts. Some are relatively easy, such as sleep. Having said that, I know that getting quality sleep is not always easy. It’s not always a matter of putting your head down and closing your eyes.
Your mind is powerful
Most of us go to bed with the day’s events fresh in our minds. We put our head down, and it’s useless, an hour later and you’re still awake. The mind is busy going through the day, things you should have done today, things you did do and your mind is busy thinking about them, hoping they were the right things to do, the right things to say. It’s not always easy, I know. Meditation can help with this. Take 10 minutes to meditate, empty the mind, and breathe deeply. This can help to relax you and let those thoughts wonder away.
With the advancement of technology in the last 3 – 5 years, most everyone has a portable device be it a laptop, tablet, or smart phone. Try to follow the rule of not bringing these devices to bed, or if you do, try to stay off of them an hour before you want to sleep. Same with the TV. Try not to leave the TV on when trying to fall asleep. You will probably fall asleep regardless, but the light from the TV will prevent you from getting the proper sleep, where your brain will be able to go where it needs to, to realize the benefits of sleep. I’m not going to go into the biology of sleep, but feel free to read up on it if you like.
You are stronger
All of us get caught up in doing the activity, or activities that help us perform better, become stronger, and help us reach our goals. During these activities there never really is any discussion or communication on what you need to do following the activity. You never hear your trainer, or instructor yelling out ‘Give me 5 more! Oh, and when you are done, be sure to go home and get 8 hours of solid sleep’.
Treat recovery as important as you treat your training. Do this and you will be stronger, healthier, and you will be an even better athlete than you were before.
As you think, you shall become.
Yours in health,