Taking the proper steps to recover is as important as the actual training session. You're running yourself in circles if you don't give yourself the proper time and resources to rebuild what you've torn down in your last training session.
Here are the top 4 steps to help you recover from your last training session.
The 3 most important steps you can take to recover from a workout are sleep, eating, hydrating and proper mobility work. There are also several supplementary things you can do to maximize the effectiveness of the 3 aforementioned aspects of recovery.
Before we talk about recovery, let's talk about what happens during your session.
While you are training, you are literally breaking down muscle tissue, and depleting your body of its' energy stores. This breakdown provides the body with the stimulus that triggers the building or development of your muscles and energy systems. The body basically says "Hey Brain, we can't keep up with this! We need more resources to work!", the response is increased muscle mass, energy density (i.e. the amount of energy producing components in the muscle) and more efficient energy systems. The catch is that these adaptations don't happen in the gym. In fact, they CAN'T happen in the gym. They have to happen when you are at rest, and not while the stimulus is still present.
So let's start from the top.
There is nothing more important to recovery than getting adequate sleep. Yes, I am well aware that we can get away with 4 hours of sleep and still survive. That, in itself, is an important evolutionary adaptation that has helped mothers nurture their children, and allowed the primal human to protect themselves from predators in the middle of the night.
However, just because you CAN do it, doesn't mean you SHOULD do it.
Sleep is when we do most of the rebuilding of the muscle and tissue that we have broken down the previous day during our workout. Some of this recovery occurs during the day, however, most of the work is down while you're asleep.
As a general rule, get 7-9 hrs a night. If you can't reach that number, take regular rests during the day (yes, I am giving you permission to nap). Even a short, 15-20 minute nap can jump start your recovery. That being said, avoid long naps. A nap that lasts over thirty minutes can end up leaving you more tired than a 15 minute one, as your body starts to shift into a deeper sleep and preparing for a multi-hour slumber. You are much better off having a couple 15-minute naps throughout the day (ex: just after lunch and around 4:00 pm), instead of one long nap.
Both what you eat and when you eat (relative to your training session) will have a significant effect on how you recover.
To maximize your recovery, get a meal in a soon as possible following your workout, consisting of adequate protein. This is also your chance to refuel your muscles with glycogen (the fuel source for your muscles), so you can also include some carbohydrates. However, the purpose of your recovery meal isn't to load up on sugar, so don't use your workout as an excuse to scarf down a chocolate bar or a quart of ice-cream.
Personally, I like to have a recovery shake immediately following a workout. While, yes, it does help me get the protein that I need, it also helps re-hydrate my body, another important aspect of recovery.
What you eat later in the day will continue to affect your recovery, so be sure to eat a diet filled with vegetables, high-quality protein and plenty of fat. Diet-based recovery isn't limited to only the meals surrounding your workout, and how you eat day-to-day will affect you ability to recover.
Water is pretty important. Considering the body is made up MOSTLY of water, it makes sense that poor hydration will inhibit recovery.
Make sure to hydrate regularly throughout your training session and the day. You don't need a sports drink which is full of sugar. Instead, water is enough. I recommend putting a pinch of salt in your water (much less than you can taste), as it will help you absorb it and avoid running to the washroom every 15 minutes.
By using a protein recovery shake, you will also increase the amount of water you absorb post-workout, so it is a good chance to maximize your recovery.
The literature goes back and forth every few months whether mobility will improve your recovery. For me, there is not question that proper, consistent mobility increases your ability to recover. The caveat is that doing a couple hamstring stretches for 30 seconds while you chat with your training partner about the latest Marvel movie isn't going to cut it. Proper mobility work means address the ROM restrictions you have using stretching, trigger point, rolling and other mobility implements. It needs to be deliberate and goal oriented. Aimless stretching won't hurt, but you aren't using your time as efficiently as you could.
If you aren't sure how to start mobilizing, I HIGHLY recommend this book by Dr. Kelly Starrett. It shows you everything you need to perform proper mobility work, get rid of pain, and maximize performance. His work has literally changed my life. (Go here for a non-affiliate link).
There are plenty of other things you can also do to maximize your recovery, like breath work, meditations and active recovery days, but the 4 above are the most important. Start there and you will notice huge improvements in progress and you will reach your training goals ever faster.
B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT
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