How to Improve Muscle Recovery
1. Topical MagnesiumWhen I used to go the YMCA to watch my pa play pick up basketball with the "guys," they would walk off after their last game, plunge down onto the bleachers with all kinds of grunts and say to each other, "Man, I can't wait till I can get home and take an Epsom salt bath."
I always thought this was weird.
But they had a point. Epsom salt baths help decrease muscle soreness, enhance relaxation and displace a lot of the calcium ions that can accumulate in muscle tissue during workouts. Why? Because Epsom salts transfer magnesium sulfate, which is the active compound that is responsible for the benefits I just listed. But if you're not into Epsom salt baths, a concentrated magnesium chloride is even better.
Magnesium is essential for more than 300 reactions in your body. In regards to its importance to fitness performance and recovery, magnesium affects muscle function, oxygen uptake, and electrolyte balance. Studies also show that sufficient magnesium is effective in buffering lactic acid during hard training improving your work output. Thus, if you're deficient in magnesium and training like a beast, you leave yourself vulnerable to muscle cramping, sub-par muscle contraction, a suppressed immune system and poor sleep quality.
Instead of taking an Epsom salt bath or taking magnesium orally, you can boost your recovery by applying topical magnesium. Applying topically directly on your skin will bypass digestion allowing for a more potent dose of this key mineral.
2. HydrateHave you ever woken up in the morning feeling groggy with clouded thinking? Chances are you were dehydrated. With a hangover and all of its symptoms - headache, dry mouth, grogginess, fatigue and irritability - dehydration has some similar effects.
Water is by far the number one most overlooked supplement when it comes to recovery. Plenty of research supports that even mild dehydration impacts strength and increases perceived exertion. If you lose 3-4% of your body weight in water, muscular and aerobic endurance can plummet up to 20%. You can pretty much say goodbye to any PR's you plan to set if you're dehydrated.
A good general tip for strength and physique athletes: Drink a gallon of water a day.
Protein powder supplements are a convenient and cost-effective way of bringing up your daily protein intake and improving recovery.
3. Meet your protein needs40-70g of protein per day for the sedentary person would prevent them from being deficient. If the most active part of your day is getting from your desk to pour another cup of coffee in the break room, then you're sedentary.
For the person who lifts and trains multiple times a week, 1g of protein per pound of body weight is a good place to start. Amino acids are the building blocks to muscle growth and repair. Supplementing with high quality protein powder and BCAA's is a practical way for you to meet your protein needs and enhance recovery.
4. Eat enough caloriesThis holds particularity true if you're trying to lose fat. A severely low calorie approach leads you down the path of slow recovery, loss of muscle and severely decreased strength. By eating enough calories while still supporting your goal, you'll ensure that you keep a healthy metabolism, replenish glycogen storage, top off anti-oxidant levels and maintain a positive hormonal environment.
A general fat loss intake for the average man is ~1,800-2300 per day. A general fat loss intake for the average women is ~1,400-1,800 per day. Anything beyond a 35-40% caloric deficit is unnecessary and can be detrimental to your health.
5. Train your brainThe "mind body" connection is well known in the bodybuilding world. But now, research is suggesting that training your brain in the form of meditation can you help you make gains even faster. Did you know meditation can help you recover faster, boosts testosterone levels and be as pivotal in your ability to bounce back from a brutal workout as nutrition can be?
Over-exposure to the demands of daily stress leads to low test levels and the decrease of GH (growth hormone). This yields to crappy workouts and slowed recovery. Doing a daily stress-reducing activity like mindfulness meditation will allow you regulate your hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis to reduce stress and lower baseline cortisol levels.
Look, I get it, you're busy and you don't have time to light candles, brew green tea and meditate all day long. But that doesn't mean you can't step outside from the office or tuck away for 5 minutes every day right? Start small, you can always add more time later.
6. Take care of your gutIf your gut is comprised, good luck trying to recover. A well-functioning gut allows for critical functions to happen in order for fast recovery such as:
- A healthy dose of neurotransmitters that regulate mood, drive and motivation
- Digestion of nutrients needed for muscle repair and growth
- Prevents gastrointestinal inflammation
7. Re-think dairyWhen recovered properly, you as the athlete can handle the same training load or a greater load with ease in the subsequent workouts if recovery is adequate and the new stress is timed properly. This is commonly known as super-compensation. The irony in the traditional approach of recovery, as it relates to nutrition is that an animal protein, dairy based diet for you as an athlete may be hindering your ability to optimally recovery thus slowing your athletic progress.
The cause is inflammation.
When you train, you consequently cause inflammation in your body, and the point to recovery is to reduce that inflammation as quickly as possible so you can return to your next training session, and not only show up, but perform at peak levels. When you feed your body large amounts of dairy product you might be causing more inflammation and probable gut irritation which can lead to more serious issues than your training recovery.
If you find that you don't handle dairy well, there are now excellent sources of plant-based protein powders and milk alternatives like almond, coconut and rice milks.
Blueberries, kiwi, raspberries and other fruits high in phytonutrients and anti-oxidants can help reduce muscle soreness.
8. Anti-oxidant your way to recoveryEating blueberries prior to and after training significantly reduces muscle soreness. Blueberries contain anti-oxidants assists in the internal elimination of waste product so you recover faster. Similar fruits high in in phytonutrients and anti-oxidants are kiwi, raspberries, and acai berries.
Any of these fruits go well in a post-workout shake. But to reference the point above about dairy, it's important to note that mixing any antioxidant fruit with dairy may impair the antioxidant activity in your body.
9. CurcuminA plant native to South India and Indonesia, it packs boatloads of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is largely responsible for its positive benefits.
If you are an active person, you cause inflammation in your body. Whenever inflammation is present, it impedes with muscle repair and recovery. So theoretically, by reducing the amount of time you stay inflamed, the quicker you can recover and get back to your next training session. The most common ways to incorporate turmeric into your diet is via tea, capsules and food.
10. Get to bedGetting enough sleep not only impacts your reaction time on a lift, allows for muscle repair and your ability to push through pain, it also helps you keep your appetite under control. You still eat the same way you ate 5 years ago when you were lean and trim. Now, none of your jeans fit. What happened?
Lack of sleep affects your hunger and appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the go' hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. More ghrelin plus less leptin equals fat gain.
It's no wonder that people who lack sufficient sleep snack more, make poor food decisions, and overeat. Virend Somers, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, conducted a study that showed people who slept 80 minutes less a night on average, overate about 550 calories the following day.
Set a sleep schedule that allows for at least 7 hours of sleep. Stay away from blue light exposure from your phones, tablets and TV's 30 minutes before bed. And, finally, consider taking a ZMA supplement to help calm down your nervous system and have a cup chamomile tea before bed to take the edge of any anxiety that can keep you up at night.
Editor's note: One of the best ways to improve recovery is by using intra-workout BCAAs. Machine Fuel BCAAs are designed by the man that brought this recovery supplement to prominence in the industry, Marc Lobliner. Click here to buy Machine Fuel now.