Whether your fitness goals are for health, aesthetics, or athletics, the means to those ends are based on transforming your body. Although most people understand that it takes a serious commitment to both training and proper nutrition to change your body composition, many don’t realize that true transformation doesn’t actually occur while we’re training or eating. It happens during recovery!
When you work out, you are pushing your body to the point of cellular breakdown. With every strenuous lifting session, HIIT workout, or indoor cycling class, you are breaking yourself down. It’s only during the recovery process you start building yourself back up.
Do you see why recovery is crucial to the effectiveness of any training program? It’s essential to give your body the time and support it needs to recover.
The transformative nature of recovery
When you work out, you feel sore. That’s a natural part of the muscle-building process.
Muscle hypertrophy (growth) occurs when muscle fibers sustain damage through exercise. The body repairs damaged fibers by fusing them, thus increasing muscle mass.
During this process, most of the soreness we experience comes from the inflammation produced in response to cellular changes. As uncomfortable as it is, our body’s inflammatory response is an important part of the healing process that builds us back stronger.
That said, post-exercise inflammation is only beneficial to a point. Too much inflammation is not only uncomfortable, it can also decrease mobility, increase injury risk, and cause a host of other detrimental health effects – from joint swelling and pain to lethargy and more. Therefore, it is important to adequately recover between workouts and take steps to keep your body’s inflammatory response in check.
If you continually train without recovery, then you are breaking down muscle and creating inflammation without allowing time to rebuild – ultimately, making exercise counterproductive. This phenomenon is called overtraining syndrome (OTS), which negatively affects your health and fitness level and can lead to injuries. OTS can be avoided by following the recovery guidance below.
In addition to taking the necessary time to recover, it’s important to take steps to support and expedite the body’s recovery process. Certain supplements, such as those found in Thorne’s Recovery Bundle, are specifically designed with nutrients and botanicals that maximize the body’s recovery from intense exercise or training.*
Integrating recovery into your training
Recovery should be considered an integral part of your overall training program – not something you only do once a week or when you’re sleeping.
From days off to resting between sets and cooling down at the end of a workout, recovery is as important between your workouts as it is during and immediately following exercise. To avoid the pitfalls that lead to OTS, time your recovery and intensity accordingly. Limit the length of your intense exercise sessions and space them out in your programming.
Optimize recovery with these strategies
1. Getting sufficient sleep
There’s a reason sleep takes up nearly one-third of our lives. It’s during sleep that the body spends the most time renewing and repairing itself. But it’s not just any stage of sleep that does the most good. Research shows that the deep, slow-wave sleep stage is when we produce growth hormone to stimulate tissue growth and muscle repair, as well as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s primary energy-carrying molecule.
Not sure if you’re getting quality sleep? Take Thorne’s Sleep Test to measure the hormones involved in your sleep cycle and get personal results for how to optimize them.
There are steps you can take to enhance the quality of your sleep and ensure you get the deep sleep you need. From specific nutrients to time-tested botanical blends, Thorne offers a variety of sleep-facilitating supplements. Find your ideal formula by taking a quick quiz.
In addition, it’s important to create an environment conducive to rest. Research shows that sleep is improved by a cooler room temperature, darkness, and noise control. It also helps to invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow. And to help you ease tension and tap your parasympathetic nervous system to fall asleep and stay asleep without waking due to physical discomfort, try this quick and easy bedtime stretching and breathing routine.
2. Fueling recovery with the right foods and supplements
Protein, when taken immediately post-workout, is linked to muscle recovery and repair from exercise and training. For example, dietitians recommend that athletes consume protein foods containing approximately 2.3 grams of leucine per serving, an amino acid that signals the muscles to recover and repair after a workout. Research shows this amount of leucine can best repair and maintain muscle. Adding a high-quality protein source, like Thorne’s Whey Protein Isolate, which is high in the amino acid leucine, can promote optimal recovery.* To learn more about Thorne’s protein products, check out their guide on how to choose the right protein powder.
3. Staying hydrated and replenishing electrolytes
The adult human body is comprised of 60-percent water. While exercising, we lose fluid and electrolytes through our sweat. Did you know that losing just two percent of your body weight due to fluid loss can significantly decrease performance?
Adding a supplement like Thorne’s Catalyte that has at least 200 milligrams of sodium per eight ounces can maximize electrolyte replacement after a tough workout.*
4. Leveraging your breathing
There’s no question that breathing is important for giving your body the oxygen it needs to get you through your workout. And your exhales expel the waste byproduct produced through fat burning.
But breathing is also the key to accessing your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the aspect of your autonomic nervous system tasked with recovery and restoration. In as little as 90 seconds of deep breathing you can elicit a “relaxation response,” which taps your PNS, lowering your heart rate, decreasing your blood pressure, and inhibiting stress hormone production. After your training sessions, take a couple of minutes to cool down and focus on deep breathing as a signal to your body that it’s time to begin the recovery process.
Want to learn more about the power of breathing? Check out the four-part “Breathe Better to Live Better” series on CNN.
5. Actively recovering
Recovery days don’t have to mean days off. Although it’s important to take at least one day off per week from strenuous exercise, you can still practice active recovery in between days of intense exercise. Consider having one day a week where you skip your workout but lengthen your walk time. Or take a leisurely bike ride. Practice gentle yoga or tai chi.
6. Stretching a little daily
How many times do you finish the “work” part of your workout, towel off, grab your water, and hit the road? Too often, the cool down is skipped. Just a little time spent breathing goes a long way toward recovery. The same applies to doing a few cool-down stretches.
If you’re tempted to skip the cool down, then don’t. You only need to stretch for a few minutes after each workout to get its feel-good, circulation-boosting, flexibility-improving benefits. In fact, stretching longer isn’t always better; to learn more check out this article.
7. Foam rolling for muscle health
Although there is conflicting data on whether foam rolling’s efficacy comes from impacting fascia, muscle, or both, research shows that it does reduce muscle soreness, increase range of motion, and enhance muscle strength and function. So, we might not know exactly why – but we know it works! Consequently, it’s a solid post-exercise recovery strategy.
To learn best practices for foam rolling, read Ease Sore and Tight Muscles with a Foam Roller.
8. Massaging out tension and toxins
Not everyone has the time or money for a regular weekly massage. However, by investing the cost of a few massages into the purchase of a self-massage gun, like Hyperice’s Hypervolt, you can save both time and money over the long run by enabling you to realize the tension- and toxin-releasing benefits of massage at home.
9. Taking the plunge in ice water
Although some pro athletes swear by its recovery properties, the research on the benefits of cold-water immersion therapy, also known as cryotherapy, is still emerging. Regardless, it has recently gained mainstream popularity with pictures abounding on social media that show individuals bravely submerging themselves in tubs of ice water.
Make your recovery work for you.
There are many tried-and-true, science-based strategies available to help you optimize your recovery. As long as you’re prioritizing your sleep and nutrition, staying adequately hydrated, taking days off from intense exercise, using rest periods in your workouts, and adequately cooling down after a training session, it’s up to you to decide what other strategies work best for you.