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Hard workout recovery

Do you often have sore muscles after a hard workout? Are you trying all of the fancy supplements, which promise a speedy recovery, to get you back in the gym, but to no avail? Well, you are in luck! Coach Jon is here to tell you to ditch those empty promises, and I am going to give you a 3-step guide to get you back in the gym ASAP. But first, like always, a little background and nomenclature to make sure we are all on the same page (Boring I know).

  1. Fatigue– Fatigue is what accumulates when we are repeatedly exposed to variable amounts of stress. This stress can come from a myriad of things including, but not limited to: schoolwork, relationships, hard training sessions, family emergencies, financial crises, etc. Our bodies cannot differentiate between stress from your relationship and stress from that hard squat session you completed yesterday, so it all gets compiled into one big ominous cauldron in our soul (figuratively speaking, of course). Fatigue is one way that this stress expresses itself and can be characterized as tiredness, malaise, and low energy.
  2. Recovery– Recovery is a broad umbrella term that we will define as any and every modality or method that diminishes or disappears fatigue or muscular soreness. Both of these are apparent when we are exhibiting signs of overreaching and overtraining.

Overreaching vs. Overtraining

If we are pushing our bodies to the limit and trying to get the best performance possible when we train, we may run into one of two roadblocks, overreaching or overtraining.

  • Overreaching

Overreaching is to overtraining what Mini-me is to Dr. Evil. It’s like the low-fuel light on your car turning on, but you are still moving on the freeway. Essentially, you dug yourself into a small hole, but you can still reach up and pull yourself on out if you wanted to. We overreach when we push the recovery capacity of our body in any given training session. Now, this can be intentional or unintentional; intentional overreaching has been coined functional overreaching. This is when you purposely spend a week or two above your bodies recovery capacity to push the envelope. Some studies suggest that this can lead to an increase in performance, but should be reserved for intermediate to advanced athletes.

  • Overtraining

Overtraining is the scary monster under your bed. It’s the moment when your car goes kaput and you realize you miscalculated the distance to the gas station. It’s when you dug yourself a little hole and kept digging, and now you can’t climb out. Overtraining does not happen by accident, as you have to feel beat up, sore, and excessively fatigued and you still keep trudging through the mud to become overtrained. Odds are, you already had a string of rough workouts where your body and soul were telling you not to workout but you did anyway. Despite hardcore trainers telling you overtraining does not exist, it very much does, and you will know when you’re there. Some common symptoms of overtraining include but are not limited to: excessive fatigue, malaise, depressed appetite, joint pain, and difficulty sleeping. It feels as though your soul got falcon punched in the gut then, was suplexed by Andre The Giant. Once we find ourselves in this situation, we likely are going to need weeks of time taking it easy in the gym, as well as maximizing these three crucial recovery points.

Count Sheep Like You Count Macros

Sleep is arguably the single most important aspect of recovery, but it often gets the least amount of love and attention. When we get a good (notice the emphasis on good) night’s sleep, we produce a cascade of hormones that expedite the recovery process from a hard training session. Now to get a quality 7-9 hours of sleep, we are going to need to do a few simple things.

  1. Black As Night- The first step to getting a sound night of sleep is to make sure your room is as dark as possible. Blackout curtains can help this, as well as making sure that any electronics and lights are turned off. If you are afraid of the dark and need a night light, stick to low-emitting orange or red lights.
  2. Cool, Calm, and Collected– Make sure that your room is nice and cool. When we sleep, our body’s core temperature falls slightly; it is ideal to keep the room between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Curfew For Electronics– The electronics you might use such as your cellphone, tablet, or computer, emit blue light which inhibits melatonin secretion. This makes it increasingly difficult to fall asleep. Try and turn off lights, and electronics 2 hours before you plan on going to sleep. If that does not seem doable, invest in a pair of blue-blocking glasses and throw those on 2 hours before you plan on going to sleep.
  4. Alarm Anxiety- Who else has tossed and turned at night because they were anxiously awaiting the rude awakening that was destined for them? That violent siren that is patiently waiting to jolt you awake at 7:30 am is impairing your sleep. I recommend using an alarm clock that gently wakes you up. There is one brand that emits a low light and nature noises 10-15 minutes before you’re supposed to get up, then slowly intensifies. The one I use wakes me up at the point when I am in my lightest sleep, within a 30-minute window. There are a ton of options available to you.
  5. Bedtime Snacks– This one is a bit more nuanced than the other points. There is a small body of evidence suggesting that some individuals experience difficulty falling asleep when they consume too many carbohydrates before bed. This is because the spike in insulin to regulate blood glucose levels can make it difficult to fall asleep. Now, this is in no way conclusive and will depend on the individual. If you find that you have trouble falling asleep when consuming carbs within 45 minutes of bedtime, then stick to only eating them an hour before bed. Is it dose dependent? Does it depend on if you had a meal with equal amounts of protein and fats? You may even get a better night of sleep when eating a small amount of carbs before bed, but how much is too much? These are all questions that you might have to figure out for yourself with a bit of deductive reasoning.

Count Macros Like You Count Sheep

The next big metaphorical rock in our quest for optimal recovery is everyone’s favorite, FOOD. 

  1. Calories– Are you intaking enough calories to aid your body’s recovery? Maintaining a caloric surplus is vital in recovering from hard workouts. And no, that doesn’t mean eating ice cream, twinkies, and McDoubles after every workout.
  2. Carbohydrates– Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient to aid in our recovery. They will help replenish glycogen stores so that we can get ready to crush the next training session.
  3. Protein- Although carbohydrates have a more immediate impact in our recovery, protein is like the supplier which will help you build your defense. An adequate supply of protein will help improve body composition and make it more resilient to the next insult that you may put it through.

It would be ridiculous to think that I would be able to give recommendations on how much or little to set your protein and carbohydrate requirements. I would need to know so many things about the individual reading this, it’s impossible to give solid numbers. But, what I can offer is this: if you feel like you aren’t recovering optimally from your workouts, that they have been suffering lately, and you have your sleep dialed in, then eat a little more carbs and protein than you are now (great advice, right??) and adjust accordingly.

Rest Actively

Yesterday, you crushed your workout and today you feel a little banged up and sore. Not too sore where you’re incapacitated, but enough so you feel it. It’s best to kick your feet up and binge a TV show that day so you can recover, right? Maybe even go above and beyond and grab a foam roll and haphazardly roll out for 10 minutes? WRONG. A rest day shouldn’t really be a rest day after all! We want to partake in some active recovery. Movement is the best medicine! I’m not saying go and run 5 miles or go and hit another hard workout, but what I am saying is go for a brisk 10-15 minute walk. Go swim for 30 minutes. Do a light mobility session. Do something where you are moving and get your heart rate slightly elevated to stimulate some blood flow to those sore muscles to facilitate recovery.

The Big Picture

One thing we want to make sure we are not doing is stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. If you notice, the sleep point comprises a full page and is the first point, while nutrition and active rest make up a little more than half of a page. That is no coincidence. Quality sleep should be of the utmost importance. It doesn’t matter if you have your nutrition dialed in and you are doing an active rest day every day you aren’t in the gym, your performance will suffer I guarantee it. Pick up those dollars first, then get all the pennies you can find!

Til’ Next Time,

Coach Jon

Sports Performance Coach

B.S. NSCA-CSCS

“Coach Jon, Irvine Strength and Conditioning Coach who is an athlete himself and someone I recommend to my patients. He knows what he is doing and his attention is on the proper form and injury prevention is what I love about him.”- Dr. Shakib