General recovery, along with sleep, is one of the most overlooked aspects of fat loss, muscle growth, exercise performance and physique transformation.
While many people spend hundreds of hours and money looking for the next magical supplement or dieting regime they would actually be better spending their time and effort improving recovery.
Remember, it’s not just the time in the gym where you grow and adapt. In fact, progress is made after the gym – while you are recovering!
Therefore, the ability to recover ultimately determines your ability to adapt and progress.
If you’re not optimizing or placing a large emphasis on your recovery, this article is for you.
Here are 7 research proven ways for you to improve recovery.
1. Sleep Can Improve Recovery
It should be emphasized that sleep has to be the top priority when it comes to improving your recovery.
I’ve discussed the importance of sleep in several articles showing how poor sleep can lead to increased disease risk, poor health, increase fat storage and slow muscle growth or decreased performance (Goel et al., 2013; Luyster et al., 2013; Cedernaes et al., 2015).
By enhancing and ultimately optimizing your physique, i.e. getting more deep sleep per night, you can improve your recovery and therefore, speed up your results.
Rather than discussing how to optimize sleep here, you can read this article for some unique, research proven methods.
2. Chill Out, Stress Less and Improve Recovery
A common observation when working with clients or discussing progress with members of the 90 Day Bikini Transformation Program is this hectic 21st century lifestyles.
There are daily unavoidable sources of stress in this modern-day life, however, by changing your attitude and outlook you can quickly reduce stress, improve positivity and productivity.
Along with spending time trying to change your outlook in life by worrying less, forgetting about the situations or people that don’t really matter and becoming more relaxed, you can also apply other methods to further relax or unwind.
A great habit I always recommend to clients is to participate in one relaxing activity every day usually in the evening or before bed.
There are many ways to relax, these include:
- Listening to relaxing music,
- Reading a book,
- Doing yoga,
- Laughing or smiling more (serious, there are studies on this!),
- Spending time with friends or family,
- Appreciating art or natural beauty,
- Writing what you are currently achieving or grateful for,
- Taking a relaxing bath and the list goes on…
Another important part of this is also taking a step back and stop obsessing about your physique progress or results.
While it is obviously important that you are progressing and achieving your goals, worrying about it daily or overthinking about aspects that go into this such as diet will just lead to an unhealthy obsession and will hamper your progress in the long term.
I’ve seen this with clients, when I force them to relax a little, they actually recover better, train harder and stop binge eating!
3. Optimize Your Post Work-Out Routine To Improve Recovery
Although the importance of timing (i.e. within 15 minutes or 60-90) post-workout is still somewhat debated, research does confirm it’s overall importance (Aragon & Schoenfeld, 2013).
While I generally agree with other experts, the post work-out routine doesn’t need to occur the minute you put down the last weight. I do believe (based on the research and mechanism) that it should be taken within 30-60 minutes after the workout, if you want to optimize recovery and growth.
If you wanting to optimize muscle growth or sports performance and not solely focused on fat loss, a good form of carbohydrate and protein blend is highly recommended after the workout. This could be around 30-50 grams of carbohydrates (depending on your daily intake, metabolism, etc), along with around two scoops of whey protein or other similar high quality protein (equaling 40 – 50g of protein).
In addition to this post-workout protein blend, there are a few other supplements some of which may be taken post workout that can also further enhance recovery (see chapter below).
If your main goal is fat loss, a high quality protein drink (such as whey) or food source (such as meat or fish) is definitely important and gets a good balance between recovery and fat loss. As above, I recommend around two scoops of whey protein post workout, or you may consume one of your meals for the day within a 30-90-minute window that contains a good source of protein and maybe some carbohydrates.
4. Take These Other Supplements To Improve Recovery
As mentioned, there are certain other research proven supplements which can further improve your recovery.
Here’s a list of the most research proven supplements for recovery:
- Phosphatidylserine: Phosphatidylserine has been found to reduce creatine kinase and improve recovery following an intense workout (Fernholz, 2000). Creatine kinase is a measurement in the research studies that’s supposed to correlate with muscle damage and therefore recovery. Lowering creatine kinase can also reduce cortisol post-workout which may further improve recovery.
- Creatine: Creatine’s benefits extend into pretty much every area imaginable, including recovery. Studies have repeatedly shown creatine can reduce post work out muscle damage, soreness and improve recovery (Buford et al., 2007).
- BCAA: Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are another popular supplement and while their benefits are still being debated and researched they can help optimize recovery if you struggle to meet overall daily protein intake. As with a whole protein source such as whey, studies have shown that taking BCAA after the work out can prevent subsequent muscle damage and muscle soreness; as well as the damage that follows a normal heavy resistance or high intensity routine. Remember, you don’t need BCAA if you take a whole protein source (which contains plenty of BCAA itself).
- HMB: HMB is a highly concentrated derivative of the key amino acid Leucine. Similar to creatine, it has been shown to boost recovery, reduce soreness and possibly aid in muscle growth for beginners- although the muscle growth research is still debatable. (Wilson et al., 2014).
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants, such as greens powders, Vitamin C, or Resveratrol can also reduce oxidative stress, muscle damage and improve recovery (Quindry et al., 2014). The only caveat here is consuming too many can actually blunt important adaptations that occur after the workout. For this reason, I do not recommend these unless you are severely over-trained and suffering from under-recovery and need a boost for a very short period of time. They are best suited for athletes, who need to maximize recovery during competitions and match season. This are less suited for the fitness / bodybuilding community.
As I always say, don’t just rely on these supplements to enhance your recovery instead focus on all the other points discussed in this article.
5. Use Heat Shock Therapy To Improve Recovery
Another great and less known technique to enhance your recovery is the use of heat manipulation.
The research and use of this is slowly gaining attention in the general athletic and fitness world. Heat shock therapy such as ice baths or hot saunas have shown to improve recovery and reduce associated muscle damage (Versey et al., 2013; Bleakley et al., 2012).
For example, alternating 1 minute in 38 °C water, and 1 minute in 15 °C water, for 14 min total was found to be effective in reducing the reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, reduce perception of pain, reduce swelling, and improved recovery of strength and power (Vaile et al., 2008).
6. Increase Blood Flow To Improve Recovery
Another little technique I’ve practiced many times to improve recovery is increasing blood flow.
As you probably know, your blood carries all the important nutrients and amino acids throughout the body and delivers them into the muscle.
There are several ways that you could enhance blood flow the next day after a session which can improve nutrient delivery, warm the muscle and therefore improve recovery.
One technique is soft tissue massage which can help warm the muscle and reduce muscle soreness (Weerapong & Kolt, 2005). In addition, I sometimes recommend non-impact based low intensity cardio to further loosen the muscle and enhance blood flow.
A good example of this is performing low intensity bike ride or cycle session in the gym the following day after a leg session. I must emphasize, that these sessions must be low intensity and not pushing your body to the limits as it will produce more muscle damage which would obviously worsen your recovery, not improve it.
7. Optimize Your Calorie Intake and Diet To Improve Recovery
Finally, one of the most important and obvious points is to addressing your dietary intake and nutrition plan.
Starting with calories, a high calorie diet or a calorie surplus is going to provide more overall protein, carbohydrates and other important nutrients that aid recovery. This is also going to provide every cell in your body with more energy which will likely enhance your body’s immunity and accelerate the whole recovery process.
This is one of the reasons most people dieting will often suffer from reduced performance, more muscle soreness and muscle damage along with a lower immune system.
Obviously while dieting, there is no way to counter your needed calorie deficit (as it’s key and fundamental to fat loss). However, the other points discussed in this article will obviously become even more crucial in this situation.
In addition to your calorie intake, your macronutrient intake specifically daily protein consumption is obviously vital for recovery. For many other reasons, aside recovery, you should be on a high protein diet and make sure every meal of the day is high in protein to stimulate Muscle Protein Synthesis (i.e. at least 30 grams or more).
I also believe that a healthy well-balanced diet full of all the vitamins and minerals and nutrient dense foods will in the long term hurt your immunity, cellular health, and recovery. This is supported by common nutrient deficiencies that now plague the population, bought about due to the reduction in whole foods and excessive processed food consumption.
A diet made up of fast foods that provides little-to-no nutritional value will only lower your immunity, overall cellular health, and probably impair your recovery and performance in the long term. Remember, small amounts of “bad food” is fine, moderation is key.
Optimize Your Recovery Today
As discussed, your recovery is a crucial aspect that you likely don’t’ appreciate or completely ignore.
Looking at it this way, the more you can recover the more you can train at a higher intensity and therefore get much greater results in the gym.
Also, always remember that your recovery is when you’re actually adapting from that gym session not when you’re training. The period after training is when you will see the long term adaptation.
Combine these diet, lifestyle and other techniques discussed in this article to further enhance your recovery and experience rapid results!!
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Cedernaes, J., Schiöth, H. B., & Benedict, C. (2015). Determinants of shortened, disrupted, and mistimed sleep and associated metabolic health consequences in healthy humans. Diabetes, 64(4), 1073-1080.
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