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Almost all of us who lift weights love to go hard and let it all out in the gym. Especially when you’re having one of those days. You let all of your aggressions out and feel accomplished because you put in some work toward your goals. But, are you even thinking about muscle soreness recovery?
The next day roles around and you wake and can barely move because your so sore. The following day then comes and you feel super stiff and almost even more sore than the day before.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced athlete, you should consider muscle recovery an essential part of your routine.
You may have heard that your muscles don’t grow while working hard in gym. They actually grow while you are resting outside of training. That is why we need to prioritize our muscle recovery to make the most progress possible.
In order for us to change our bodies, we need to steadily lift heavier and harder to stimulate our muscles to adapt and become bigger and stronger. However, while hard training is a must, week after week our bodies will eventually never fully recover from all the damage we cause it from hard training. Fatigue will continue to build up over time and the more training experience you get the more that fatigue will build. This is known as cumulative fatigue.
Taking the time you need to rest your muscles, joints and bones by treating your body well will allow you to better reap the benefits of your training later on.
In this article, we will talk about the principles of muscle recovery and some of the proven ways to help speed up our recovery so that we can keep moving faster towards our goals.
How Muscle Recovery Affects Muscle Growth
When we engage in resistance training, we damage the cells in our muscle fibers. This is the cause of muscle soreness and is why muscle soreness recovery is so important.
This damage in our muscle cells signal the body to begin repairing itself, which requires a faster rate of protein synthesis. That process is regulated by anabolic hormones like testosterone, human growth hormone, and others. The science of what the body does to repair itself is for another article.
The human body is an incredibly adaptive machine.
It doesn’t want to just repair the muscle fiber to its previous state, it wants to adapt it to better deal with the type of stimulus that caused the damage. In other words, it wants to add cells to the muscle fibers which makes them bigger, stronger and more capable. This is what we want if we are to become more capable men.
This leads to the muscle growth that we are all after and is actually the result of protein synthesis rates exceeding protein breakdown rates. The importance of muscle soreness recovery is huge because it is directly related to muscle growth.
All aspects of muscle recovery play a part in increasing our rate of muscle repair versus the rate of muscle breakdown, which leads to more muscle growth and increased strength gains. That is why we are going to cover the most important principles of muscle recovery.
Fatigue and Muscle Recovery
In order for productive training to continue, we have to manage cumulative fatigue by not letting it get too high too often. We, of course, must bring it down and recover when we become to fatigued as well. Techniques to curb cumulative fatigue can help. Nothing can refresh your body and CNS (central nervous system) quite like a deload week or an active rest phase.
However, how often your fatigue gets out of hand, and how often you have to deload, is not set in stone. It is dependent upon the individual and their recovery rates and damage accumulated from training. Managing your fatigue outside of training can meaningfully improve your performance. It can extend the length of time you actually spend training and progressing versus just trying to recover so you can even train at all.
On the other hand, making poor choices in regards to your muscle soreness recovery can not only prohibit a recovery advantage, but it can stall your training progress. That means all the work you are putting in could be for nothing if you are sabotaging your recovery.
Methods That are Proven to Aid Muscle Recovery
There are so many methods out there that either claim to or actually do aid in muscle soreness recovery. In this section we will talk about the obvious methods that work well and have been proven to help you with muscle soreness recovery.
These methods have strong support from scientific studies and they have been used by professional athletes and gym rats alike. Not to mention they are also the most logical methods of reducing fatigue, not just in training, but in life in general.
The first and definitely most powerful fatigue reducing method is an obvious one. However, it can be taken for granted by some, especially the younger crowd.
1) Sleep to Reduce Fatigue
Sleep is such a powerful fatigue fighter that it is most likely more effective than all other methods combined. If you are regularly not getting enough sleep, even the best efforts on reducing fatigue can potentially be worthless.
Sleep is a major function in animals and humans and it is the body’s way to reduce fatigue built up from the day. It is during sleep where your body actually grows and repairs itself from all the training you do. You might be fine without that post-workout shake, but sleep is not optional to say the least.
Getting enough sleep important for muscle soreness recovery as well as our general well beings.
Research has shown that sleep deprivation can cause muscle loss.
Another study found that when 10 healthy men reduced sleep for a week from about 9 hours per night to 5, their testosterone levels dropped by up to 14% during the day. Which is not good if we are aiming to become stronger and more capable men.
It’s also known that a lack of sleep lowers growth hormone and IGF-1 levels, which are essential to building and maintaining muscle mass.
So, how much sleep should you get, then?
Sleep needs vary from individual to individual, but the National Sleep Foundation says, adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night to avoid the bad effects sleep deprivation.
The most logical answer is to get enough sleep FOR YOU. Your training partner might need six hours of sleep, and your coach might need 10, everyone is different. You just need enough sleep for your own physiological needs.
If you wake up really tired and get sleepy throughout the day regularly, you’re not getting enough quality sleep. If you feel good without large amounts of stimulants, then you are probably getting enough sleep for your body needs.
Finally, the last point I should make with sleep is that a lot of us assume our bodies repair a large amount of muscle while we sleep, but research has actually shown that muscle protein synthesis rates are quite low during this time. This is because we don’t eat while we are asleep.
Unless we eat protein before we go to sleep, our body runs out of amino acids to rebuild itself.
Although, that doesn’t mean you lose muscle while you sleep. It just means that without the building blocks for recovery, your muscles can’t recover fully.
I highly recommend supplementing with a casein protein shake before bed, especially if you have a very busy life and cannot get as much sleep as you may need. A good one I have used for a long time is Phase 8 by Muscle Tech. If you want strictly a casein only protein powder and want an all-natural one then you can try Legion Athletics Casein+.
This leads us to the next method of aiding muscle soreness recovery and reducing fatigue which is, food.
2) Food For Muscle Recovery
Food is extremely powerful for muscle recovery and for reducing fatigue and is only second to sleep.
When it comes to food, the highest amount of fatigue reduction comes from being in a caloric surplus. If more calories are taken in than expended you are going to gain weight. Fatigue management becomes much more effective in this state. You’re able to survive and recover from training much more efficiently because your body has more fuel to recover with.
On the contrary, being in a caloric deficit has the opposite effect. The less food you eat, the more difficult managing fatigue becomes. While a maintenance diet can definitely help with recovery, the further calories dip below maintenance, the more fatigue will accumulate because the body has less fuel to recover with.
This is just the name of the game and must be accepted when you are seriously trying to change your body. During a caloric deficit, you must make sure the other methods of reducing fatigue, like proper training management and sleep are in order. Food is the second-best method of reducing fatigue and muscle soreness recovery so when you are trying to lose fat by lowering overall calorie intake, it becomes less effective in helping you recover.
If you are interested in reading about how to gain muscle and lose fat the quickest and most effective way, then read Proper Nutrition To Build Muscle and Lose Fat (An Ultimate Guide To Nutrition) It will help you set up a diet plan for you based on your goals and will help you figure out how many calories you need everyday to gain muscle, lose fat and build strength.
Calorie and Macronutrient Intake For Muscle Recovery
You need to make sure you’re eating enough food every day if you want to maximize muscle recovery and muscle growth.
How many calories should you eat every day, then? That depends on your goal.
If you want maximum muscle soreness recovery, you want to ensure you’re eating as many calories you’re burning every day. Eating in a caloric surplus of about 10-20% over your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is best to maximize recovery rates.
You can multiply that as follows:
- By 1.2 if you exercise 1-3 hours per week.
- By 1.35 if you exercise 4-6 hours per week.
- By 1.5 if you exercise 7+ hours per week.
This will give you an estimate of how many calories to eat to gain muscle steadily over time. If this seems confusing or out of context to you, then read Proper Nutrition To Build Muscle and Lose Fat (An Ultimate Guide To Nutrition) It will walk you through the process.
What is the most important macronutrient for recovery? CARBS. Protein is not the top macro this time even though it is still very important. While protein builds and preserves muscle, carbs are more effective at reducing cumulative fatigue. This is because of their effects on muscle glycogen levels. Carbs are very effective at restoring levels of muscle glycogen that are depleted through hard training. Low muscle glycogen levels are attributed to higher cumulative fatigue.
the most important of them? CARBS. That’s right, protein is not in its customary first place ranking this time. While protein builds and preserves muscle, carbs have a more profound effect on cumulative fatigue, mostly through their effects on muscle glycogen reserves.
Building muscle strength and size requires that we continually push our muscles harder and harder progressive overload. This is very difficult to do when our muscle glycogen levels are always low.
Furthermore, research has shown that when muscle glycogen levels are low, exercise-induced muscle breakdown is accelerated.
We are trying to breakdown our muscles through training to build them up bigger and stronger. However, our bodies can only synthesize so many muscle proteins every day. If we cause too much damage, our body simply won’t be able to keep up. Which can result in us actually losing muscle despite regular training because the breakdown outweighs the repair.
A study compared high- vs. low-carbohydrate dieting and found that the subjects following the low-carb diet had increased protein degradation and reduced protein synthesis rates. To those subjects this results in less overall muscle growth.
Carbs clearly have an important role in reducing and preventing fatigue build up, but what about protein?
We all know that a high-protein diet is important for building muscle. Protein provides your body with the amino acids it needs for protein synthesis to build muscle. This is why eating enough protein every day is an important part of maximizing muscle recovery as well. Basically, protein provides the raw materials for the process of repairing the muscles that are damaged from training.
Now that we know how important carbs and protein are to muscle soreness recovery, how much do we actually need?
For protein intake, research has shown that it should make up about 30% of your daily calories. The standard for this is about 1 gram per pound of body weight, depending on your body fat levels. You can use this as a rough guideline.
For carbs, a good place to start is by getting 30-50% of your daily calories.
If you increase your carbohydrate intake after your workout, it will result in an accelerated rate of glycogen re-synthesis according to this study. Which basically means that your muscles are being refueled with their preferred energy source more efficiently. If you want to take advantage of this you can increase your carbohydrate intake after your training session.
If you want to dial in your nutrition for better recovery and to fast-track your progress toward your goals, then you can read Proper Nutrition To Build Muscle and Lose Fat (An Ultimate Guide To Nutrition) It will guide you through the process of creating an effective meal plan.
3) Supplements and Muscle Recovery
Muscle recovery supplements are quite popular. You can find a supplement for just about anything but that doesn’t mean that they are all beneficial.
Let’s briefly look at some of the most common supplements for recovery that the industry pushes onto lifters and see whether they help boost muscle soreness recovery or not.
Branched Chained Amino Acids (BCAA’s) and Muscle Recovery
BCAA’s have been shown to reduce muscle breakdown and accelerate recovery if taken before and after a training session.
Whey protein works great for this and I highly recommend it as a staple for your workout regimen. I personally don’t spend my money on BCAA’s.
Glutamine and Muscle Recovery
Although, there’s no research to indicate that taking glutamine improves protein synthesis in healthy adults that eat well. as opposed to humans and rats in diseased or under-fed states
I do not take glutamine a sole supplement because I get it through a high quality whey protein powder. Research has shown that supplementing with glutamine can help prevent overtraining after prolonged and regular exercise so you can get some benefit from supplementing with glutamine.
Creatine Monohydrate and Muscle Recovery
Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It is the most thoroughly researched sports supplement in the world of fitness and nutrition. It is the subject of over 200 studies and many, if not all, have shown that creatine has been proven to help build muscle and boost muscle soreness recovery while doing it safely.
One of its many benefits are reduced exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation. It also can help prevent muscle loss and reduce fatigue when you are cutting fat from being in a caloric deficit.
As long as you buy creatine that is free from impurities, then creatine monohydrate is your best bang for your buck. It has gotten bad reviews over the years for its side effects like bloating, but years of refinement have eliminated this.
This is a popular creatine monohydrate supplement.
Whey Protein and Muscle Recovery
Whey protein is probably the most convenient supplement for muscle soreness recovery. We know that we need protein to build muscle and to prevent muscle breakdown and having a whey protein powder to get a quick 20-30 grams of protein can be very convenient.
There is a reason why it is so popular in the fitness world. It works. Although, you do not necessarily need it and can get your protein through diet only, it does have benefits for muscle soreness recovery. Most have glutamine and BCAA’s added in to them which can be helpful so you don’t have to buy them separately.
It can be used as a meal replacement in between larger meals and it almost always used before, during or after training sessions.
There are many popular whey protein powders on the market but you cannot go wrong with Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard.
4) Reducing Stress For Muscle Recovery
Stress from life can add to the level of fatigue you have. Aside from cumulative fatigue from training, stress can add to it all on its own. Fatigue can be accumulated from ANY kind of stressor, not just training. This can be bad for us because we all have stressors in our lives that can raise our fatigue levels and not even realize it. Work, kids and finances are all common examples of life stressors that add to our cumulative fatigue levels.
This means that fatigue can build from the usual stresses of training, from the caloric expenditure of daily activities, and even from psychological stressors. In the end, all of these sources of fatigue add up to your total cumulative fatigue we have been addressing. They have negative effects on our training and progress that we are trying to avoid.
Another principle to boost muscle soreness recovery on our list is to lower stress by engaging in relaxing and enjoyable activities. In order to deal with the sleep deprivation, we get more sleep. To deal with caloric deficit fatigue, we eat more food. Lastly, taking a deload week, or active recovery phase, can lower our training-induced fatigue. To deal with stress, fun and relaxing activities are a direct way to fight the fatigue that accumulates from these psychological stressors. Listening to your favorite music, taking a walk, or even binge watching your favorite show with your wife after work and training can go a long way in helping you lower fatigue.
This point MUST BE MADE CLEAR: this is NOT a free pass to party without consequences! The point of these activities is to be low stress and relaxing, not staying up all night drinking and doing whatever else. That is a recipe for serious fatigue build up and can essentially make your previous workouts null and void.
I get it. When your young you want to go out and drink and have fun. I did it for a while too and I loved it at the time, but then the next day always was full of regret. I did not like partying interfering with my training and my goals, so I slowly started to get out of the drinking scene until I stopped completely. I directly hold strength training and fitness responsible for directing me out of that phase of life. I knew what my priorities were and decided to act on them. I wanted to be big and strong and have a body to reflect that, so I made it happen and gave up what was holding me back.
“I directly hold strength training and fitness responsible for directing me out of that phase of life. I knew what my priorities were and decided to act on them.”-MOS
Don’t be that guy who is still partying, drinking and doing nothing with his life well into his 30’s and 40’s… Anyways, I digress, to each his own… That is another topic for a different article.
The point that is to be made is that these low stress activities are meant to allow your body and mind time to recover and get stronger. They are meant to get you away from the daily stress of life so that you can rebuild to become a more capable man, inside and out.
Here are a couple suggestions you could do to help with fatigue building stress:
- Choose to spend your leisure time wisely. Instead of partying, why not just go out with friends to eat or do a relaxing activity like see a movie. Just don’t let it to allow you to lose too much sleep. Especially of you trained hard that day or will the day after.
- Choose to react well to stress. Stressing out causes hormonal fluctuations, anger and frustration, and high heart rates. These are symptoms of our “fight or flight” response. In most situations neither response is practical or logical these days. Unless you’re protecting yourself or your family, fighting will just get you arrested and running away from work usually means they decide to stop paying you so neither reaction will get you anywhere. Instead, try to cultivate an attitude of calm about your work and other stressors. Be calm, breathe, relax, do what you have to in order to do a good job, and leave the sweating and stressing to people that don’t train. You’re trying to build strength and become a better man, so you’ve got to recover! It is impossible to eliminate stress but try to leave it to someone else when you can.
5) Compassionate Touching
Compassionate touching is the standard sport science term for all forms of intimate human contact in regards to muscle soreness recovery. This includes all forms of intimate contact from formal sport massage to cuddling with your loved one.
Why are all these different forms of human contact lumped together? The most basic reason is that the research has shown that the recovery effects from them all are essentially the same. Many forms of compassionate touching seem to have an almost identical effect on fatigue. They all lower it substantially, but the source seems not to matter as much. Whether it’s a professional massage or a gentle back rub by your wife, the effect on reducing fatigue is substantial.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity for human contact at any given time. For some it is not easy to get your girlfriend/wife to massage you. The next best thing could be self-massage. Although, it will not give you the benefits of compassionate touching from human contact. It still can help with muscle soreness recovery.
Using a massage gun for self massage has definitely helped me deal with sore and tight muscles. These muscles needed daily massage to loosen up over the long term. It has helped me with posture in my shoulders by loosening up my chest and it has even helped my squat form. Loosening my calf muscles over days and weeks increased my ankle mobility to achieve better squat form. There are many massage guns out there. Some are totally over-priced and some are junk, but this massage gun seemed to be a good middle ground for me.
Although its not real compassionate touching, it can help you to a certain degree with recovery. You should aim to get some form of human contact if you are seriously training though. The benefits from compassionate touching have substantial effects on muscle soreness recovery and fatigue reduction.
Wrapping It Up
So we’ve covered five of the major principles of muscle soreness recovery and fatigue reduction. These methods are tired and true and are actually backed up by research. They are proven to be the most effective at reducing cumulative fatigue and boost your muscle soreness recovery.
Just to recap these methods are:
- Sleep for muscle recovery.
- Food for muscle recovery.
- Supplements for muscle recovery.
- Stress reduction for muscle recovery.
- Compassionate touching for muscle recovery.
If you utilize these methods and principles of recovery and fatigue reduction, you will start to feel more fresh for your workouts and will start to notice yourself becoming stronger. To become a more capable man requires building strength. To build strength, we need to allow ourselves to recovery adequately.
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