… Have been very diligent with your training plan. You’ve read the books and are progressing just like it is recommended. Yet you’re still sore after most workouts and it feels like you are not pushing past that point.
… Are doing a multi-day hike and you cannot afford for your legs to be too sore the next day.
… Are just getting back into working out and you want all the help you can possibly get!
There are a lot of different ways to be less sore and to gain the results you desire for peak performance. There is a LOT of science when it comes to activity-based nutrition and even just recovery.
But here are 5 simple ways for you to begin reducing your recovery time today.
1.Focus on your “Recovery Window”
You may have heard this term before. But what is a recovery window and how can you work it to your advantage? Your body is best equipped to uptake fuel most rapidly in the 30-45 min period after a workout.
When the body is stressed, it increases the levels of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is not innately bad, but it does break down your muscles and can increase soreness and cause you to hold onto body fat.
The big tip here is to consume a snack within 30 minutes after your workout and try to get in a meal within 90 minutes. Most individuals workout within 90 minutes of a meal. If you do not, see if you can switch around your schedule or reduce one of your other meals and really beef up your post-activity snack.
Your body can continue to use the carbohydrates consumed to replace muscle energy stores for a day after an intense workout. However, it is at a slower rate, so you reduce the benefits you receive in the soreness department
2. Eat an Appropriate Amount of Carbs and Protein
Quiz: should you have carbohydrates after your workout or protein?
Answer: C. All of the above.
From above, we found out that eating in your recovery window helps to counteract cortisol. But the trick here is, that your recovery fuel needs to be a CARBOHYDRATE/PROTEIN combo. Carbs increase the levels of insulin in your body. Insulin helps to stop your body from producing more cortisol. Not only that, but whether you are hiking, biking, or playing a really rowdy game of tag, you are using your muscles’ energy stores. These energy stores, or glycogen stores, can be replaced by consuming carbohydrates. If you do not replace these stores after physical activity, chances are the next day you will be sore, and you won’t have those energy stores for your next workout! (This is also why you should not skip carbohydrates on your rest days!)
Don’t worry, I did not forget about protein. Protein is another essential component in your recovery plan. As most know, protein is the macronutrient that can build muscles. Even if you are an ultra-runner and are not trying to squat 400#, you still need to build and repair your muscles. The protein consumed after a workout will jumpstart the muscles regeneration process and will help repair the damage that you have done to them.
Aim for 10-20g protein post exercise and 3-4x that amount of carbohydrates
*Note: Humans do not store excess protein in the muscles or as amino acids. Therefore, eating an excess amount of protein will not help you bulk up. Distributing your protein consumption throughout the day can help your body continue to rebuild.
Your muscles get you pretty far, so be nice to them, okay?
3. Be Well Hydrated Before, During, and After
When you are well hydrated, your blood flows more easily. That helps to bring more oxygen to your muscles while you are engaging in physical activity. Not only that, but most of the times during physical activity you tend to sweat, causing a fluid loss. Additionally, good hydration status helps cushion your joins and is good for your organs. Basically, everything runs much smoother when hydrated.
(Check out my post on hydration to learn more of how it is critical to performance and daily living and how to calculate your needs during activity.)
4. Fruits and Veggies
Did you know that vegetables have the highest amount of nutrients per gram of any food group? Fruits too are loaded with antioxidants. Having a diet high in fruits and vegetables improve many of the biochemical reactions in your body that is needed for normal body function and definitely needed during activity levels of any intensity or duration. These vitamins and minerals can also aid in maintaining bone health!
The best way to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a diverse amount of all food groups, especially fruits and vegetables. (Think: Eat the Rainbow)
5. Eat Frequently
I will never forget how one professor explained this concept to me. She painted an image of us as cavemen. When humans were running around catching their food, they would go long stents without consuming a meal. As a tool of self-preservation, their body would hold onto its energy and slow down other processes due to the fact that it did not know when it was going to be able to dine again on some delicious T. Rex (just kidding). One of these processes that your body slows down when it is fasting is, you guessed it, recovery.
When you have an excess or even just enough calories, when your body is not concerned for its safety, it will use that inflow for good and continue to work on your muscle reparations. Try to consume something every few hours. They do not have to be giant meals, but consuming varied snacks throughout the day can do wonders for your recovery.
The most important thing you can do to actually get the most out of your workout is to be prepared. Do not begin your workout without knowing exactly what you are going to eat afterward and how long it will be before you can eat it!
Fueling properly IS part of your training plan. The faster you recover, the faster you can get back on the trail.