Anyone who has ever seen the X-men series would quickly recall the magically healing abilities of Wolverine. The guy heals in a matter of moments from bone crushing injuries. Although you wont really get that close (unless of course you are a mutant), you can drastically improve your recovery time after the workouts with these ten simple ways. When stacked up right, I have used these to recover in just 25% of my regular time. To quantify this, I had used one of my really hard workouts – a derivation of Crossfit Murph – with some weighted vest thrown in and a 5k run at the start and end instead of 1 mile.
After this workout, I would usually be sore for 3-4 days. With the right stacking of these recovery tools, I was actually able to get my recovery time down to 1 day. Of course the nervous system fatigue is still real and I cant go hard charging again the next day, but you at least don’t walk as if you were taken out of the cast after 50 years. Some of the strategies below also help address the nervous system fatigue and help you bounce back faster.
The tips that I list below can be used together or independent of each other. So you don’t have to go full throttle on these if you cannot. You can always adopt just a few things that are easily possible and still be able to see some real good benefits.
- Sleep: There is a reason why sleep is number 1 on the list. Because it is the number one factor for recovery. Sleep has been known to recover and recuperate the body. Exercise is a pretty big stressor on the body and just like any other stress. So it is also important to not engage in high intensity exercise right before the sleep time. The amount of sleep required depends on how you are genetically wired, but usually between 7-9 hours is where the sweet spot for everyone is. As with everything sleep also has a point of diminishing returns and after 9 hours, for most of us, the sleep starts proving rather counter productive.
- Eat right: Exercise does induce a general inflammation in the body. This spins up the dial on recovery mechanisms and allows the body to adapt to the next stress session a.k.a your next exercise session. But in order to allow the body to recover, it is absolutely important to lower the overall inflammation in your body. Lowering the inflammation allows the body to focus on the recover rather than managing the inflammation. For most of us food & work stress are the biggest causes of general inflammation. Reducing sugars, processed foods and overload of carbs will help immensely in reducing the inflammation triggered by food. In general an abundance of veggies – especially the green leafy ones with some protein in form of meats or legumes is a good place to start. Also, research suggests that deferring proteins towards the end of the day at dinner time helps with post exercise overnight recovery. So maybe save the chunks of meat for the end of the day along with some low quantity of carbs to fill up the glycogen stores if you had a high intensity exercise.
- Soft tissue work: Yes a massage works wonders. They say that a typical ART (Active Release Therapy) massage can restore the tired muscles and even get back a solid range of motion. In absence of a good ART practitioner, a simple massage or even foam rolling helps immensely for recovering sore muscles. Not just that, a regular foam rolling session will eventually help improve the range of motion and reduce the stress the exercise induces on the muscles. I use the Rumble Roller almost daily. But for starters, it can be very painful, instead I recommend a good hard foam roller to start with. The Golds Gym hard foam roller is a good start.
- Essential Amino Acids: I am a bigger fan of the essential amino rather than branched chain – which is a lot more common. It is for two specific reasons. First, the essential amino acids already contain everything in the branched chain amino acids. Secondly, the net nitrogen utilization of the essential amino acids is substantial higher than the branched chain amino acids. Which means that the essential amino acids are much better absorbed in the body and result in less nitrogen waste excreted than the branched chain amino acids. I prefer the Master Amino Pattern blend of amino acids. I usually do 5 gms of essential amino acids each day.
- Fish Oil: I get this from Charles Poliquin – One of the best strength coaches in the world. He has trained several Olympians and world class performers in many sports. He is a big advocate of fish oil for recovery. I usually take between 5 to 10 gms of fish oil depending on my fish intake for the day. I use the SuperEssentials Omega. When selecting a fish oil supplement, do ensure that the oil is in triglyceride form and has Vitamin E or astaxanthin to prevent it from going rancid quickly. Fish Oil is also very sensitive to light and temperature – so best refrigerated in a dark container. What more, fish oil is also known for its brain boosting effects – so recover faster AND smarter.
- Creatine: Anyone familiar with a body builder routine has definitely heard about Creatine. Yes, it helps significantly to put in high volume work as it readily makes ATP available during your workouts. But upcoming research suggests that it not just helps during the exercise but also significantly helps with the recovery. Unlike the hyped up loading-phase, 5 gms daily is all you need to help with boosting the exercise session and speeding up the recovery.
- Cold Thermogenesis: This one might bite a bit. Ice baths and cold showers are becoming increasingly popular in the athletic community. And why not? They help shut down inflammation and significantly improve the recovery time. If you are not comfortable with cold showers, start with the Cold-Hot contrast showers. Similar to interval training, you can do interval showers – 20 secs hot and 20 secs cold and a few rounds of these.
- Compression Gear: This applies especially to running or similar sports. Using compression gear helps keep the blood moving throughout your legs. This promotes lesser damage during the exercise and also rapid healing post exercise.
- Reduce Stress: As we have seen by now, lowering inflammation helps with the recovery. Work and lifestyle stresses are big. 15 minute meditation sessions maybe twice a day will help normalize the stress responses in the body and help keep you in the state of recovery. Thus allowing your body to recover faster rather than fighting inflammation throughout the day.
- Mind your carbs: Although this seems fairly easy, it is probably the best mis-understood concept. Endurance athletes for instance, thrive on carbs and carb loading protocols. Whereas there are some others who completely eliminate carbs. Most of the recent research has proven that this depends on the body type. However, a common consensus is that it is best to lower your carb intake. If you are doing high intensity exercise sessions, you still want to have about 100 to 200 gms of carbs to refill your glycogen stores and help with some of the critical metabolic functions. But anything more than that is usually not needed – unless you are super skinny with very low body fat and then you can use some carbs – you probably earned it at that time.
So there you have it. I know I’ve kept it very high level and there are a lots of ifs and buts. But for an exercise enthusiast, this should be a good starting point.
As always, feel free to respond with your comments and questions in the comments section below and I will be glad to address those.