We all want to get bigger and stronger. To a certain extent, you may believe you are doing everything you can to achieve that goal.
Did you know that the work you do after a workout - the recovery phase - is just as, if not more important than your actual training session?
It’s all well and good to train hard and eat right, but if you are not priming your body for the type of recovery that is needed in order to sustain muscle growth - you could be limiting your progress.
Here's the thing, muscle growth is not a natural process for the body. From an evolutionary perspective, muscle growth is used in order to repair soft tissue from moderate exercise - usually in the form of running or lifting objects.
The body signals muscles to grow in order to handle the type of stress you put on the body.
In this same way, if your workout is signalling the body to adapt in a specific way, but the correct nutrients and recovery system is not present - you’re likely limiting your results.
This is why it’s so important to take your recovery seriously. You need to have a close eye on your nutrition, hydration and even sleep.
There are many factors that contribute to optimal recovery. Let’s tackle the best ways to ensure you are making the most of your post-workout recovery.
PROTEIN & MUSCLE RECOVERY
We all know that protein supplementation is common after a workout - but why? Is protein supplementation justified, or are there additional supplements that we can take to optimize your recovery.
To be very clear - protein supplementation post-workout is important and highly effective. With that said, protein supplementation combined with moderate carbohydrates can be even more effective.
Protein ingestion not only provides essential amino acids to help support normal growth, but the high concentration of protein helps to stimulate whats called muscle protein synthesis - which is the precursor to the recovery of muscle tissue.
We know now that supplementing a scoop of protein can help to stimulate muscle protein synthesis - but to a certain extent, we also want this protein to be rapidly adsorbed so that the amino acids can get to work right away.
The question then arises - Is there a way to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis?
Yes, this is where carbohydrates become involved.
NOTE: Before we discuss carbohydrates post workout we should mention that this method is more tailored towards bodybuilding and powerlifters - those looking for weight loss may want to avoid this technique.
CARBOHYDRATES - POST WORKOUT
Carbohydrates are an essential tool for any bodybuilder. Not only do they provide direct energy to the muscle in the form of glycogen, but carbohydrates can actually increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis (and, in turn, faster recovery).
Carbohydrate ingestion can influence an insulin response. It is believed that this insulin response, combined with the glycogen reloading can help to improve the rate of muscle protein synthesis and limit protein breakdown.
Glycogen is the working fuel for muscle contractions. Along with ATP, glycogen makes up the majority of energy for every movement you do in the gym, and in everyday life.
Without glycogen, your muscles would lack energy and you would feel fatigued. Your body does have many ways to promote energy in the muscle from fats and proteins, but they are not nearly as effective as carbohydrates metabolized into glycogen.
For this reason, carbohydrates get another win as a post workout supplement because they will help to replenish glycogen stores.
Although simple carbohydrates may be a faster-digesting source of glycogen replenishment, it is always best to source complex carbohydrates that will provide great amino acid profiles and essential micronutrients.
Here are our favourite post-workout carbohydrates:
This powerful grain contains loads of fibre, protein and magnesium. For added benefits try finding Oat Groats at your local supermarket.
High Glucose Fruit
Fruit that is high in glucose is one of the best ways to rapidly replenish muscle glycogen levels for faster recovery.
Very common amongst the bodybuilding community, white rice can be an effective tool for glycogen replenishment. Keep in mind, white rice should not be a staple food in your diet as it lacks nutrient density.
IS THERE AN ANABOLIC WINDOW?
Chances are if you have been involved in bodybuilding you may have heard about an anabolic window. Maybe your friends or gym buddies told you that you need to get your protein down right away after a workout - this is called the anabolic window.
It is believed that due to muscle catabolism (muscle breakdown) that you need to consume protein before and after a workout - specifically within 60 minutes post workout.
Research has shown that this is only somewhat true. More important than how quickly you eat food or consume protein after a workout is the actual time period you consume it in.
The study shows that you should eat as much protein and carbs as possible within a 3-4 hour window before and after a workout in order to optimally achieve the anabolic window and effectively limit muscle breakdown.
Eat a carb-rich meal prior to a workout and a combination of dense proteins and fresh fruit post workout - this will help your recovery effectively after a workout.
POST WORKOUT HYDRATION - A FORGOTTEN ELEMENT
Food is important, but many people seem to forget about hydration - after all, we are about 60% water.
Hydration is an important element of your nutrition even if you are not training.
You should do your best to consume about a gallon of water daily. If you are training this amount will go up even further. The best way to ensure your body and muscles are hydrated is to weigh yourself before and after a workout.
Every pound of weight you lose should be compensated by about 20 ounces of water.
Example: If you lose 2 pounds over the course of a workout you should replenish this amount with 40 ounces of water.
IMPORTANCE OF POST-WORKOUT ROUTINE
How many of us finish a workout and just walk out of the gym - far too many. The reality is, a cooldown and mobility routine is very important to your overall strength, and recovery.
Although the discussion for stretching is open to interpretation, the benefits of mobility and rolling can be seen in research. Think about it - if your body is more mobile you can hit deeper ranges of motion in a lift and increase the potential for strength.
In a similar way, rolling (myofascial release) is a very effective tool for limiting muscle soreness and fatigue after a workout.
What are we getting at?
Your performance is not directly linked to your stretching or rolling routine, but anything you do can help. If you want to improve your squat, you’ll need to open up the hips and strengthen the glutes - which in many cases cannot be done with a barbell.
Your post-workout routine is important because it helps you to be attentive to your tight and sore muscles.
Your post-workout routine is a simple case of giving yourself a bit of TLC.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SLEEP?
The last important element of recovery after a workout is sleep. Not only is sleep an important consideration for anyone who wants to have a healthy and happy life but as bodybuilders, sleep is a determinant of strength.
Did you know that limiting your sleep by just 2 hours can have effects on your overall testosterone levels? Low testosterone can mean low strength.
Do yourself a favour, try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Most strength experts will agree that your goal should be 9 hours in order to achieve optimal recovery.
For best result be sure to supplement a slow-digesting, Casein protein prior to sleep.
RECOVERY - JUST AS IMPORTANT AS TRAINING
We all get lazy sometimes. Maybe you rushed to get a workout in or you didn't have time for your warm-ups and cool down - we get it, we've been there.
It is important to note that most of the techniques and methods you can use to improve your strength post-workout are intentionally easy to do.
Eating wholesome meals before and after - that's basic stuff.
Supplementing carbs and protein post workout - easy!
Take time to work on your muscles, understand where you have weakness and tightness and try to resolve it. At the end of the day, if you have goals of achieving optimal strength you cannot do it with tight muscles.
Remember, Tightness = weakness, muscles are intended to be soft and mobile.
Recover effectively with wholesome nutrition and be sure to supplement clean proteins and dense carbohydrates after a workout.