How to optimize post-workout recovery
Heavy training days will make you feel alive - yet, when done well, also sore and tired. Whether you just completed all brutal Open workouts or you have been hitting the gym regularly for multiple weeks, you don’t get stronger by working out - you get stronger while recovering from the workout. The 23 hours you spend outside of the gym or box are just as important as the ones you spend in it.
Here is an overview of ways how you can recover faster and better so you can build the greatest amount of strength, muscle, power and endurance in the long run.
Tip #1: Eat protein and carbs
Your muscles need two sources to recover: protein, the raw material to build muscle mass, and carbohydrate, which is stored as glycogen and serves as the main source of energy for your muscles during exercise. As you make little tears in the muscle fibres during a workout, it is the protein that needs to come in to repair these muscle tissues. At the same time, the glycogen levels of your muscles are depleted and need to be restored up again by carbs.
Tip #2: Embrace the cold
Many athletes dip into an ice bath to reduce inflammation after a competition. If you live in Finland, you know how rejuvenating taking trips between a hot sauna and the ice cold sea can feel. Cold-water immersion and contrast water therapy will boost your immune system and reduce muscle soreness significantly while preserving strength. Sitting in the ice water for an hour will not benefit you, so make sure to find the right balance between the cold and heat therapy.
Tip #3: Active recovery workouts
Having light sessions on days between your toughest workouts can improve the blood flow in your recovering muscles, which provides nutrients and carries waste products out. The purpose of an active recovery workout is to break an easy sweat and walk out of the gym with high energy. Try not to let your heart rate go below 120 beats per minute during the entire workout and go for about 30 minutes. Even a decent walk or bike ride along the seaside can be considered as active recovery.
Tip #4: Eat enough calories
Thinking you do not need enough calories on off days is a mistake. As your body is still recovering from those 100 thrusters you did yesterday, undereating on off days can negatively impact recovery. Muscle protein synthesis - the process by which the body makes muscles bigger and stronger after to training - continues at a higher rate than average for 48 hours after a workout, so not giving your muscles the nutrition that supports that development will interfere with your gains. Having slightly fewer carbs is ok, but your protein and overall calories should be the same as on training days.
Tip #5: Hydrate
Rehydration after training has a big impact on your recovery. As warmer and (hopefully) hotter summer days approach it is crucial to replenish the liquids, electrolytes and sodium lost during a workout. Studies have shown that coconut water helps to rehydrate the body after activity to about the same degree that sports drinks and water do, while it also provides essential electrolytes like potassium and sodium. Although cold water may feel quenching, it will take longer to be utilized than room-temperature water, which does require energy to be absorbed by the human body. Focusing on hydration will give you the extra boost you need to recover from a hard workout and get the most out of the next one.
Tip #6: Foam roll and stretch
Self-myofascial release (SMR), also known as foam rolling, is not only recommended before workouts but can be useful right afterwards and on days you do not train. You can improve your range of motion by relaxing tight muscle groups and promoting blood flow. We recommend rolling the upper back, lats, piriformis (the side of your glutes), and quads. By following up the rolling with extra stretching you can take advantage of the increased range of motion that the rolling gives you. During the stretching, pay extra attention to the lats, pecs, hip flexors, groin and calves - these are usually the tightest muscles.
Tip #7: Sleep
You have heard it before: you need at least eight hours of sleep per night. Sleep is your body’s chance to reorganize the brain and recharge the body after a long day of work and training. A deficit in long-term sleep will negatively impact growth hormone release and insulin sensitivity. In other words: you will get weaker and fatter. Get as much sleep as you can by making your room completely dark, going to bed and getting up at the same time daily and blocking out (stressful) distractions before sleep. It is time to get that body into recovery mode.