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4 Proven Strategies to Improve Recovery After Exercise

As we discussed in part one of this series on recovery, training too hard without appropriate rest and recovery can hinder your progress. Here in part two, we’ll dive deeper into these elements and look into how to incorporate strategies into the recovery process

As many of us are focussed on our wellbeing, we know goals are unique and important. It’s also clear that many of us are training hard to reach these goals! 

However, as we discussed in part one of this series on recovery, training too hard without appropriate rest and recovery can hinder your progress. If you haven’t read part one, focussed on bettering your understanding of the importance of recovery, you may find it helpful to read part one first. 

Here we touched on key elements to consider in recovery, including:

  • nutrition,
  • hydration,
  • sleep,
  • foam rolling technique,
  • stress management, and
  • the use of compression wear. 

Here in part two, we’ll dive deeper into these elements and look into how to incorporate strategies into the recovery process, which will allow time to rest and repair to improve strength and fitness. This will also serve as a reminder that recovery can seem boring compared to smashing a workout, but it should be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. 

 

Nutrition 

It’s becoming common knowledge that refuelling after a big workout to help recovery is incredibly important. To understand how the right balance of foods can help us after exercise, it's important to understand how our bodies are affected by physical activity.

During a workout, our muscles use up stored energy (glycogen) to fuel activity. Consequently, our muscles become partially depleted of glycogen. Some of the proteins in our muscles are also broken down and damaged.  

After a workout, our bodies begin the process of rebuilding lost glycogen stores and repairing muscle proteins so our muscles can strengthen and grow. 

Without the right fuel to help with this process, recovery can be slow and leave us depleted of energy. Not really what we want after all those exercise endorphins! No one enjoys an afternoon energy crash. 

Luckily, this process can be sped up by eating the right nutrients soon after exercise, in particular, carbs and protein. A simple banana protein smoothie, greek yoghurt with some fruit or an omelette on toast are all good options. But don’t be fooled! It isn’t only what we’re eating post-workout, but also when. “The post-exercise period is widely considered the most critical part of nutrient timing” [1].

It’s been suggested that the best window for our post-workout fuel is 45 minutes after training, however, a small meal pre-workout has been said to provide the same result since “the time course of its digestion/absorption can persist well into the recovery period”. Eating before a workout may be the better option if you find yourself low on time to refuel after a workout.

 

Hydration 

Ensuring enough fluid in taken in during and after a workout helps with the body’s ability to bounce back from the stress of exercise. When we are dehydrated - which can occur after a strenuous workout or long-distance run - the lack of fluid can cause low blood volume resulting in low blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue and can impair the process of protein synthesis (where protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by intense exercise). 

Hydration also improves our body's ability to break down food and absorb the nutrients it needs to function at its best.

Strenuous exercise, especially in the warmer months, can also cause our body to lose minerals while we sweat which can result in an electrolyte imbalance. When working out intensely, or training for a long-distance run or multi-sport race, consulting a sports nutritionist for advice on electrolyte supplementation is a good idea. 

 

Sleep and stress management 

Improving sleep is key for optimising our recovery from exercise. Increasing the length and quality of our sleep can improve mood, hormonal health, insulin sensitivity and performance in future workouts. 

One study at the American Centre for Scientific Medicine found that after just one night of sleep deprivation, athletes tasked with cycling until failure mentally and physically fatigued much faster than after a night of full sleep. 

The National Sleep Foundation suggests sleeping for 7-9 hours per night (for those who are 18 years and above) for optimum recovery. Winding down with limited screen time 1-2 hours before going to bed will reduce the amount of blue light we’re exposed to in the evening, helping us fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. During this wind-down period, listening to a mindfulness app, meditating or doing some gentle yoga can help with stress management and “switching off” before sleep.

 

Foam rolling and mobility 

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release - AKA self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points. Foam rolling has been shown to reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) following training while improving range of movement during physical activity. 

Foam rollers provide the user with the ability to control the healing and recovery process by applying pressure in precise locations. Due to the fact that only we can feel exactly what is happening, we can release trigger points where we each personally feel they are needed.  Ultimately this will help with pain-free movement while enhancing recovery. 

Many gyms or fitness centres have in house physical therapists or physios who can give professional instruction on how to foam roll. Alternatively, there are many tutorials on YouTube for those who prefer to roll at home. 

Compression wear

High-quality compression wear, such as compression tights, can decrease the time it takes for our bodies to recover by increasing blood flow, and therefore oxygen, to the muscles.


Wearing compression garments (compression tights for example) during a workout, wraps the muscles to help reduce muscle damage and fatigue. Post exercise, compression helps with faster muscle repair of damaged tissue while assisting with reduced soreness and improved recovery. 

We recommend combining compression wear with active recovery - such as a gentle walk - on rest days. 

There is a range of options we can incorporate into our training programs to help with recovery from exercise. Bringing in the foundations of sleep, hydration and nutrition is a great idea as these are critical for daily health and wellbeing; not just fitness. In addition, elements such as foam rolling and compression wear can be used to specifically to enhance recovery and performance from exercise, helping you feel stronger and recover faster! 

 

[1] Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld corresponding author

 

Source: Clique Fitness

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