What if we told you less work can lead to better results? While it may make sense to churn out hard workouts each and every day to achieve body composition goals, the body’s physiology says differently. Rest and recovery are essential – and often overlooked – components of training. Skipping rest and not considering strategies for recovery could hinder athletic performance and progress towards your goals.
The Different Types of Rest & Recovery
Rest and recovery are important in improving athletic performance and reaching body composition goals (most commonly gaining muscle). “Rest” refers to taking a length of time off from strength training or intense cardio exercise to allow the body a full break from exertion. Sleep is a main tactic for truly resting the muscles. While it’s certainly OK to move every day, consider at least 1-2 rest days per week of slow cardio, stretching, or yoga. This concept, referred to as “active recovery” allows the body – and mind – to reset completely to avoid fatigue and rebuild muscle: which is of significant importance for those hoping to maintain a sustainable fitness plan and increase muscle mass.
“Recovery” is commonly referred to as the period of time directly after a workout where muscles recovery from exertion-related stress. There are three types of recovery: “intermediate recovery,” which occurs during the exercise (think a runner – there is always one leg not activating during each stride), “short-term recovery” between a set or interval of weight training or high intensity interval training, and “training recovery,” similar to rest, which is scheduled time away from exercise between workout sessions or athletic endeavors. Each type of recovery has a similar effect of giving the body time to rebuild in order to perform at a higher level. The amount of time needed for recovery depends on the intensity of exercise and muscle groups recruited. The more of both, the more recovery is time needed for muscle fibers to repair and replenish.
What Happens During Recovery?
The goal of any workout or training session is to work muscles harder than they work at rest, obviously. When muscles are activated during a strength or intense cardio session, microtears in muscle fibers “break down” muscle tissue. Recovery allows these fibers to rebuild and become stronger. Muscle fiber recovery is important in rebuilding the cellular components of tissue, which can increase muscle size and strength more efficiently. During recovery, protein synthesis also occurs, which leads to muscle growth. Protein synthesis increases by 50% four hours after a resistance workout. During recovery, fluids are restored and metabolic waste is produced (mostly in the form of acids). Intramuscular blood flow and pH levels are also reestablished.
How to Get the Most out of Recovery
A few main behaviors can speed up recovery and make the most of time spent while muscles are at rest.
Muscles are 79% water. Fluid balance is important before, during, and especially after exercise. Consuming enough water can help improve endurance and repair damaged muscle.
Resupplying your body with carbohydrates and protein shortly after exercise (especially after resistance training) can help replenish nutrients, build muscle and reduce soreness. Carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores burned during exercise, while protein aids in protein synthesis, mentioned above.
Research has suggested certain vitamins (Vitamin C and E) can alleviating symptoms of muscle fiber damage, thus aiding in recovery. However, supplements do not need to be taken in pill form and can be found within a whole foods diet rich in leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Sleep is a main source of recovery for the body at a physical, mental and cellular. Research has linked sleep deprivation to muscle degradation, which is the opposite of most fitness goals. Deep sleep is also essential for hormone regulation and central nervous system recuperation. An average of 7-9 hours of sleep a night for most is needed to reap the full benefits of muscle recovery.
So…What if You Skip Recovery?
Given the body of associations between recovery and muscle repair, it’s plain to see that if rest is ignored, athletic improvement and body composition progress can be hindered. Push yourself hard in the gym, but dedicate just as much hard work to recovering your body, and building more strength and endurance for your next workout. The right amount of rest and recovery can bring you closer to your body composition goals.