Recovery from training is easily one of the most important aspects when it comes to reaching your goals whether it be strength, muscle growth or a blend of both. This also applies to physical fitness and sports performance.
Training hard is one thing, but applying some recovery methods or at least having knowledge about them is important for longevity, injury prevention and optimal training performance.
Let’s get into it.
1) SLEEP – This is probably the biggest factor for optimal recovery that can easily be applied. During the process of sleep, the body utilises the nutrients from food eaten throughout the day in order to support repair and recovery processes. In addition, hormones are released whilst sleeping which also aid in the recovery process as well as recuperation of the systems in the body, which all play their part in a training schedule.
Sleep needs to be prioritised as highly as nutrition and training when it comes to recovery, particularly for athletes looking to improve overall performance or approaching a competition. The fact is, you can train optimally and eat appropriate food but, if you are getting terrible sleep, performance will begin to suffer and fatigue can easily accumulate faster which will lead to other issues.
2) NUTRITION – Yet another vital aspect to enhancing recovery; our nutrition acts as fuel for the body and will determine both performance and how well you can recover from training. Breaking this down further into the main macronutrients, we can see in detail why each one has great importance.
Protein provides the building blocks for repair and recovery from exercise-induced damage to muscle fibers and facilitates protein synthesis/replenishment of energy stores that become depleted from hard, consistent training.
There is a lot of research surrounding optimal protein dosages/amounts/timings however to keep things relatively simple for this article protein intake differs between individuals, goals and athlete-type so this will take some independent research. In terms of dosages and timings, evenly spaced protein intake of around 20-40 grams has been shown to be “optimal”, although again this is individual due to differing overall intakes and factors like lifestyle. Protein synthesis capacity is elevated for hours and hours post-workout so it is not crucial to hit that mythological “anabolic window” for optimal strength/muscle gains and recovery.
Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for the body, primarily because they are the easiest form of energy that the body can break down. Carbohydrates digest far easier than proteins or fats and can be split into simple and complex categories which makes them even more useful for training and recovery.
The difference between simple and complex carbs is usually digestion time but also the nutrient density; complex carbohydrate sources tend to be more well-rounded in the vitamin and mineral department but also digest slower overall, providing the benefit of longer lasting energy. Simple carbohydrate sources are usually easily digestible and provide “quick release” energy, which can be very useful when it comes to pre, peri and post-workout nutrition to fuel workouts, maintain energy levels and begin the recovery process.
In addition, training will use up glycogen which is stored in muscles to be used as an energy source (as well as fat which is held in adipose tissue); carbohydrates replenish these stores which will help to maintain performance and aid recovery. Therefore, carbohydrates serve as both fuel for training sessions but also as a method of recovery alongside other macronutrients – they are all important.
Lastly we have fats which, despite being hailed the enemy, are essential for optimal training performance and recovery but also general health and function too. In terms of recovery, fats have numerous benefits and work with protein and carbohydrate to do their role. Fats play a large part in providing energy as well as carbohydrate; fat is needed in order to access stored carbohydrate in the muscle cells. Furthermore fat is important for hormonal function, which is a key driver of growth, recovery and overall health. There are also other benefits to fats when it comes to recovery such as reducing inflammation caused by muscle damage and fatigue.
3) INCREASE VOLUME/FREQUENCY (ADAPTATION) – Adaptation occurs when a particular stress is placed upon (in this case) the body, causing it to have to change for the physical demands placed on it. If you do struggle with recovery from training, this may be a worthwhile addition to your programme.
Higher frequency training is more preferable for adaptation. Since you are training a certain movement/body part more often, it is being more practiced and therefore increases skill level and neural efficiency. The muscles used in the movement(s) being performed more frequently have to adapt to the continual stress placed upon them, which leads to growth and strength gains. Leading on from this, it means a lifter can accumulate more volume over the course of a training week without having to fit everything into one gruelling workout.
What this means is that by increasing frequency and/or volume of training (to a reasonable extent – obviously individual differences like training age, genetics and other factors come into play) recovery can be improved due to the body becoming better adapted to cope with the stress.
Unfortunately with this comes much to be cautious about; this is not something you can just jump straight into. For example, going from benching once per week right into five times per week is bound to get you injured. It is also to be advised that form and technique has to be of an appropriate level before tackling a higher frequency programme, due to injuries that can accumulate and/or be caused by poor movement patterns. Having said this, once the CNS (central nervous system) has adapted to the changes and to the correct ways of performing the movements, chances of injury can actually be decreased too – it is a balance that must be worked towards, but it is best to be conservative.
4) HYDRATION – This one is self-explanatory. Everyone knows (or should know) the importance of fluid intake when it comes to sports performance and recovery. Even minimal dehydration can cause a major loss in performance; this is especially true when training hard and frequently due to increased need for fluids from sweating, increased heart rate and the demand from recovery processes.
Fluids help transport essential energy nutrients needed for the recovery process. The main macronutrients cannot do their job properly without adequate fluid intake, as water is required for transporting nutrients. Furthermore, hydration is a factor in the digestive process which, when it comes to the intake of energy for fuel and recovery, is of great importance.
Alongside this, hydration determines the efficiency of important metabolic processes but also the amount of time it takes to recover; muscles that are poorly hydrated cannot go through optimal protein synthesis and this delay can become important for someone training regularly. Accumulative inadequate recovery will lead to inadequate training and performance but also increases risk of injury.
Lastly, other points to remember are that dehydration can lead to fatigue which will not be helpful when trying to train at your best but also means the heart has to work harder, impacting recovery during and after training sessions. Leading on from that, heart rate recovery is yet another thing affected by hydration and fluid intake – exercise is stressful enough on the heart as it is, let alone when dehydrated!
5) MOBILITY AND SPORTS MASSAGE/MANUAL THERAPY – Now this is a big topic with lots of for and against, constant new and/or conflicting research and science surrounding it but to keep it short and sweet here are some benefits of massage that do have the potential to aid recovery from training.
- Increases blood flow to muscle tissue, which allows oxygen and nutrients to be better transported around the body. Tight muscles often have restricted circulation.
- Reduces tension in areas that may be causing pain, such as the neck and shoulders.
- Allows the body to perform better movement patterns if restrictions were evident.
- Improved range of motion, which can lead to more efficient and effective training.
- Sleep improvement due to less tension throughout the body after massage/therapy.
There are many other benefits to massage and manual therapy but the above points are some important ones; they all serve to keep an individual healthy and able to recover optimally.
Allotting time for mobility alongside training is also a worthwhile investment of time and it does not have to be super extensive. This could be as a warmup for a session or implemented into an “active recovery session”. Increasing heart rate and body temperature before a session as well as working into positions and movement patterns that will be used that day may serve to not only prepare the muscles and nervous system that is about to be stimulated but can also prevent injury or excessive muscular tightness, both of which can be factors that hinder recovery. Furthermore, spending some time foam rolling, stretching and other similar activities like joint mobilisations around training (despite the controversy and differing research) is not going to harm training unless done very excessively and may aid recovery in the long run.
Feel free to contact me with any feedback, questions or enquiries at: firstname.lastname@example.org or interact with me on Facebook at “Ben Glasscock Powerlifter” and/or Instagram where I post pretty much every day: @blgstrength or a link here. Coaching is available at very reasonable rates too, get in contact via email, Facebook and/or Instagram, I’d love to hear from you!