9 Science-Backed Tips on Muscle Recovery

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Muscle recovery is key to the longevity of keeping up an active lifestyle, be it for high-performing athletes or everyday gym-goers. In this article, we will explore 9 science-proven ways to ensure muscle recovery after an exercise session – from types of food to functional beverages and ways to rest. Read on.

Why Muscle Recovery is Important

Muscle recovery is critical to helping you perform your best and avoid injuries like microtears. That’s because pushing the body while in a sore and inflamed state increases the chances of injury. Proper rest and recovery allows the body to recuperate and build strength.

The following tips are a holistic approach to helping one to rest and recover adequately:

Food

Load Up on Pre and Post-Workout Protein

Before you embark on a workout, eating protein beforehand may help to increase muscle protein synthesis. Research recommends 20-40g of protein, or roughly 0.4g-0.5 per kilogram of body weight, to maximize muscle growth.

However, don’t forget to consume protein after a workout as well! A study published in 2009 found that dietary protein is essential in promoting muscle growth and accelerating the recovery of damaged cells and tissues that occur during exercise. This was shown to be especially beneficial for athletes who engaged in endurance, anaerobic and strength training.

Carbohydrates Are Not the Enemy

In contrast to the popular belief that carbohydrates should be avoided due to “weight gain”, they are actually key in muscle recovery. Studies have shown that carbohydrates aid in recovery and increase the capacity to perform in subsequent endurance exercises, where athletes should consider at least 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight for the first 1-2 hours post-workout. Carbohydrates are key because they aid in recovering the glycogen stores that were exhausted during exercise.

Good examples of carbohydrates to ingest after exercise would be simple carbohydrates like white bread, brown rice, and oats.

An Iron-Rich, Well-Balanced Meal is Key

Post-workout proteins and carbohydrates aside, a well-balanced meal is also key in accelerating the recovery process, as it helps to optimize the amount of energy, nutrients and liquids demanded. Harvard’s Nutrition Source defines this as a portion of vegetables and fruits each, a whole grain, and a protein.

Another key thing to look out for in sports nutrition is to ensure plenty of foods rich in iron, especially if one is prone to iron deficiency – one of the most common nutritional deficiencies worldwide. Iron deficiency could lead to potential fatigue due to the lack of red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body, so be sure to load up on iron-rich foods, which can be found in plant sources like whole grains, nuts, seeds and non-plant sources like beef and poultry. Of course, ensure that the aforementioned food sources are consumed in moderation as well.

Beverages

Stay Hydrated

Consuming water may seem like a given, but it’s time to get acquainted with the science behind it. According to a study on the link between hydration and performance, hydration is key in sporting performance, injury prevention, and inadequate amounts could lead to a negative impact on muscle strength, power and high-intensity anaerobic capacity.

This is because your body loses water in the form of sweat during workouts, and the amount needed as replenishment varies from person to person depending on the length and intensity of the workout. As a rough gauge, aim to consume 1L of water for every two pounds (0.9 kilograms) lost during exercise.

Functionality with Energy Drinks

While overconsuming sugary sports energy drinks is not advisable, studies have shown that functional beverages – electrolyte beverages that contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chloride and phosphate in particular – can improve athletic performance by aiding muscle contractions and sodium loss that happen during exercise.

Sport Nutrition Supplements

Supplements that can be mixed into beverages, such as lactoferrin (a protein derived from cow’s milk that is commonly found in infant formula), can also be useful in aiding muscle recovery. In a study conducted by Japanese researchers, it was found that lactoferrin supplementation with iron by female long-distance runners led to less lactic acid in the blood after strenuous exercise as compared to those who took iron only. This suggests that taking lactoferrin with iron supplements maintains optimal athletic performance. 

Read the full article on how lactoferrin regulates iron throughout the body here.

Protein powders can be another effective way to allay post-workout muscle fatigue and facilitate muscle building. Studies have shown that 20 grams of protein during and/or immediately after workouts is a sufficient serving to support post-exercise muscle protein synthesis. Various types of protein powders exist in the market, such as hemp, casein, plant-based, and whey protein, so it is recommended that you do your research before selecting the best choice for your specific needs.

Rest

Ample Sleep

Besides being crucial for daily functions, getting an ample amount of sleep is just as important when it comes to muscle recovery. It provides your muscles time to recover from exercise. On the flipside, research shows that not getting enough sleep may impair recovery rates as it hinders the body’s ability to deal with inflammation and impairs the production of hormones that aid muscle growth.

Get a Sports Massage

If you often partake in strenuous and intensive exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or endurance training, make it a habit to incorporate sports massages into your weekly or bi-weekly routine. Sports massages help with reducing tension in muscles and improving circulation, which encourages the removal of lactic acid accumulated during high-intensity activity. A 2020 study found that even though sports massages do not improve performance directly, they improve flexibility and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). 

Take an Ice Bath

Last but not least, dunk into an icy cold bath after intense exercise! While the idea might seem daunting at first, post-workout ice baths can help to constrict blood vessels and reduce your body temperature, leading to reduced inflammation and fewer sore muscles.

If you do not have access to a gym or fitness center that has ice baths readily available, try recreating one at home. One way you could do this is by using a bathtub and a bag of ice. However, be careful that the water should not be colder than 53 degrees Fahrenheit. For optimal results, stay immersed between 5 to 10 minutes.

So, whether you partake in endurance activities like running and cycling, or spend more time in the gym doing high-intensity exercises like HIIT or circuit training, incorporating muscle recovery should be part of any healthy exercise routine. Remember to listen to your body – hydrate, refuel, and get a massage whenever needed. Incorporating these simple but everyday tips will see improvements in your performance and ensure a sustainable and enjoyable fitness journey.

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