You’ve started strong and are crushing your training but. How should you recover from exercise?
Have you ever woken up feeling really sore from your previous training session? Or maybe you have been sore for a whole week? We are going to look at some of the reasons why your body might not be recovering as well as it should and then look at ways to improve this. Before we look at improving your recovery rate we need to understand why you are getting sore in the first place.
Why am I sore after a workout?
The technical term for post soreness is referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this soreness will often affect your ability to backup intense exercise sessions. This is often felt a day or two after a heavy bout of exercise. Simply put, DOMS occurs when you work your muscles harder than what they are used too. However that doesn’t mean that if you don’t pull up sore the next day that it has not been a good session, it’s all about the quality of a workout and the intention.
Research is inconclusive as to the exact mechanism of why DOMS occurs, however most studies show it appears to be the product of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue. So is this good or bad? In short, feeling sore and increasing muscle mass don’t necessarily go hand in hand. A little muscle damage is good and necessary for growth; however when DOMS causes a decrease in force production or negatively affects your motivation to work out, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.
Effective recovery modalities can prevent DOMS from negatively affecting your training. There are a number of factors, including sleep, hydration, nutrition and sleep which affect your rate of recovery. So let’s look into these factors in further detail:
- What happens while I sleep?
Sleep normalises hormone levels required for recovery, with growth hormone and the sex hormones optimised – aiding in muscle repair. So rest is critical to the recovery process because while you’re resting, your body is building muscle. Sleep also plays a role in ‘resetting’ insulin resistance, aids the immune system and reduces inflammation. Without enough quality sleep, your body cannot fully recover from exercise and you will not allow your body to adapt to training (i.e reduce performance).
Should I train or rest?
High intensity training and lack of sleep skyrocket your cortisol levels, leading to overtraining and possible adrenal fatigue. In order words you cannot burn the candle at both ends – training hard and lack of sleep will not end well. So if you’re already sleep deprived and struggling to know whether to trade sleep for exercise, prioritise sleep and aim for just three workouts each week. Once you’re on a regular sleep schedule, you can increase the number and intensity of your workouts.
How much sleep do I need?
Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, so it’s important to get to know your body and figure out how much works for you.There are plenty of free apps which can help you track the length and quality of your sleep to get a better understanding of how much you really need. One that I like to use is sleep cycle. Tracking your sleep will help set a good routine of going to bed and waking up at a similar time each day. With enough sleep, you can be more productive, feel better all day long and put more intensity into your workouts.
- What and when should I be eating?
Ensure you are having a meal or snack within 30 mins post session that has a combination of protein and carbohydrates. The protein will assist with rebuilding the muscle and the carbohydrate component will replace glycogen levels stored in the muscle. Recovery snacks include, protein shakes, fruit and nuts, hard boiled eggs etc.
If you’re training in the morning… have a small snack 30 mins prior e.g fruit, museli bar, protein shake. If you are working out on an empty stomach you will not have any ‘fuel’ in the tank to push yourself hard.
If you’re training in the evening… ensure your nutrition is balanced throughout the day by eating a meal or snack every 3-4 hours that contains a combination of carbohydrates, fat and protein.
- Should I exercise while I’m stressed?
Exercising after work can be a great way to unwind, however if it’s been a particularly stressful day your brain will be tired which will lead to physical fatigue, thus compromising your workout! Exercising after the occasional harrowing day is unavoidable, but if you are chronically stressed, you could be affecting your fitness goals. A new study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that mental burnout significantly affected physical performance. Another problem with exercising under stress is increasing your risk of injury. Research has shown that a high degree of major life stresses (moving, divorce, death of a family member, etc.) or a high amount of daily hassles (getting a flat tire or a speeding ticket etc.) can increase your risk for exercise injury. This is thought to result from attentional deficits and increased muscle tension.
- How much water should I be drinking?
Water is the most vital component of your body and every single cell depends on it. We need water to help eliminate wastes and toxins, carry nutrients and oxygen to cells, help act as a cushion for your nervous system, keep joints lubricated, regulate our body temperature and, most importantly, keep body cells hydrated. Dehydration is a major predictor of fatigue during sustained high intensity exercise. Inadequate water intake results in thermal stress, low plasma volume, premature fatigue and other major markers of impaired recovery.
So how much should you be drinking to keep hydrated?
A common recommendation for adults is to drink 2.1-2.6 litres (8-10 cups) daily, but most experts agree it’s not possible to specify a quantity that is suitable for everyone.
Why? How much water you need depends on how quickly you are losing it from your body, and this is influenced by many factors including your health status, climate, how active you are, your age and what food and beverages you consume.
In normal environmental conditions, the turnover of water (via breathing, sweating, bowel and urine movements) in most adults is approximately 4 per cent of total body weight. This is equivalent to 2.5 — 3 litres a day in a 70kg adult. The food we consume contributes approximately 20 per cent (about 700-800 ml) of total water intake. So if you drink 2 litres of water each day, along with your normal diet, you typically replace the lost fluid. If you are bored of drinking plain old H20 try adding fruit or vegetables to your drink bottle. My favourite is cucumber water!
- Rest days/deload weeks
How much should I be resting?
In order to maximise your performance it is imperative to have rest days, so this means complete REST to allow your body to recover. In conjunction with rest days it is also important to have deload weeks, here at Revo PT we deload our classes every 8 weeks where the volume still remains high however the intensity is decreased. This not only allows the muscles to recover but also the nervous system. What happens in your body during recovery is vital for keeping yourself in the best possible health. If you want to make sure that your body is strong and you can perform at the highest level possible when you engage in physical activity, do what you can to facilitate recovery in your body.
When you are first starting out it is important that you give more body more rest as initially you will pull up quite sore due to DOMS (explained above). So perhaps starting off with 3 high intensity classes per week (and keep active during off days) and build from there. This is where you need to listen to your body and what is going to work best for you. If you are constantly sore then your body needs a rest day (or 2). Then you will find you come back fresh and ready to push yourself even harder! As your body adapts to high intensity loads you will be able to handle consecutive classes both physically and mentally.
Above all, listen to your body. When you feel good, go with it and when you need a rest, don’t feel bad for missing a day of training. You’ll come back stronger and get more out of your sessions if you find the right balance.
So train hard but do the right thing by your body by eating and hydrating regularly, consistent sleep patterns and minimal stress.