Muscle Recovery: A Closer Look

Have you noticed lately that your weightlifting workouts seem to take a greater toll on your body? Are you sore all the time, but you just keep trying to push through it anyway? Have you hit a plateau in the gym, but don’t know why?

Well, it probably has something to do with muscle recovery, or the lack thereof. If you want to see consistent gains with strength training, then you need to minimize the amount of time that you take off from exercising and optimize the amount of time it takes for your body to recover from rigorous workouts. That might take some finetuning to your exercise routine, but we’ve put together some valuable tips for muscle recovery that will help keep you in peak physical condition.

What’s Happening to Your Muscles?

But first, it’s important to understand what’s happening to your body when you do resistance training. Lifting a heavy object requires a great deal of energy. Your muscles contract to produce enough energy to counter the weight that you’re lifting.

This activity results in increased strength, endurance, and it increases the size of skeletal muscles over time. How fast and how much depends on a number of factors. Resistance training prolongs your lifespan and improves your daily physical health, but working out with weights causes some damage to your muscles.

Your body processes weight training with a stress response. There’s some inflammation in the muscle after you work out, and your body needs to repair that damage before your muscles can grow stronger. That means that you need rest for muscle recovery if you want to see better results. If you don’t take enough time for the body to heal from these minor stresses, they become persistent injuries and your performance will start to decline.

Have you ever noticed that after a long time away from working out, your body feels sore and tired from even a basic workout? That’s because your muscles aren’t accustomed to this type of stress. Sure, you can expect to be sore the next day, but if you don’t keep up the routine, your body processes the experience as trauma.

Your fight-or-flight response goes into overdrive and your body feels even weaker than before. That’s why you need to exercise regularly. Do it just once and your nervous system says “hey, that felt like we were under attack.” If you keep working out then your body learns to say, “okay, we’re exercising.” Your body automatically engages in a cycle of growth and regeneration.

So, you need to find a healthy balance between working out and resting. Yet, some guys don’t know when to stop. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to muscle recovery. Working out can become addictive and some guys just push themselves too far. No matter how much you love exercising, you’ve got to take the time to recover.

Muscle Recovery Red Flags

  • Is your body constantly feeling sore?
  • Is your performance plateauing at the gym or even getting worse?
  • Are you getting injured more often?

If you find yourself experiencing any of these red flags, then you should consider tweaking your exercise routine for better muscle recovery. These types of issues don’t just go away by themselves. You need to listen to your body and take the necessary steps to boost your muscle recovery.

Finding Balance

You need to take a deep dive into your workout routine to do some fine tuning if you’re hitting a plateau. Remember, your body thinks resistance training is a type of small trauma and you can’t overload your body. You’ll either get injured or stay sore for days and never get stronger.

So, start by changing your mindset. Focus on reaching sustainable fitness goals instead of short term gains. If you’re noticing a drop in performance over a week or two, then slow down and give your body more time to rest and recover.

  • Train different muscle groups and rotate your strength training routine.
  • Don’t try to compete with other guys in the gym.
  • Don’t neglect to do your warmups and cool downs.
  • Workout seasonally. When the weather is nice, do more cardio outdoors.
  • Explore alternative exercises that work the same muscle groups but protect your injuries.

Related: 12 Reasons You’re Not Seeing Exercise Results

Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic States for Muscle Recovery

The nervous system is vital to your muscle recovery. When you’re exercising or lifting weights, your body registers this experience as a mild type of trauma. Your body goes into a sympathetic state; that’s your fight-or-flight response. Your blood pressure increases, and more blood is sent to your muscles. The sympathetic state is the body’s response to stress and when you spend too much time in this stress mode, your body doesn’t recover as well.

The opposing force to the sympathetic state is the parasympathetic state. This is the state that your nervous system switches on for digestion and rest. Your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure drops. Your nervous system starts to address the damage done to your muscles from rigorous exercise. You need to be in the parasympathetic state to have the best muscle recovery.

Balancing Your Nervous System for Muscle Recovery

After your workout, it’s important to take yourself out of the fight-or-flight state. You should get some rest, avoid psychological and emotional stress, and cut down on stimulants. Eat a good meal and just try to relax. This might mean less screen time, too. Your smartphone can actually stress you out instead of relaxing you. So, consider switching off after a hard session at the gym.

Instead of just hopping on your smartphone and binge watching your favorite shows, you can get a massage or jump into the sauna. Restorative yoga, tai chi, and meditation are all great ways to cool down after a strength training session. The goal is to send a signal to your nervous system that the hard work is over and now it’s time to rest and recover.

The Relationship Between Muscle Recovery and the Gut Microbiome

The key to a man’s muscle recovery might lie in his stomach. The gut microbiome serves a greater purpose than just digesting your food. It’s linked to your memory, mental health, and natural biological rhythms. Now, scientists believe that the gut microbiome helps us speed up the muscle recovery process.

Researchers found that the super immunity cells in our intestinal tracts are loaned out to other parts of the body to aid in muscle recovery. Researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) found these special T cells outside the gut working to repair muscle damage. Their work was recently published in the Immunity scientific journal. This discovery highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome especially if you’re trying to speed up your recovery during strength training. So, it’s vital to eat the right types of foods after weightlifting workouts.

Related: The Beginner’s Guide to Protein Powder

Eating Your Way to Better Muscle Recovery

We briefly discussed how the gut microbiome plays a vital part in muscle recovery. Super immune cells get loaned out by your digestive system to help repair muscle groups after a hard workout. So, you should eat foods that maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

After weightlifting you should eat:

  • High fiber fruits and vegetables.

Fruits like raspberries, pears, and avocados are surprisingly high in fiber. Artichokes, brussel sprouts, and kale are high in fibre, too.

  • Prebiotics and Probiotics

Try to incorporate prebiotics such as garlic, onion, chickpeas, and beans into your diet. Also, go for the live bacteria that’s in foods like sauerkraut and yogurt.

  • Polyphenols

These are powerful antioxidants that help boost your immune system’s T cells. You can find polyphenols in spinach, green tea, and dark chocolate.

Summing it Up

Strength training could be one of the strongest protectors of health as you age. Yet, the beneficial effects of exercise tend to decline if you don’t give your muscles enough time to rest. You can keep elevating your progress by slowing things down and giving your body the right things that it needs for recovery.

That can be a challenge if you’re a professional athlete or you just can’t get enough of the pump. However, you’d better make some tweaks to your fitness routine if you don’t want to have negative consequences. If you don’t prioritize muscle recovery now you’ll become more prone to serious injuries, you’ll lose your gains, and experience a dramatic dip in energy levels.

So, think about long term goals when working out. Try to put your body into a restorative state after resistance training. Lastly, eat healthy foods that boost your immune system’s response to inflammation. Keep these things in mind and you’ll never hit that plateau again.

Read Next: 5 Herbs and Supplements that Boost Testosterone