Why do we need to rest after an exercise session?
Most of us have experienced some kind of muscle soreness, right? The exact biochemical cause of muscle soreness is not yet known, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about it. We know, for example, that soreness typically occurs when you expose your body to a stress that you are not used to, like trying a new exercise, workout or sport. The soreness is thought to be tied to the same microtrauma which causes muscles adapt to training. This ties in with another observation that soreness is significantly worse after eccentric training (lengthening muscles under load) which includes things like lowering weights and running downhill and is known to cause more microtrauma than other training styles.
Now that you’ve got the hard part out of the way, have you missed a step if you’re feeling stiff and sore for longer periods of time – which can keep you out of the gym for days? Thing is, while training is important, there are also steps that you need to take following your workout due to oxidative stress and muscle damage that occurs. These occurrences allow your body to morph into this new improved you.
Recovery isn’t down to a few stretches or eating right, there are a whole myriad of factors at play here that you need to take care of to ensure that you’ll be at your peak every single day. And it is also genetic. You will find that after you receive your fitness report from us that there will be an indication of how well you recover after strenuous bouts of exercise.
The recovery speed section of our report looks at how quickly you recover between training sessions. Typically, we find that those with a fast or very fast recovery speed require about 24 hours between their hardest sessions and tend to tolerate 4 hard sessions per week. With a medium recovery speed, this is 48 hours between hard sessions, for 3 hard sessions per week. For slow or very slow, this would be 72 hours between hard sessions, with a recommended maximum of two hard sessions per week. You can of course train more than this, but those other sessions should be of lesser intensity or volume, in order to allow recovery to occur.
Acute inflammation is important for healing; however excessive inflammation can result in prolonged feelings of soreness, tenderness, swelling, and also in a loss of function (reduces ROM or range of motion) and could even result in allergies and chronic diseases. There are various strategies that can be used to help decrease acute and chronic inflammation:
It’s What You Do After You Train
Cool down instead of rushing out
With the blood pumping and the heart rate up, it’s always a reaction to get out of the gym as quickly as possible to get all of those nutrients in, rehydrate, and prepare for relaxation. Active cool-downs do not appear to prevent injuries, and evidence suggests that performing an active cool-down on a regular basis does not attenuate the long-term adaptive response. Active cool-downs have been shown to accelerate recovery of lactate in blood, but not necessarily in muscle tissue. However, performing active-cool downs may partially prevent immune system depression and promote faster recovery of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
When choosing how to stretch, focus on dynamic stretching (stretching in a smooth flow of movement) rather than static stretching (stretching and holding for a period of time). Dynamic stretching helps to keep yourself flexible after workouts and will strengthen your muscles so that they do not suffer from the dreaded Delayed Onset Of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and fatigue.
The foam roller has established itself as revolutionary when it comes to recovery. It’s a simple tool that you can use to break up “knots” in soft tissue that occur due to the muscle damage that accompanies intense exercise. Using a foam roller will also improve your flexibility and allow blood to flow and circulate better.
Do a short stint of cardio
If you are lifting weights then a light session of cardio can save you hours of stiffness and torment that may keep you out of action for longer than you want to be. Do a little work on the treadmill, or go smooth sailing on the elliptical, whatever your poison, it’ll assist you with the after effects of exercise.
If you’re into fitness and training, then your anthem should be: “rest days aren’t cheat days”. Sure, resting is important, especially when your sessions are getting more intense and your body needs to adapt, but on days where you aren’t training you shouldn't shirk doing a little bit. A light session of yoga in the morning, a few bodyweight exercises such as planks and push ups, and a chilled run outdoors are great ways to keep your body guessing and in a mode where it remains active.
Download our Fitness Hacks for Beginners.
It's Your Post-Workout Nutrition
Rehydrate with water or a glucose drink
An intense training session means that your body’s fuel reserves will be depleted and you’ll be left feeling dehydrated. Water, the giver of life, is necessary after workouts to ensure that your body stays hydrated. Similarly, you don't want to drink too much water without enough sodium in your bloodstream. An electrolyte-based drink after exercise can supplement these losses and restore order in your ecosystem.
Drink chocolate milk
This is actually a bonus because no self-respecting person turns their nose up to a cool glass of chocolate milk at the best of times. And now, there’s proof to support the benefits of it as it is important for recovery. It contains casein protein from the milk, that’s imperative for recovery while you rest, and the chocolate powder will give you a much-needed energy boost.
When it comes to building muscle, which mainly occurs after exercise while you recover, protein is the most important macronutrient. Eating lean meat, fish, or chicken breasts after training will repair the muscle damage and fill your body with the nutrients it needs to get you going for your next session.
Don't forget the whey
More protein, but this time in the form of whey. Although it isn’t the be-all and end-all, whey protein is specifically engineered as a post-workout supplement that will reduce muscle damage, oxidative stress, and is a fast way to get healthy nutrients into your body quickly.
Omega - 3
Known as an essential fatty acid because it is both crucial to our bodies function, and cannot be produced by the body, we therefore need to get them from food sources. Omega- 3’s are also a type of unsaturated fat. There are quite a few healthy benefits that can be provided through the correct intake of omega-3’s in our diet; they help reduce rheumatoid arthritis, lower fats in our blood and they also provide our bodies with an anti-inflammatory effect. They have been seen to reduce inflammation and help promote recovery following bouts of resistance training.
Foods that contain omega-3: Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, cod, tuna; nuts and seeds like walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds
This fat-soluble vitamin is important as it helps to regulate anti-inflammatory cells as well as muscle growth. It has been well known for many years that vitamin D is important for bone health as it helps with the absorption of calcium. Low vitamin D levels are associated with a few diseases including arthritis (joint inflammation).
A study conducted in 2012 examined specific mechanisms by which vitamin D might act on our inflammatory and immune pathways. The researchers isolated human white blood cells by incubating these cells with assorted levels of vitamin D, they then exposed these white blood cells to LPS (lipopolysaccharide). This molecule is associated with bacterial cell walls that are known to promote inflammatory responses. The results showed that cells which were incubated with no vitamin D produced high levels of cytokines IL-6 and TNF-alpha, which are major markers in the inflammatory response. The same result was also seen in white blood cells incubated by a solution containing 15 ng/ml of vitamin D. Cells that were incubated in 30 ng/ml and above of vitamin D showed significantly decreased response to the LPS. Incubation in 50 ng/ml of vitamin D resulted in the highest levels of inflammatory inhibition.
Vitamin D food sources include oily fish, fortified breakfast cereals, milk and mushrooms.
If you’re one of those people who enjoy being out in the sun and don’t tend to get sunburnt easily, then this is another method of obtaining great amounts of vitamin D. If you live in a climate that doesn't usually offer a lot of sunlight, then a vitamin D supplement might be your best bet.
These are found in various fruits and vegetables, and they play an important role in removing harmful compounds from our body known as free radicals. Vitamins A, C and E, bioflavonoids, polyphenols and glutathione are some good examples of antioxidants. Many berries like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and other cherries contain great antioxidant compounds that have been shown to help reduce inflammation as well as chronic disease risk and their effects has been seen to help promote recovery from exercise.
This is a yellow substance which can be found in some Asian meals, such as curry, and is the most active component in the yellow spice turmeric. It has been seen to reduce soreness and inflammation after exercise. Research suggests that Curcumin has the ability, at molecular level, to target several steps in the inflammation pathway. Curcumin blocks a molecule (NF-kB) that travels into the nuclei of cells and turns on genes related to inflammation.
These are chemicals produced by plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Foods that are rich in phytochemicals range from various berries, vegetables that are green, red, or orange in colour (such as sweet peppers), peanuts, and whole grain products.
Along with its suggested effect of dilating blood vessels to allow for more oxygen transportation towards working muscles, it has also been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Beet’s contain a micronutrient called betaine which has anti-inflammatory properties as it has been associated with reduced levels of IL6, TNFa and CRP. Drink a glass (250-300mL) 2 hours before an endurance activity to get the best benefits from it.
It's Your Use of Stress-Reducing Measures
You may think that you’re building muscles when you’re pushing hard at the gym, but the reality is that actual muscle growth takes place when you’re at rest. And what better rest is there than sleep? Getting enough sleep is important due to the energy gained from periods of real rest, and your body will repair itself for the duration. When you wake up, after getting your 8 hours, you’ll feel fresh and ready to take on the gym again.
Forcing your muscle tissue to adapt to sudden changes in temperature goes a long way to helping you to recover quickly after strenuous exercise. It stimulates your body without increased stress. You should be wary of how you do this, and always end with the cold, while stretching it out when your body is still warm.
It’s in Your Genes
As previously stated, our genes play a role in the regulation of inflammation. At DNAfit, we look at four genes that impact the inflammatory response:
IL-6 - Stimulates the immune response to training and is involved in the inflammatory repair process.
TNF - Is shown to regulate our immune cells which is able to induce fever, inhibit tumor growth, and is part of the inflammation process.
CRP - This is an acute phase protein which rises in response to inflammation. It is stimulated by the IL-6 and is often used as a marker for inflammation in blood tests.
IL6-R - The IL6R gene specifically encodes this IL6R subunit, which in-turn influences IL6 cytokine action.
Variation within the genes mentioned above can predispose a person to lower levels of inflammation after a strenuous bout of activity, leading to quicker recovery times. Some genotypes are associated with increased levels of inflammation after exercise, and as such would require a longer rest period between bouts of activity. Understanding your genes and their indications could be a vital part in the approach to decrease inflammation.
Adopting a balance between correct strategies like workout, rest, active recovery sessions and modalities as well as nutrition should provide you with the optimal approach to recover. At the end of the day, recovery is just as important as your exercise session, as it allows for your body to adapt, and decrease your risk to injuries. Whichever modality you choose, make sure that you are getting adequate rest and giving your body the break it deserves.
Find out how to recover better for your body. Get Health Fit - a premium plan that gives you insights to your nutrition, fitness and overall health needs.
Stay up to date with the latest tips, trends and advice from the DNAfit wellness team. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, and we’ll send you more helpful content straight to your inbox! Just fill in the form below. 👇