You’ve hit the gym hard. You’ve pushed every squat rep to its maximum, you’ve nailed that HIIT session and powered through that cycle class.
Your quads feel worked and your hamstrings burn but despite a tough workout, you haven’t built an ounce of muscle.
This might sound a familiar tale. However, what many of us don’t realise is that muscle growth begins the moment you stop lifting and that growth can’t happen without providing your body the correct means of recovery.
Muscles don’t grow in the gym, they grow after. When you lift heavy weights, your muscles suffer microscopic tears and it is during the repair process that they become stronger.
If you want to get the most out of every workout your body needs help as it repairs, so you have to prioritise good post-workout recovery. Here, we’ve put together some tips which will help you to make that happen.
Push the barrier, but not too much
Pushing beyond your limits is a good thing, you’d think? But just how far should you push?
A good approach is to encourage your muscle on just enough to create the stimulus needed for muscle growth, but not completely ruin it to a point where your muscle hurts for days on end.
Your focus shouldn’t be on how quickly you recover, but how productive your recovery is. If you push your body to complete breakdown with every workout, the damage accumulates over time and the body will focus its efforts on repairing the efforts of the damage, instead of building new muscle.
The trick is to work out hard enough to just push yourself past your comfort zones, trying to do a little bit more than you did in your previous workout. By adopting this approach, you’ll see solid, gradual progress.
Get your pre-workout nutrition right
We are arguably becoming more aware than ever of the importance of the foods we eat after our workouts and how they factor into the quality of our recovery.
However, the goods you eat before a workout can also play a key role in pre-empting the tissue repairing process once the workout is over.
Digestion is a lengthy process; the foods you eat prior to a workout will still be circulating around the body afterwards, so it’s important to choose your foods wisely.
Make sure you are taking in high quality, lean proteins along with some complex carbohydrates, particularly if you are planning a rigorous workout.
Ensure your post-workout nutrition is on point
Seeing people in the gym chug down a post-workout shake might be one of those gym clichés you promise you’d never do yourself! However, people who do this are feeding their muscles with the necessary proteins needed to fuel growth and improvement.
Post-workout protein is vital, especially if you haven’t eaten for several hours.
Depending on your bodyweight you should be aiming for 20-50 grams of protein after each workout. 20 grams will be sufficient for most women, while men should be aiming for the upper range.
Whey protein is one of the most popular protein supplements. It’s convenient, simple to mix and has a rapid absorption rate that’s ideal after a hard training session.
Invest in a quality whey isolate here, don’t be tempted to purchase based solely on taste or cost.
Eat potassium-rich foods
While on the subject of post-workout nutrition, you should consider including sources of potassium in any recovery shake or meal.
Your potassium stores will be sapped from an intense workout session and potassium, just like sodium and calcium, is a key mineral which plays an important role in muscular energy.
Bananas and potatoes are great sources of potassium so consider including them in the first shake or meal you consume after your workout.
Don't skip stretches
Stretching doesn’t sound like the most glamorous or exciting thing to do when all you want to do is increase size or strength, but it is one of the most overlooked aspects in muscle growth.
If you don’t have the necessary flexibility and muscle pliability you might not be able to perform compound lifts and weight movements fully. For example, if your ankles or knees or tight, you won’t be able to go deep enough into a squat to reap the maximum benefits from it.
If you can, set aside 10-20 minutes before and after your workouts and dedicate it to warming up and cooling down, with a good range of stretches.
Stretching is a good way to relieve tension in the muscles and potentially reduce the soreness you feel later on.
The importance of a good night’s sleep in a fitness regime is often underestimated, with many people getting less than six hours shut-eye a night.
Sleep is not just for relaxing; it is important downtime that your body needs to recuperate and restore itself. A long-term deprivation of good sleep can hinder your efforts when training by having a negative effect on your motivation.
Focus on getting quality sleep on a regular basis. At least seven hours is a good target to hit, although many people, including athletes, might need up to nine hours.
Look for aspects in your day you can change to make it easier for you to go to bed earlier. For example, you can impose a ban on using media devices after 9pm, set a limit on TV time or reach for a book when you’re looking to wind down.
As we’ve discovered, recovery plays a key part in any fitness-related goal.
Whether you want to become fitter, stronger or better, you should look to use these tips as part of your daily recovery plan.
They will help you to make the most out your workouts and see payoff from all your hard work!