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Fitness and Performance

10 tips to maximise muscle recovery

May 11 2021

Are you feeling sore and tired after your workouts, or unable to recover in time for your next training session? You could be experiencing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or muscle fatigue. We spoke to Bodyset Physiotherapist James Lee and CP Nutrition’s Claire Pettitt, about what causes muscle fatigue and how we can speed up muscle recovery.

“Exercise causes micro-trauma in your bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons and joints. This micro-trauma tells your brain to repair and strengthen your body in order to better handle your next training session.” Said James.

In order for your muscles to repair and strengthen, your body needs to get rid of all the damaged cells and waste products that were produced during your workout and replace them with new and stronger cells. Your body works wonders all by itself but sometimes – particularly if you have increased the frequency or intensity of your training plan – it can benefit from some additional recovery aids. Here’s how…

1. Sleep

Sleep is regarded as one of the most important factors when it comes to physical recovery, especially if you are exercising. It is during this time when 95% of growth hormones (a key building block in muscle recovery) are released, allowing you to ease those aches and pains and continue through the training. Sleep is not only essential for recovery, but it can also even prevent you from getting injured in the first place! Studies have shown that you are 2.5x more likely to sustain a workplace injury if you get less than 5 hours sleep per night, and 1.4x more likely if you are getting between 6-7 hours sleep. If you haven’t already read ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker, it’s an insightful read that delves further on the benefits of sleep.

2. Training Plan

Another way to help your muscles recover faster is to design a smart workout plan that allows for proper recovery time. Overtraining and a lack of rest days will limit your body’s ability to help your muscles recover and grow – undermining any other efforts you make towards muscle recovery. Having a plan set out at the beginning of the week will ensure you can accommodate rest days, but also ensure you are not training in the same way across the week – targeting different muscle groups and cardiovascular exercise. Using some days as an ‘active recovery’ day can also be a way to keep your body moving at a lower intensity, placing less stress on your body.

3. Protein Intake

Eat protein after your workout. Exercise triggers the breakdown and resynthesis of the muscle protein so it’s beneficial to supply your body with enough amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to rebuild the proteins and make new muscle. Required protein levels vary according to body weight and exercise intensity. For those engaging in regular exercise, optimal protein intake is often easily achieved through diet alone by having some protein at every meal – aim for around 20g of protein per meal.

4. Water

Stay hydrated! Water supports all the metabolic functions and nutrient transfers in your body and fluid replacement is important to stay on top of after sweating through exercise. You may want to include electrolytes in your drink to rehydrate more effectively.

5. Calories

Put simply, if you don’t consume enough calories, then your body’s ability to repair and grow muscle tissue is impaired – it struggles to function as well as it could. If you want to maximise muscle recovery, then try to make sure you aren’t in a calorie deficit. The best way to do this is to deliberately eat a little more than you’re burning every day. This ensures that the body has all the energy it needs to exercise and recover.

6. Antioxidants & omega-3 fats

Make sure your overall diet is full of antioxidants (loads of veggies, fruits, whole grains and nuts and seeds) to help reduce the oxidative stress caused by exercise. Including omega-3 fats in your diet regularly will help to keep muscle and joint inflammation at bay. That means eating oily fish twice a week or including nuts and seeds like walnuts, chia and flaxseeds.

7. Carbohydrates

Be sure to replace the muscle glycogen stores you have used up during your workout by consuming complex carbohydrates after a workout, especially if you are training for a long period of time or multiple times a day. A really great post-workout option is a glass of milk or yoghurt with a banana as they are packed with carbs, protein, fluid and electrolytes.

8. Massage

Sports massage can help to relieve perceived muscle tension and reduce the discomfort sometimes caused by delayed onset muscle soreness. It can also improve circulation and nutrition to damaged tissue. It’s a powerful treatment for those looking to maintain muscle elasticity and speed up recovery and is widely used by athletes and the general public as a recovery mechanism.

9. Stretching

Stretching after a workout can assist with perceived muscle tension caused by repeated contraction and relaxation of a muscle. Simply stretching after your workout for five minutes or more can help your muscles return to a comfortable state faster. Dynamic stretching before your workout is also of great benefit. Moving your joints more dynamically enables your body to prepare itself for movement – almost like a set of armour!

10. Other soft tissue recovery methods

Other ways to assist muscle recovery include foam rolling. Many athletes also wear compression garments for up to 24 hrs after exercise. This has been shown to reduce swelling, improve circulation and thus, reduce muscle soreness.

“Living a healthy lifestyle is the most important step you can take to maximise your muscle recovery. There are many recovery methods available, but nothing can make up for poor nutrition and a lack of rest.” Said Claire.

In summary, the most important step to maximising your muscle recovery is self-awareness – listen to your body. If your body is feeling tired, sore, or you’re struggling to perform as well as usual then take note – perhaps you need more rest, sleep, calories or nutrition. If you listen carefully, your body will let you know what it needs when it needs it.

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