Many weight lifting programs, bodybuilding forums and fitness articles written by experts spend hours and hours talking about a new way to lift a weight and how to kill yourself in the gym. Even better are the one line answers on most forums that after exercise, you just down a crap-load of protein as fast as possible and that’s it folks. Then go eat a meal later. It’s all good. Post workout recovery is about the shortest topic in bodybuilding and one of the longest in distance runner circles.
Have you ever asked a question about post-training recovery and received the standard “Drink your protein shake,” as the full answer?
While this is true (as little as six grams of protein has been shown to be beneficial) it’s a little more detailed than just protein if you want to perform at an optimal level.
What if we (refers to bodybuilders) were to use the tactics of a distance runner to speed up our recovery? Would we build muscle faster? Would we be ready for the next training session quicker? The faster you can recovery, the quicker you can build muscle. The problem most of us face (natural bodybuilders) is that recovery is a long process. It takes all day to build up your energy stores and it takes a long time for your muscles to recovery in order to stimulate growth.
What if you could on a fast track to recovery as quickly as possible after any training session to speed up the healing process, get my energy back and be ready to train faster than a guy or gal who downs a protein shake and just waits for the magic to happen.
Nobody even considers that maybe you do some cardio work (is cardio a bad thing now?) in the morning and your weight training in the afternoon. I guess eating from the morning to the afternoon is good enough for anybody’s recovery.
Here’s how you can speed up your post workout recovery and be ready to tackle the day or even train later. It’s a bit more than drinking a protein shake and gobbling up some chicken later.
Six Quick Tips to Speed Up Recovery from Exercise:
1. Before the end of your workout, spend about 10 minutes taking your intensity levels down. In a cardio session, this is referred to as the “cool down” phase. In weight training, you rarely see it. People lift heavy and hard and then head out. This will help to remove lactic acid build up before you are finished with your session. A cool down is important
2. Stretch after exercise to maintain flexibility. A full body stretching session is recommended. 5-7 minutes is all it takes. Again, lactic acid is flushed during this session. Since your muscles are already warm, this makes it easier.
3. Start drinking fluids (especially ones with carbohydrates) during your cool down and stretching sessions. Doing so will start immediately replacing your short term glycogen stores and help with overall body hydration.
4. Consuming as little as six grams of protein after exercise has shown to increase protein synthesis. Get this, expensive protein powders and amino-acid supplements are no more effective than normal foods (e.g., meat, fish, eggs) at providing the necessary amino acids.
5. To avoid muscle cramps, dehydration and to stabilize blood volume, you should replace fluids and electrolytes after exercise. This includes sodium. If you are eating real protein sources after exercise, this might be an opportunity to lightly salt your foods to replace sodium. If it’s a protein shake with carbs, it will probably have some sodium in it by default.
6. Sleep is necessary for full recovery. How much sleep can depend on the individual and the circumstances but generally a 6-8 hour range will cover most people. Some need more and some need less. Don’t be caught up in some number but just the overall idea that you grow and recovery quickly when you get adequate rest.
“Tomorrow’s training session is only as good as today’s recovery.”
I’ve seen some pretty detailed articles on post exercise recovery that go into a vast amount of information on how much protein, carbs, BCAAs, Creatine and Glutamine you’d want for the optimal recovery. Unless you are making your own supplement cocktail and are a hardcore bodybuilder, it’s information that will go to waste. Focusing on those kind of details makes it harder to just do something about it. Some would say that having a big old supplement cocktail after a workout is a big mistake anyway since it’s loaded with calories and defeats the purpose of your fat burning workout.
Ever heard of paralysis by analysis?
It happens in the corporate world and in the bodybuilding world all the time. If your life is fitness, fine, you can get extremely detailed. But if it’s just about building some muscle and being healthy, then the above tips will help you perform at an optimal level without getting so granular that all you do is live, eat and breath fitness.
If your primary goal is to lose fat while preserving muscle tissue, consuming protein immediately after exercise will minimize the loss of muscle without interfering too much with the normal rise in fat metabolism. Your post-exercise drink would not be loaded with carbs and calories. Just enough to preserve muscle. Lower carbs would be appropriate in this situation to replace glycogen but not so much as to be a huge calorie drink that sets you back to square one.
If your primary goal is to build muscle, then a combination of carbohydrate, protein, and maybe Creatine mixed with water (or milk for additional calories) consumed immediately after exercise can replenish glycogen stores and speed up muscle growth.
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1. Tarnopolsky, M.A., Bosman, M., MacDonald, J.R., Vandeputte, D., Martin, J., & Roy, B.D. (1997). Postexercise protein-carbohydrate and carbohydrate supplements increase muscle glycogen in men and women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83, 1877-1883
2. van Loon, L.J., Saris, W.H., Kruijshoop, M., & Wagenmakers, A.J. (2000). Maximizing postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72, 106-111