You know that sensation of stiffness and pain you get the morning after you’ve worked out? The feeling of wanting to just lay in bed all day because even walking feels like a tedious chore? I’m right there with you! Today, we’re going to talk about a few ways in which we can make the morning after a gym day a little easier for your muscles (and consequently, you).
However, before we begin talking about muscle recovery, it’s essential first to understand the role of muscle. So, what actually are these things in our bodies called muscles? Our body has over 600 muscles in just about every place you can think of, and they are used for pumping blood, such as your heart muscle; lifting things such as your biceps, that you tone during arm day at the gym; and even walking, courtesy one of your largest muscles, your gluteus maximus (or butt muscle). Depending on where they are located, our muscles are divided into three categories: skeletal muscles (attached to the bone that allows movement), smooth muscles (found in numerous internal structures), and last but certainly not least, the cardiac muscle.
Regardless of which category they belong to, your muscles are truly miraculous structures that are composed of numerous elastic fibres that are tightly bound together. An individual muscle is composed of proteins containing important molecules that provide energy and oxygen that facilitates muscle contraction! However this is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s a lot more at work here—the human body truly is an impressive feat!
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s understand how working out affects your muscles. Are all your hours spent at the gym really paying off? The answer is a resounding yes! There has always been a very strong relationship between exercise and muscles. Aside from working out with the intention of achieving the ideal body, there are several biological reasons why working out is so important for your muscle health. When you exercise a muscle, the muscle is strengthened over a duration of time making it more protected and you are less prone to bone injuries as well as arthritis of the joints. Regular exercise also leads to better balance and coordination—factors that greatly influence our day-to-day lives.
How To Help Your Muscles Recover Faster Post Exercise
While exercising is extremely important for muscle health, anything in excess is harmful to your body. Here are a few small changes you can observe in your daily life that will ensure your muscles are well rested and ready to go the next time you decide to hit the gym.
- Feast on protein and carbs: Since our muscles are composed of protein after a workout consume more protein in order to build and restore your muscle mass. Not providing your body with the required amount of protein can leave you feeling exceptionally weaker and delay your body’s recovery from your workout. Carbs should also be an essential part of your diet as they are stored in the form of glycogen in your body which is your main source of energy during a workout. Suitable carbs for consumption post a workout include white rice, potatoes, and a crowd favourite, pasta!
- Sleep, sleep, and more sleep! : Are you a night owl? Do you find yourself finishing all your work during the wee hours of the night? I’m with you! But unfortunately, your body is not. Getting at least eight hours of undisturbed sleep is vital for your body to restore and reset. Not allowing your body to rest via sleep sufficiently can lead to negative long-term effects such as putting on weight as well as weakness—rendering your workouts purposeless! In fact, research indicates that allowing your body increased rest and sleep improves your mood, as well as reaction times when it comes to competitive sports such as track or swimming.
- Put on your favourite track: Music has proven to be vital in recovery and positively influences your parasympathetic nervous system by increasing its activity post workout. This activity is essential for the recovery of your body after a tough workout as it controls essential functions such as digestion and heart rate!
- Stay hydrated: We’ve all heard that water is the elixir of life, and there is actually scientific research to back it up. Not consuming a sufficient amount of water post workout can have disastrous consequences for your body as well as lead to impairment in your body’s ability to repair your muscles in time for your next workout! Consuming a daily average of three to four litres of water every day is essential for maintaining healthy body function.
- More water (but this time you immerse yourself): Immersing yourself in alternative cold and hot water baths have been shown to affect your blood vessels by contracting (in cold water) and dilating (in hot water), as well as influencing your heart rate. This alternation has proven to reduce muscle soreness post workout and preserve muscle strength. Take this as your sign to hit the sauna post workout!
- More protein!: In recent years, protein powder has made a huge impact in the workout industry. Just the other day I was on a grocery run and found myself face to face with every flavour of protein powder imaginable! If you feel regular old protein in your normal diet isn’t making the cut for you, you can turn to protein powder for a boost. Just add a spoonful (depending on your body weight) to your morning smoothie and you’re ready to go for the day!
- Go for a massage!: While we all relish the occasional massage from time to time, it no longer has to be a guilty pleasure. Massages post workout have been shown to reduce muscle soreness and increase muscle flexibility right after a workout.
Keeping all these bio-hacks in mind, however, it’s also up to us to ensure we don’t push our bodies past the breaking point. It’s important to keep in mind what your body is capable of and work with it to optimise your health and wellness. A healthy and happy body is the key to a healthier and happier life!