As a Personal Trainer, regular gym user and semi-professional sportsman, recovery is one of the most important aspects of fitness for me, and this should be the same for anyone and everyone. Your body is often capable of far more than your mind thinks it is, but it still needs a rest and proper recovery methods applied to perform at its very best. However, it's not just our bodies that need time and care to recuperate - our minds also need some rest and TLC. It can be very tempting to want to go all out every day in the gym, but in some cases, less is more and it is more beneficial to you and your goals to take the time to recover fully.
Recovery after exercise is essential to muscle and tissue repair and strength building. A muscle needs around 24 to 48 hours to repair and rebuild, but it's vital that you listen to your own body and remember that every body is different. When you perform excessive amounts of exercise without proper rest and recovery you may experience over-training, which can reduce performance, leave you fatigued, decrease your immunity and leave you very prone to injury. Many of us may have experienced over-training in the past, so here are some ways for you to ensure that you know how to recover properly and avoid running yourself into the ground.
Replace lost fluids. A 1% decrease in hydration can affect performance noticeably. If you feel thirsty, you are already 2-4% dehydrated and 2% dehydration can reduce your physiological output by up to 20% which is a significant amount! The best way to stay hydrated throughout a workout and afterwards is simply to keep sipping water - around 100-200ml every 20 minutes is sufficient. Sports drinks are on the whole unnecessary - you don’t need to replace electrolytes unless you’ve had an intense workout that lasted more than an hour.
Eat the right foods. High protein is the way to go in terms of recovery - around 20-30g minimum in your post workout meal (this doesn't have to be immediately after) will help hugely with the repair and growth of your muscles. Don't fall into the trap of 'rewarding' yourself with high fat and sugar foods - you can't out-exercise a bad diet so doing this will not only make you feel bloated and lacking in energy, but it will probably undo all your hard work (and then some). Potassium can also be a useful mineral to include in your post workout nutrition as it helps to regulate muscle contractions. Bananas, oranges and various beans/legumes are high in potassium.
Perform some active recovery to promote circulation and help with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Body-weight exercises or light cardio after a heavy strength training session will help relieve soreness by stimulating blood flow and improving circulation to the muscles. This can be in the form of a brisk walk, light jog, swimming or yoga.
Consider a cold shower. It is thought that a cold shower improves circulation and could help to remove lactic acid, although this is not proven. It's also a great way to freshen up and to feel energised and awake!
Get quality sleep. This is imperative - all your progress is made whilst you are asleep! Being well-rested not only energises you throughout your workout, but it also keeps your hunger hormones in check, so you're not undoing your efforts in the gym by overeating the rest of the day. As we sleep, cortisol and adrenaline decrease whilst growth hormones are released to stimulate the cellular repair process, allowing muscles to repair and grow after exercise. Sleep deprivation causes our appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, to go out of balance. Ghrelin is the appetite hormone which increases whilst leptin, our fullness hormone, decreases. You end up feeling hungrier without feeling satisfied by what you eat, causing you to eat more. For more info on how sleep or lack of can affect you, see one of my previous blog posts entirely focused on this topic.
Don't skip the cool down section of your workout. Try and ensure your heart rate falls below 100bpm before you finish and make sure your body leaves the gym in a similar state to which it entered the gym in.
Foam rolling is a great way to minimise post-workout soreness, which it does by increasing blood flow to the muscle tissue and relaxing tense and overworked muscles. Foam rolling regularly (and properly) is a great way to speed up recovery.
Stretch! Very few people stretch properly after their workout, but the more mobile and flexible you are, the more ROM (range of motion) you will get in your lifts, therefore enabling you to reap more benefits from every rep of every exercise. To help you out, I have compiled an effective full body stretch routine at the end of this blog post. This will be especially helpful for my Bootcampers if you are feeling a bit sore!
Sterling Fitness Full Body Stretch Routine:
Try to hold each stretch for between 20-40 seconds, relaxing deeper into the stretch towards the 30 second mark. Go through all of the stretches once or twice.
Child's Pose from knees
World's Greatest Stretch
Lying Torso Twist
Seated Adductor Stretch (Butterfly)
Across Body Shoulder Stretch
Figure Four Stretch