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What No One Tells You About Muscle Recovery

Sometimes the worst pain of a workout comes after the workout. Muscle recovery necessarily comes with muscle pain. It is a fact, if you work out, you feel that burn and pain in your muscles that come with post-workout muscle recovery. 

Muscle pain associated with muscle recovery is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Yes, it has a scientific name. You will always find folk remedies and the conventional line on muscle recovery. If you are even a little involved in gym culture, you have probably gotten some advice on muscle recovery and how to treat muscle pain. 

Some advocate everything from roller to ice baths to help facilitate muscle recovery. The reality is that there are no magic cures or techniques to get around muscle pain and muscle recovery. These things come with the process of working out and getting fit. 

What happens when we workout is that inflict small amounts of damage to the muscles. Muscle recovery is part of the process of building muscle. 

But we know that muscle recovery is painful, and what we are after is a method by which we can reduce the pain and length of time associated with muscle recovery. 

There is a science to muscle recovery. Getting the facts on muscle recovery will help you work through the process to your advantage. 

What is Muscle Recovery?

The physical strain on muscle tissue during heavy resistance training causes small damage to the parts of your muscles that do the flexing. This amounts to damage to the structural elements of the muscles. This damage is part of what causes the signature soreness that follows a good workout, and it also makes it difficult to get back to working out. Your capacity to recovery will determine your ability to continue building your workout routine. 

Intense aerobic and resistance training can cause damage to skeletal muscle. This will include damage to contractile proteins and connective tissue. These types of exercise can also diminish your body’s ability to transport glucose to skeletal muscle tissue cells and thus reduce your ability to regain your capacity for more exertion. What you are left with are muscles that are slightly damaged, a shortage of the chemical transmitter of energy, called ATP, and a build-up of lactic acid. Muscle recovery is the process of repairing this physiological condition.

There is a physiological process in which muscle cells activate chemical transporters that flush lactic acid from the muscles. This is the first phase of muscle recovery. This is coupled with an increase in carbohydrates in the blood system that increase levels of ATP for greater energy all serve to drive the process of muscle recovery. The good news in this is that the more you exercise, the greater your capacity to generate the chemical mechanisms that drive this process. Increased exercise produces a chemical called Monocarboxylate. This carries lactic acid from the cells and opens the pathways for ATP to generate energy to repair the muscle cells. Soreness and pain might be the price you pay, but the more you work the muscles, the greater their ability to repair themselves and recover.  

Why We get sore Muscles?

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is caused by a combination of conditions. Exercise and physical exertion cause inflammation of the muscle tissue. This causes an accumulation of calcium and other electrolytes. With these conditions, our immune system becomes triggered and sends T-cells to help repair the damaged areas. 

Lactic acid does build up in muscles following physical exertion and exercise. This is partly to blame for DOMS, but recent research has shown that lactic acid is not really the main culprit when it comes to soreness after exercise. Lactic acid gets washed out of our bodies quickly. DOMS is mostly connected to the biochemical conditions detailed above. 

Getting Sufficient Rest

Getting sufficient rest seems like an obvious course for muscle recovery. Certainly, giving your muscles a day off will allow them to repair the micro-damage from an intense workout. But there is much more to sufficient rest and muscle recovery than simply taking it easy for a day. 

It turns out that sleep is a crucial component of muscle recovery. The two phases of sleep actively engage the physiological processes of muscle recovery. 

REM Sleep: Rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, comes in cycles of about 90-120 minutes at various times throughout the night. It appears to dominate the latter part of our sleep cycle. This phase provides energy to the brain, and this is what makes us alert and prepared for waking hours. 

Non-REM Sleep: This is the period of deep sleep when our bodies slow down. Physiological processes like breathing and blood pressure become less active.

This is also the time when blood flow to muscles increases and provides the nutrients and hormones to our muscles that facilitate muscle repair and recovery. Oxygen and nutrients flow into muscle cells and allow them to repair and grow. 

Non-REM sleep also causes the release of growth hormones. These not only repair muscle tissue but also facilitate new muscle growth. 

Adequate Non-REM sleep is an essential part of muscle recovery. In order to get proper Non-REM sleep, we must get proper REM sleep. The phases cannot be isolated. 

How long do muscles need to rest?

How much time you need for muscle recovery is a thorny question. The general rule used to be 24 hours between workouts for any given muscle group. If you worked your upper body one day, work out lower body the next. This was a simple formula, but it may not be supported by science. 

There are several factors that determine how long you should rest between workouts. Whether you are experienced or a novice, the type of training you do, and ultimately, your own biology all factor into how much rest between training. 

Generally, it takes 24- 48 hours for muscle cells to repair and begin muscle protein synthesis. This is the period in which you generate new muscle, and this is what you are after. The rule of thumb is that the more intense the workout, the longer the recovery and rest time. 

However, experienced weightlifters tend to boost the muscle protein synthesis mechanisms in their bodies, and this reduces the amount of time it takes to repair and rebuild. Also, people who are new to working out have been shown to generate muscle proteins in a short amount of rest time, but not necessarily new muscle. 

There are other variables to consider. Your post-workout protein intake versus total protein intake, sleep, stress levels, and diet will all impact your recovery time. Gender and age will also affect this process. 

What this comes down to is that rest time for proper muscle recovery is a system of trial and error. Bear in mind that from a physiological perspective, muscle recovery requires 24-48 hours. Take all the variables into consideration and monitor your progress. As you build muscle, muscle recovery becomes more efficient. 

Dieting for Muscle Recovery

When you work out you deplete your body of the glycogen that fuels your muscles. You also burn up protein to make muscle. All of this needs to be replenished in order to aid muscle recovery. Diet is an essential part of these processes and eating the right things to replenish glycogen and protein has everything to do with muscle recovery.   

The three main foods your body requires for muscle recovery are proteins, carbs, and fats.

Eating the right proteins and the right amounts of protein will provide you with amino acids that make up the building blocks of muscle synthesis. Eating lean meats, fish, and vegetable proteins provide these amino acids, including the essential amino acids the body cannot synthesize on its own.  

Carbs replenish the glycogens need to perform exercise. By consuming carbs you give your body the chemical needed to do the work you are trying to perform. The amount of carbs you consume will depend on your workout. Endurance athletes tend to require more carbs than a weightlifter, for example. In addition to the direct benefit of carbs for glycogen, carbs help with insulin synthesis which assists in the production of glycogens in the body. 

Fats are not entirely bad. In fact, studies have shown that consuming fats in a post-workout diet assists in glycogen production. The key is to not rely on fats for your caloric intake. Fats need to be taken in conjunction with a diet that balances fats, carbs, and proteins. 

Foods that help Muscle Recovery

Beyond the dietary measures you can take to help with muscle recovery, there are some specific foods that have properties that have been shown to help with muscle recovery. Each of these contains chemical components that assist in either energy production or directly impact the regeneration of muscle tissue. 

Tart Cherry Juice

This is loaded with antioxidants that reduce the buildup of chemicals that lead to muscle soreness. 

Whole Eggs

Whole eggs, as opposed to egg whites, provide a powerful protein boost for post-workout muscle recovery. A recent study demonstrated that whole eggs provide a significantly higher protein boost than egg whites alone. 

Ricotta Cheese

Even small amounts of protein from dairy are sufficient to jump-start muscle protein synthesis. Studies show that as little as 9 grams of dairy protein gives you what you need to begin the process of muscle recovery. If you want to add to this natural supplement, get your dairy protein from ricotta cheese. It is high in whey protein and contains essential amino acids like leucine which are readily available to your body for muscle protein synthesis. 

Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon is high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are instrumental in reducing the pain of inflammation brought on by exercise. Omega-3 fatty acids can help repair the damage from heavy exertion of the kind we do with serious workouts. Something as simple as smoked salmon provides a real biochemical remedy for muscle recovery.  

Sweet Potatoes

Of the three main food types that provide the dietary requirements for muscle recovery, one is carbs. Sweet potatoes are precisely the kind of carbs that help with muscle recovery. Sweet potatoes help replenish the nutrients necessary to give you the glycogens you need to get back to working out. They also help boost your immune system as part of the recovery process. 

Recovery Techniques

Techniques for muscle recovery are quite simple and straightforward. Like we said at the beginning, there are plenty of gimmicks and lots of folk wisdom for helping with muscle recovery. The reality is that you need to stick close to what you know about working your muscles in healthy ways.

The best techniques for muscle recovery include:

  • Stretching. Not stretching enough and with enough intensity are mistakes even the pros make. 
  • Getting a massage: Simply having your muscles worked on mechanically can stimulate recovery. 
  • Getting enough rest. This applies not only to rest between workouts but also getting enough sleep. 
  • Protein. Protein supplements can help with muscle recovery. So can a protein-rich diet. 
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying properly hydrated before, during, and after a workout can prevent too much muscle damage and speed up recovery rates. 

Wrapping things up

Post-workout muscle soreness is just part of the game. If you are an athlete, or if you are someone who exercises with regularity, you have felt the burn that comes with a workout. We also know that this pain diminishes quickly, and we can get back to our workouts fairly easily the more we workout. Muscle recovery is a feature of the process. 

It is important to understand muscle recovery because getting to know the science behind it all helps us master the process. The more we know, the better we can assist in muscle recovery. As we have seen, there are no magic alternatives to muscle recovery. What we can do with the knowledge of the physiology of muscle recovery is to maximize the process in our bodies. 

Muscle recovery relies on a combination of nutrition and rest. By eating the right foods and getting the proper rest, muscle recovery becomes more efficient. We also enhance muscle recovery through exercise. The process that breaks down the muscles is also so the process that makes them healthy enough to recover. 

Muscle recovery is largely a matter of common sense. But with the right scientific information, we can assist our bodies with muscle recovery and maximize our workouts. 

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