Recovery Mode: Knowing When To Rest and How To Properly Repair Your Body
This post will explain the “why” behind rest days, how to ease muscle soreness with stretches and possible supplements.
As important as movement is in order to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, rest and recovery are equally essential. For optimal performance and improvement, recovery should be built into any exercise program to maximize effectiveness and to avoid overtraining. This can mean anything from wearing recovery shoes on your days off to help your feet recharge, to fueling your body with the right foods to repair and rebuild your muscles. Periods of rest can still be active by choosing low impact options of movement, or a complete day off. Your need for recovery will be determined as you cultivate a routine and monitor your body’s response to consistent exercise.
Why Is Recovery Important?
During a heavy workout, micro-tears happen in our muscles. This is what leads to post-workout muscle soreness. As those micro-tears repair, lean muscle mass grows. But in order to support that healthy growth, the body needs time to rest, repair, and strengthen.
Neglecting recovery can lead to overtraining, and that has potentially dangerous consequences. Overtraining can cause injury, lack of energy, lower immunity, and reduced performance. It’s counterproductive to train too much without giving yourself a break. Because every person reacts differently to exercise, it’s important to keep track of your activity, the intensity, and how your body is feeling to determine the needed recovery. Muscle soreness is normal, but if you’re experiencing persistent pain consider seeking professional help to avoid long-term impacts.
When Should I Take A Day Off?
My rule of thumb is to do no more than three days in a row of high-intensity exercise. Again, everyone’s relationship with movement will be different. But after tracking my own activity and responses to it, I’ve learned that after three days of working out, my body is ready for a rest day. When I’ve chosen to neglect rest, I’ve felt sluggish and end up underperforming. Some signs that it’s time to recover include soreness, low energy, changes in mental state, and negative feelings about training.
Recovery days don’t have to mean zero movement. There are plenty of ways to accomplish daily movement without pushing your body to its limits and allowing it to have ample time to repair. Active recovery should feel easier, less intense than a normal day in your exercise routine. These low impact exercises are good choices for when you still want activity:
- Deep stretching
- Cycling (done at low resistance)
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It’s More Than Just Rest
Recovery is more than just giving your body a break from intense exercise. It also includes other important factors like sleep, hydration, and nutrition. Consider health and fitness as a full package. All components work together to make one healthy functioning human.
Getting quality sleep is essential to short-term recovery, especially if you are training hard. The general guidelines for adults are to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Consistently poor sleep can result in changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery, and mood.
Drinking water should be prioritized throughout the day but it’s especially necessary when completing a high-intensity workout. After a heavy sweat you need to rebalance your electrolytes by hydrating. Forget the sugar-laden sports drinks. Pure H20 works just fine for post-workout recovery.
Refeed With The Right Fuel
Getting in the right post-workout nutrients can help you rebuild your muscle proteins and glycogen stores. It also helps stimulate the new muscle growth that you’re working so hard to earn. What you put into your body matters. It can determine body composition and recovery efficiency. After a workout, a snack or meal containing both carbohydrate and protein can help you to recover more quickly by providing the nutrients your muscle tissue needs to begin repairing. For a full breakdown on nutritional building blocks and micronutrients, read this blog.
Protein helps repair and build muscle. As mentioned above, your body experiences micro-tears during high-intensity exercise. Consuming an adequate amount of protein after a workout gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild these proteins. Some easy options:
- Smoothie w/ protein powder
- Greek yogurt
- Grilled chicken
- Protein bar
Carbs also help with recovery. During exercise, your body taps into glycogen stores to use as fuel. Consuming carbs after our workout replenishes them. Depending on your activity, you may need more carbs or even feel hungrier. Endurance sports like running, swimming, cycling, require your body to use more glycogen than resistance training. Choose complex carb options for post-workout fuel—nutrient-dense, whole foods that are easily digested:
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole grain pasta
- Yogurt with granola
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
Consuming a proper amount of protein and carbs ensures your hard work isn’t wasted. Remember, recovery is an important part of any healthy, well-rounded routine. Listen to your body when it sends you signals to rest.
Don’t skip rest days. Give yourself the break you deserve!