Muscles in the human body are quite extraordinary. They are found in the heart, arteries, digestive tract, eyes, and attached to the bones allowing for movement. Muscle cells are unique types of cells because they are able to facilitate large bodily movements through the utilization of the energy rich adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule and calcium ions.
Another interesting component of muscles is that they are quick to adapt to external stimuluses. The best example of muscle adaptability is in the growth and strengthening of muscles in response to the consistent application of resistance. This aspect of muscles is what facilitates the growth of muscles as a result of working out.
The process of building muscles actually results from the formation of microtears in the muscle tissues. These micro tears are completely safe and are simply a part of building muscle mass. While these tears are common, they can cause discomfort in the form of muscle soreness following a workout.
Muscle recovery is an integral part of building muscle as it is the time in which muscle is actually being built. While there is no real substitute for working and getting a little sore, there are things that you can do to help facilitate better and potentially speedier muscle recovery.
Below is a look at 15 different areas you should pay attention to to aid in muscle recovery. These actions are broken up into when you should perform each action which includes before, during, and after a workout.
Before your workout
Muscle recovery is often thought of as actions that you do to help your muscles after you have already worked them out. In reality, a retroactive approach is not the only step you can help to have a better muscle recovery and better post workout experience.
Taking a little time to prepare your body for an activity can allow your body to function at its absolute best and have supported both during and after the workout. These preparatory actions consist of things you can do weeks before or even hours before your workout.
Eating a well balanced diet is a great way to not only feel good about yourself, but it is a great way in which you can support your body's internal function. Many different biochemical pathways in your body require certain nutrients obtained through your body to function at their best. Supporting your body through good nutrition is a great first start to helping your muscles recover.
Taking a more specific look at aiding the process of muscle recovery, one of the best things you can do through your diet before a workout is to consume quality sources of carbohydrates or prepare your body by consuming a sufficient amount of quality energy dense foods.
Carbohydrates are one of 4 essential biological macromolecules that make up living things. Energy utilized by muscles and the brain relies on carbohydrates such as glucose. Even if you are on a carbohydrate restricted diet like keto, the body synthesizes carbohydrate derivatives to supplement the lack of intake.
Increasing the consumption of energy dense foods allows your body the time it needs to digest and provide the nutrients and energy sources to your bloodstream and then to your cells.
Eating energy rich foods is important, however, supporting the mechanism behind the production of the usable energy source ATP is not something to be overlooked.
Imagine the intake of energy rich food as deliveries of oil for a power plant. If the power plant is old, dilapidated, and has diminished efficiency it would result in the backup of oil and ultimately result in a waste of resources. In this analogy, the mitochondria in the cell are analogous to the powerplant and the long line of oil deliveries represents eating an energy dense meal.
As you age, the mitochondria can tend to show signs of wear and decreased efficiency. To help bolster your cellular energy power plants, MitoQ offers a great remedy. MitoQ is a highly bioavailable form of the CoQ10 molecule which is a necessary component to the production of ATP. Ensuring your mitochondrial health is maintained is an important component in giving your body the energy it needs through physical activity and recovery.
Pre workout hydration is often overlooked and because of this it results in many experiencing cramps, diminished performance, and even a worsened recovery. The average adult is nearly 60% water and needs to constantly intake fluids to maintain this level. Water is lost to the environment through evaporation and excretions. When working out the amount of water loss can increase through sweat and other means.
Before you workout you should ensure that you are well hydrated. If you begin a workout dehydrated, you are only worsening it by working out and you will most likely notice a diminished level of performance. Hydrating before you anticipate working out is a great way to ensure you prime your body to work at its best.
Additionally, dehydration could lead to exercise-associated muscle cramps. While dehydration is only a part of the risk factors for these cramps, not being prepared can hinder your performance and could lead to unnecessary discomfort.
Eight hours of sleep a night is what most adults strive for, but in practice many people get significantly less. Whether it be an inability to sleep or a choice, not getting enough sleep can impact your body and how it functions. During sleep many restorative processes take place within the body including.
One study even proposes that an increase in sleep debt can hinder the muscle recovery process. These points illustrate that a good night's sleep is an incredibly important aspect to muscle recovery.
Sleep is not only needed physiologically, but it is also needed to maintain energy levels and mental clarity. For muscle building and a good recovery, it is important to have your wits about you.
If you are sleep deprived and go play a sport or do an intense workout, you are more likely to get injured due to the lack of sleep impairing your judgement or performance. Avoiding unnecessary muscular damage through injury is the best way to avoid lengthy recovery times.
4: Warm up
Traditionally when people think about preparatory ways to aid muscle recovery, they think of stretching. While stretching can increase the range of motion across joints, there is little statistical evidence that stretching can reduce muscle soreness.
A better way to prepare for a workout is to do a warm up. Performing a light aerobic exercise is a great way to ease your body into the workout and prime your muscles with blood flow and oxygenation.
Assisting the muscle recovery process requires a holistic effort where you need to ensure you are doing everything you can to help recovery and to support it. Muscle cells require a high energy demand and the best way to support the efficiency in which energy needs are met is to take MitoQ.
MitoQ is a specially formulated CoQ10 molecule that is highly bioavailable and able to effectively be implemented within the membrane of the mitochondria. CoQ10, also known as ubiquinol, is an antioxidant molecule that is present in the body. CoQ10 plays an important role in the electron transport chain during ATP synthesis. With a decreased level of CoQ10 the efficiency of energy transfer from carbon chains to ATP is reduced.
A typical trend in our body’s natural CoQ10 levels is that it decreases as you age. While many just accept this as a reality of aging, you can potentially increase CoQ10 levels within your mitochondria by taking MitoQ supplements. MitoQ is a great way to support your mitochondria which can provide many performance benefits.
Not only can a supported mitochondria help the performance during an exercise, but it can also help in the healing process. Muscular healing is an energy intensive process as cells need to get to work fixing micro tears through proliferation and synthesis of necessary compounds. These processes do not just occur on their own and require ATP to carry out. By having good mitochondrial health you are ensuring that you are doing what you can to give your body an easier time healing.
During your workout
When you are doing an intensive activity or workout you are placing stress on your muscles, circulatory system, and more. This stress is what allows your body to adapt and make positive changes within your body such as build muscle or improve circulation.
While this stress is beneficial, it is important to limit harmful amounts of stress placed on the body. Overworking and going beyond your capabilities during exercise can lead to an increased chance of injury which will only lengthen your recovery and ultimately place a burden on your progress.
Below are three actions you can take to limit the changes of injury and to ensure the amount of stress you are placing on your body is enough to facilitate positive change within the body, but not enough to cause injury.
1: Proper technique
One of the most common misconceptions about the gym is that it is all about trying to pick up and rep the heaviest weight that you can pick up. While increasing weight can lead to more muscle growth as you progress, a more important thing people should focus on is their technique and form.
Ensuring that you have proper technique for whatever the activity at hand is will allow you to safely engage in it and reduce your chances of unnecessary injury. In a gym setting, if you have improper technique while lifting you could cause an injury that could cause you to be out of the gym for weeks. During any exercise you should ensure you are utilizing proper and safe technique to allow you to keep performing rather than having to tend to injuries.
2: Hydration… again
Hydration is not only important before a workout, but it is also necessary to replenish water lost throughout the activity. For hydration during a workout, it is important to take in salt in addition to water. A large intake of plain water increases your likelihood of cramping and adding electrolytes can help diminish this chance.
Electrolytes are necessary for both muscle and nervous cells to function at their best. Many sports drinks contain water in addition to electrolytes for this specific reason. Staying hydrated with an electrolyte solution is a great way to ensure you are getting your physical activity without the nuisance of a cramp. Providing all the necessary hydration and electrolytes to the cells that need them is a great way to support their optimal functioning and allow you to focus on the task at hand.
3: Listening to your body
Listening to your body during a workout is incredibly important in reducing the chance of injury, which can prolong recovery times. While there are times that it is good to ignore your gut feeling and push through, during a workout is not one of those times.
As stated previously, a workout is essentially a controlled manner of inflicting micro tears to your muscles. While working out there is a fine line between what is good for your muscles and what will result in real injury. The only metric you have to determine what is too much are your sensations and what your body is telling you.
If you find yourself second guessing whether or not you should add 10 more pounds to the bar you are most likely not ready and should train more till you are confident in your abilities. It can be easy to get caught up in your progress of exercise and to rush, but ultimately exercise progress needs to be gradual to allow your body the time to recover and grow stronger.
After the workout is a time period that is just as important as before and during. When the workout is over, the process of recovery begins. Muscle recovery is what allows your body to heal and grow new muscle fibers. Below are five steps you can take to help the process of muscle recovery or make your recovery experience better.
1: Cooling down
Just like a warm up to an exercise, the cool down is important. A cool down consists of gradually decreasing the intensity of the workout until you are back to a normal resting state. During a workout your circulatory system and thermoregulation is working in overdrive to support the needs of the muscles in your body.
The cool down allows your body to gradually decrease its temperature, heart rate, and respiration. A great thing to do while cooling down is to stretch as muscles are warm and more receptive to stretching and other flexibility exercises.
Having an effective cool down can reduce the chances of cramping, lightheadedness, or stiffness after a workout.
2: Warm baths
This action may seem contrary to what most people believe. Many people associate athletes and other high performing individuals with cold water baths after a workout. While a cold water bath can provide relief from the inflammation induced by exercise, it delays muscle recovery. When you go into a cold bath it causes a restriction of blood flow through an action called vasoconstriction. Limiting blood flow can effectively manage inflammation, but does not promote healing.
A warm water bath is a way to help muscle recovery because it causes vasodilation which is the opening of blood vessels. With more blood flow, muscle cells are able to receive the necessary components found in the bloodstream to heal and build back muscle. Increasing blood flow is a large component to the healing process and taking a warm bath can assist your muscles with getting the blood flow they require.
Massages can not only feel great, but they can help your body. Many high level athletes will get a post-workout massage to help loosen them up and prepare for their muscle recovery. While it has been found that massages do not improve muscle recovery, it has been shown that they can improve post exercise flexibility and the feeling of post-workout soreness.
Massages can range in what muscles they work on and how deep they are. Ultimately a massage that adequately works on the muscle groups will suffice and it is up to your personal preference and trial and error to find what kind of massage works best for your post workout recovery.
4: Hydrate… again, again
By this point it may seem like hydration is an over stressed point, but it truly is important in the recovery of muscles. After a workout getting your hydration back within your normal is a crucial part in recovery. Water and fluids make up a large portion of your body. Because of this, small decreases in your fluids can result in large changes.
Dehydration can reduce circulatory efficiency and make it more difficult for muscles to repair microtears and rebuild. Water is a large component of blood and is what allows form many different vital nutrients to be dissolved within the bloodstream and transported throughout the body.
For muscle cells to recover they need a steady supply of energy dense carbon chains in addition to building blocks like amino acids and other macromolecules. Adequate hydration supports the circulatory system for those materials to be delivered to the muscle cells. With the materials and time, muscle cells are able to repair microtears and increase the overall strength of the muscle tremendously.
The most important component of muscle recovery is rest and time. Rest consists of reducing activity to allow your body to heal. Time is a necessary component of recovery as muscle cells cannot magically fix microtears in a snap.
People who have caught the fitness bug may be tempted to push through soreness and recovery time and continue to exercise. This process could lead to an increased risk of muscular injury. Skipping rest is detrimental because it doesn’t give your body time to actually repair itself, increase strength, or improve. Making a rest day a priority is a must when you're starting a workout regime and is a necessary component to building muscle.
In addition to reducing activity levels after strenuous activity, it is also advised to get a good night's sleep. As previously stated, decreasing sleep and sleep quality appears to be linked with decreased muscle recovery. Getting the perfect night's sleep can allow your body the resources afforded during sleep to aid in recovery.
In summary, there are many different actions that you can help to better the process of muscle recovery. Whether it actually assists in the biology behind muscle repair or reducing negative symptoms of muscle recovery there are countless things you can do.
Working out can be tough and a rough recovery doesn’t help with staying with an exercise regiment. Assessing your own workout routine and looking at what you do before, during, and after a workout can give you a good baseline to determine what you could improve.
With the tips above, you can be on your way to supporting your body throughout a workout and into the muscle recovery phase.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.