7 Simple ways to speed up muscle recovery
We all know that satisfying feeling that comes from a great work out, and we all know that feeling a day or two after where our muscles get brutally sore. Conventional wisdom is that the soreness comes from lactic acid build up in the muscle. But lactic acid is only used in the 30-60 minutes during and shortly after exercise and doesn’t explain the 24-72 hours of soreness after. So what is soreness really and how do we speed up muscle recovery?
With strenuous workouts you’re creating tiny micro tears deep within the muscle fibers themselves. This happens when doing activity the muscles aren’t used to doing, or they are being worked harder than they are used to.
Since soreness comes from creating micro tears in the muscle fibers, the best way to speed up muscle recovery would be to allow for the fibers to heal fully and to speed up the recovery process they need enough rest, good nutrients and some basic care.
The 7 Proven basics that help speed up muscle recovery are:
Hot Baths / Sauna
To do all of these and help those muscles out may take a little extra time of planning, but doing so will allow you to train harder and improve performance faster. Having the mindset that planning the recovery after training is as important as planning the training program is a good start
Keep your body a fine tuned healing machine by making these good simple choices.
1. Quality Sleep
I put this one first because it’s one of the most effective ways of repairing and healing the body, however it’s usually the 1st to be sacrificed on the altar of productivity. With our busy lives and training schedules it can be easier to stay up a little later at night, consume a little extra coffee during the day and get our healing ability running on fumes.
Here’s what’s going on when you sleep:
While we’re sleeping the body is repairing damaged tissue, replacing dead and aging cells, optimizing our central nervous system’s ability to function properly by reducing stress and removing destructive proteins from the brain. Sleep acts as the Brain’s lymphatic system.
Brain health = healthier muscles and body
If sleep is not something you’ve been allowing yourself, try these quick tips to help you improve your rest and recovery
Tips for better sleep
Commit and schedule
Create a night routine
Monitor your sleep
Commit and Schedule
Schedule quality sleep as you would schedule your workouts. Its common we hear the body needs 7-8 hours sleep, or 8 -10 hours for intense training routines. Truth is the amount of sleep your body needs differs from person to person. For the first 1-2 nights of scheduling your sleep, leave yourself a large window to allow the body to rest as long as it needs to. For the first couple of nights, see if you can leave the alarm clock off and rest until you naturally wake. Often times this kind of reset is necessary, especially if you’ve been running on little to no sleep for a while. The amount of sleep you need will level out and you’ll be more rested and in tune with your body’s needs. For me, the first night I committed to scheduling sleep, I wound up sleeping 11 hours and felt incredible the next morning, body aches from training were gone and after a night or two I was caught up and getting great night sleep on 8 solid hours.
Create a Night Routine
Often times we have a hard time getting to sleep when we do the things that keep our minds active; check social media or emails, watch tv, work etc. Setting up a system that prepares the body for sleep can be one of the best ways to slow down the pace of our busy lives and get us ready to sleep. I know for myself, after reading an article on Arianna Huffington and her night routine.
I started adopting my own night routine; no devices for last 60-90 minutes before bed, replacing lamp light with candle light, hot bath, night tea and reading. No matter how busy my schedule I’m able to wind down and get an amazing night’s sleep.
Monitor Your Sleep
As we know, what gets measured improves, downloading a sleep app on your smart phone or wearable watch measures your natural sleep rhythms and gives you feedback on the quality of your sleep.
Quick overview of the stages and cycles of sleep:
Since the self-monitoring industry is exploding there are many choices for apps or wearable technologies that will help you monitor your sleep. The choice is really up to your own preference. If you want to download a sleep monitor app to your smart phone, you could use a service like sleep cycle.
It provides a good comprehensive overview of your sleep patterns, slips under your bed sheet, and provides accurate information on the quality of your sleep.
The base version is free, and If you like to upgrade the cost is $1.99. I personally haven’t found a need for the paid service, but you may find there are some extra monitoring options your prefer. Definitely won’t break your bank and payoff with valuable data into how restful your sleep is.
2. Proper Hydration
The simplest, fastest, easy way to help improve muscle recovery, drink more water. Conventional wisdom says that up to ¾ of the American population is dehydrated. Whether that is true or not, what is true is that when we resistance train, water is driven to fill the muscle cells and area surrounding. When we aren’t sufficiently hydrated, the muscle cells lose water and protein production can slow down and protein breakdown can speed up.
Coupled with this, when we sweat we lose common electrolytes; sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that form ions carrying an electric charge and triggering how your body functions including muscle action by controlling ion channels. These channels are the doors that open and close to move the materials that support regular function of the cells in our body. Think light switch triggering cell function
When sweat, electrolytes lost in high concentrations ; Electrolytes lost in high concentrations through sweat include sodium and chloride, while electrolytes lost in low concentrations include potassium, magnesium and calcium.
For a quick test check the color of your urine, if it’s light yellow or clear, you’re doing a good job hydrating your body. Dark yellow, you could stand to hydrate more. Thought this is quick test typically measures the volume of water in your system and not the hydration. It is still a good general guide to see how well the water is flushing your kidneys.
How Much Is Enough?
The science on the magic bullet of water needs varies, the 8 glasses a day rule is a catch all that could stand an upgrade especially varying with body size and activity level. For a good general recommendation consuming ½ your body weight in oz. of water is not a bad idea
To keep you on your target, you could grab a measured container (say a 24-32oz container and have a daily target to dink per day, 3 per day for example…keep it with you. And hit your targets)
Depending on activity level, a good recommendation for daily water intake would be to drink 1/2 of your body weight in ounces. For Example, a 150lb person would consume 75oz of water per day. For this case, using a 24 oz measured container 3 times per day would be a helpful reminder to get you on toward your daily target. With increased activity adjust your needs accordingly. Generally if your thirsty, the body is already slightly dehydrated.
Keep in mind that sugary sport drinks and 0 calorie sweeteners add more for your body to process, so if you don’t omit them altogether stick them to before, or during intense exercise. If drinking water gets boring for you, switch it up with electrolyte rich coconut water or add flavor and natural electros to your water by adding fresh herbs or fruit to your water.
3. Good Nutrition
Post Workout Protein
To repair muscle tissue post workout, a quick blast of complete amino acids provides the building blocks for muscle repair. Having a fast digested protein, like whey, on hand for after your training or quick lean protein like egg whites/fish along with fast acting starchy carbohydrates like yams to restore glucose levels will help restore the energy back to the muscles you just destroyed.
Essential fats have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation and muscle soreness facilitates muscle recovery. Especially the omega fats EPA and DHA specific reason why omega fats help reduce muscle soreness and speed recovery. The two main families of EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids) are Omega-3 and Omega-6. Found naturally in Fish, nuts and seeds.
Here’s the rub, Omega-3 fats produce the anti-inflammatory lipids, prostaglandin. Until our recent diets, we got a healthy balance of Omega -3 to Omega-6 ratio. However with the abundant omega-6 in our food and cooking oils our ratios are way out of line. Think 25:1 where they should be ~2-6:1. Since fish and flax seeds are abundant sources of Omega-3s. Consuming more or supplementing with a high quality fish oil will help reduce chronic inflammation and reduce soreness.
Here's a list of Lower Low mercury fish to add to your shopping list you can eat practically anytime to help get your essential fats
Foods that facilitate repair and reduce chronic Inflammation
Though acute inflammation does have a role in muscle recovery and repair, chronic inflammation does not. Eating the following foods that help reduce chronic inflammation will improve your post workout recovery.
Leafy greens; Spinach, chard, collards, etc. and cruciferous vegetables; broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale etc. Have shown to improve support the chemical reactions involved in maintaining the healthy state of cells, safely removing cortisol and help reduce the insulin response. These power recovery foods help fight inflammation and keep the body healing at superhuman levels
Berries and dark colored fruits have powerful nutrients that have shown in studies to accelerate the removal of waste and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. Powerhouse fruits include; dark cherries, blueberries, raspberries, black berries, strawberries, plums.
Nuts & Seeds
Raw nuts such as almonds, macadamia, pecans, and pistachios, and seeds, such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are excellent anti-inflammatory, pro recovery foods
Keep them as a snack or garnish. These are an abundant source of essential fats. When trying to reduce chronic inflammation to improve the recovery time after training. Choosing nuts with the good ratios of polyunsaturated fats to mono unsaturated fats keeps your 3:6 ratios in line and reduces the inflammatory response in the body allowing the body to heal better.
The following chart breaks down the ratios of poly vs mono unsaturated fats. When selecting the raw nuts you consume, refer to the chart to find the optimal ratios for your recovery
Two spices also shown to help with chronic inflammation are Turmeric and cinnamon.
Cinnamon is easy to add to any recipe, turmeric, outside of using it for curry, may take a little more creativity. You could try this golden milk recipe or use these 3 easy to make anti-inflammatory shake recipes to get you started including these spices in your recovery routine:
4. SMR – Self Myofascial Release
Self-Myofascial Release basically means a self-massage. You use your favorite mobility tool (foam roller, lacrosse ball, double lacrosse peanut, 5 inch massage ball) to applied slow continuous pressure to the muscles. This helps smooth out the fascia, connective tissue surrounding muscles and nerves, and breaks up scar tissue. By restoring the suppleness to the sore areas along with the other therapies listed here your soreness will see a dramatic improvement. If you need more information, visit this link on myofascial release and how to foam roll better.
Try spending time rolling over the major muscle groups of the body, spending roughly 30 seconds to 2 min for each area. Give extra time to areas that are extra cranky and remember you want your muscles feeling better after you’ve rolled them out.
Benefits of foam rolling
Improve blood flow to speed up healing process
Smooth fascia for better nerve function, 1mm sheath
Break up scar tissue and knotted fascia (fascia pic)
Spend 30-60 seconds minimum on rolling your sore muscle groups
Target the area of discomfort as well as the muscles that next to them
5. Dynamic Stretching
While technically you could put this in the light activity category, stretching is recommended frequently as a post recovery method. However the static stretching we are used to, where we hold a muscle at its stretched point for a certain period of time, show no real benefit in regards to healing muscle and decreasing blood flow. In fact it has been shown to decrease blood flow to the muscles.
Better to include dynamic stretching as a part of your recovery program, and these include movements where we lightly stretch the body during activity. Mountain climbers, Hip circles, lunges with twists, inchworms all fall under this category of light activity with movement.
For a quick video and article with some dynamic movement ideas check out this full body dynamic warmup
6. Light Activity
General light activity that gets the heart rate elevated and the muscles moving also help decrease soreness and recovery time. Yoga, swimming, steady state walking/jogging/biking/, elliptical and dynamic movement exercises all fall under the light activity category. Doing so within the usual 24-72 hour window of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness can lessen the impact and discomfort you feel.
7. Hot Baths/Saunas
When muscles are tight and need to repair you’ll want to forgo the ice bag and stick with heat. Research shows that increased blood flow improves platelet and oxygenation to the repairing muscle fibers and helps decrease soreness after workouts. The Hot baths and saunas increase blood flow through the body and when dealing with excessive soreness can be that last extra step toward reducing post workout pain and faster recovery.
Use this guide as a post workout recovery checklist. Spend the little extra time to plan out your post workout recovery along with your exercise routine. By doing so, you’ll be giving the body the right food and environment to heal in. You’ll not only reduce recovery time, you’ll be able to attack your training program harder and improve your performance quicker.
Do you have any other muscle recovery rituals that help you recover faster and improve performance?
*Disclaimer: I am NOT an affiliate to any of the links listed in this article. The links are provided because I either use the service/product or I think they’re kick ass.