There are multiple things that you can do to optimize your recovery after a workout. Some of these include optimizing nutrition, supplementation, stretching, foam rolling, sleep, and cold water immersion therapy. This article will discuss strategies to implement these to help make your recovery from a hard workout most optimal.
Optimal Nutrition for Athletes
Nutrition for athletes is vital to pay attention to; however, not in the way you might think. It has long been suggested that there is an ‘anabolic window‘ after a workout and that a protein-containing food should be consumed within 45 minutes of a workout to optimize muscle growth. Recent research has determined that this way of thinking is flawed. It is much more important to concern yourself with overall nutrition and not worry about what you consume immediately following a workout.
There is not a consensus in research as to the timing of intaking adequate protein. However, there is research to say that both pre and post-workout nutrition is important. This study states that ” high-quality protein dosed at 0.4–0.5 g/kg of LBM at both pre- and post-exercise is a simple, relatively fail-safe general guideline that reflects the current evidence showing a maximal acute anabolic effect of 20–40 g.”
The Use of Supplements
There is frequently a new supplement on the market that promises this or that – from fat burning to muscle growth. The most important thing to know when considering taking supplements is that they cannot replace a healthy diet and the nutrients you get from food.
Exercise increases oxidative stress in your cells and produces free radicals. This study researching the benefits of taking vitamin C, A glutathione, and other supplements says that taking antioxidants to counteract this stress may be beneficial, but if you overdo it with the supplements, it can have a detrimental effect on your body’s natural ability to deal with the stress produced from exercise.
The previous study linked to above concluded that “Whole foods, rather than capsules, contain antioxidants in natural ratios and proportions, which may act in synergy to optimize the antioxidant effect. Thus, an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals through a varied and balanced diet remains the best approach to maintain an optimal antioxidant status. Antioxidant supplementation may be warranted in particular conditions when athletes are exposed to high oxidative stress or fail to meet dietary antioxidant requirements .”
Bottom line – the best approach is to start with exercise and proper diet alone, see how it affects you, and then add vitamins/supplements and monitor their effects on your body.
Stretching: How-to and When Is Best
Stretching is crucial as a regular part of your workout routine. But when you may have thought stretching was important may be incorrect. Stretching should be performed post-workout. A major misconception is that you should stretch before a workout. Not so. Stretching is not a warm-up. Stretching before the muscles are properly warmed up can be a risk for injury. A proper warm-up involves at least 10 minutes of cardio activity that increases heart rate.
Research is inconclusive as to the effectiveness of stretching for mitigating delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However, it is conclusive that stretching is important as it increases flexibility and can increase blood flow. The most effective form of stretching is called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. PNF stretching consists of alternating between contracting and relaxing a muscle.
- Assume the correct starting position.
- Stretch until you reach the ending point.
- Tighten the muscle without moving it.
- Stretch to the new ending point.
Repeat the last four steps three to six times, depending on the exercise and your goals.”
Foam Rolling: Another Useful Modality
Along with the above modalities, foam rolling is an affordable, simple technique. Research demonstrates that this technique has a beneficial effect on muscle recovery and delayed onset muscle soreness(DOMS).
This article provides this useful information on foam rolling as well as instructions on how to target specific muscles. The study discusses that a proper protocol for foam rolling is that it is best to be performed immediately after exercise for 20 minutes, then consistently every 24 hours thereafter.
The Importance of Sleep and Rest
There is no recovery without good sleep. Proper rest is a necessity to recover from anything that ails you. This includes recovery after a workout. The body needs time every single day to allow the brain to shut down and healing processes to take over. Sleep is where the magic happens; it is where healing and recovery live.
A research manual on sleep made by the “Life of an Athlete Human Performance Project” states that “For every two hours of time an athlete spends awake and stressed, it takes one hour of sleep to recover. This means that if an athlete is awake and under stress 16 hours a day, at least 8 hours of sleep are required for the CNS to recover from the overload.”
To round out this topic and lead into the next, this research from 2021 comparing whole and partial body cold water immersion vs. an “out of water control condition” suggests that this modality may be beneficial in increasing restful sleep and decreasing arousals. Arousal is defined by the National Sleep Foundation as a change in the stage of sleep, with the possibility of waking you up.
Cold Water Immersion Therapy for Workout Recovery
A form of therapy that has been used for decades to recover after a workout is an ice bath, a form of cryotherapy. A meta-analysis from 2015 that studied several forms of cryotherapy found that cold water immersion significantly improved DOMS when applied within one hour after exercise.
There is further research specifically on the benefits of whole-body cryotherapy speeding up muscle recovery. Cold water immersion therapy reduces post-workout pain, recovery from muscle damage, and decreases inflammation. Ice Barrel provides these ice bath benefits in the comfort of your own home.
Research on contrast therapy water therapy in terms of alternating from cold to warm water is minimal; however, existing research suggests that contrast therapy was not as beneficial as cold water immersion therapy for muscle damage and recovery. Further research is needed and is being conducted on the benefits of contrast therapy.
Cold water immersion therapy is a wonderful modality that should be kept as a tool in the athlete’s recovery toolbox.
Jan 10, 2022
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