Diet, Nutrition & Fitness

How To Optimize Post-Workout Recovery

Do you bust your butt in the gym day in and day out, but still not seeing the results you hoped for? Maybe you’re trying to put on some muscle, get stronger, or even just cut down a bit after the holidays. Whatever it is, no one likes to see their hard work go to waste. Sure, maybe your heart is getting healthier and your cholesterol is going down, but it would be nice to see some progress you can actually measure in the mirror, right?

Unfortunately, many people think that just going to the gym is enough. However, proper recovery is just as important. Why? Exercise actually creates damage to muscle tissue. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s actually that damage that allows muscles to adapt, become stronger and grow. Tiny tears in the muscle fiber must be repaired and without proper attention to recovery, you’re doing your body a disservice.

So what can you do to ensure you're giving your body what it needs for optimal results? Here are three of the most important things you can do to help your body recover after a hard workout.

Adequate Post-Workout Nutrition

When you put yourself through a tough workout, you use up a great deal of your stored muscle glycogen. Glycogen is the storage form of dietary carbohydrate and the fuel source that allows the muscle to perform. Without it, you may find you are much weaker and do not recover from training as quickly. Following a workout, your muscles are primed for glycogen synthesis, so consuming a fast-digesting carbohydrate within 30 minutes to an hour after training is essential. While your muscles won’t deflate without it, a carbohydrate source brings your body out of the catabolic state that training creates. Ideally, you’ll want to combine this with a fast-digesting protein source as well. Since your muscles are primed for carbohydrate uptake, this will help drive protein into the muscle as well. Why is that important? Because muscles are maintained and made stronger from protein.

Sufficient Water Intake

Since muscles are more than 70 percent water, adequate intake is essential to proper recovery. A lot is going on in the body when you lift weights and most of it is taking place in the presence of water. When you perform an exercise, the muscles involved require water to contract properly. If there isn’t enough of it, water is forced to remain in your circulatory system to maintain healthy blood pressure. Research also suggests that without enough water, muscle protein synthesis slows down, causing your body to remain in a catabolic state following your training session. If you are training hard and sweating, make sure you're drinking enough water per day to prevent dehydration from occurring. This will ensure that you have enough water in your body to perform your best while allowing for proper muscle recovery and rebuilding. Just be sure not to drink too much before bed, since this will interrupt one of the most important factors in your recovery, sleep.

Get Enough Rest!

Getting enough sleep is absolutely essential to the recovery process. “It’s the ideal time to replenish nutrients,” says dietician and exercise physiologist, Dr. Felicia Stoler. “Since your body isn’t moving, it allows the muscles to repair themselves.” Nighttime recovery is one of the most critical components to achieving your fitness goals. Since brain activity is drastically reduced, blood flow to the muscles is increased, bringing with it extra nutrients and oxygen to repair hard-working and sore muscles. To optimize recovery while you sleep, consider eating a small meal containing healthy fats and protein before hitting the sack. This will help the body deliver a constant stream of nutrients to recuperating muscles, promoting faster recovery and better results each time you workout.