I am huge on the idea of proper recovery from your training sessions. I strongly believe it's an overlooked and under utilized concept by many. I also feel it's one of the major keys to muscle growth. Many trainees simply do not understand how critical recovery is. They tend to think they can train every day, for 2 or more hours and often re-train the same muscles more than once in a week – I once met a guy that did biceps and chest – that's it – seven days a week, two hours a day, then wondered why he wasn't making any progress! Sad to say, this type of thinking – though not to that extreme – is way to common. It's the old “ more is better” idea and it's also a misunderstanding of the process of muscle growth. Many trainees think the more you lift the faster you grow. To a point, I can understand, after all the pros train quite a bit, right? The truth is,recovery is the beginning of the muscle growth process. Yes, you stimulate the muscle in the gym but the actual act of training is catabolic. You have to recover from what you did in the gym if you want to grow. Read that last line again! Recovery really starts with how you prepare for your workout – if you have adequate glycogen stores going in you will not completely deplete total glycogen stores and therefore allow for quicker recovery as you replenish from your workout. The intra workout drink, which I am a huge fan of, goes a long way in promoting recovery. After the workout, it's the post workout shake or recovery drink. From there, it's based on your nutrition and your rest. If you are training hard, you do not want to over exert yourself in other activities. Do what you have to, but don't do more if it's not needed. Again, and understanding this is critical to your success, proper recovery is one of the major keys to progress!
When talking about supplements and recovery, the primary focus point is post -workout. Post workout/ recovery products, then, are designed to fulfill the nutritional requirements of your muscles immediately after the workout and ongoing as you go through the recovery process. While the idea of training being catabolic is changing with the introduction of the intra- workout products mentioned above, you always – always! – want to have a post workout product of your choice within 20-30 minutes of your training session. This is another newer supplement category with several exciting products in the line-up and it is a big category with at least 150 products to choose from! It used to be you had protein with some simple carbs mixed in for your post workout shake. Actually, way back when it used to be you just went to your local restaurant and had a meal, which took hours to digest and did nothing for the immediate needs of your muscles after training.
While you can still do your own shake as it allows you complete control over what goes into your shake, you can now buy well designed, specialized products designed solely for the post workout “window of opportunity”. What is the window of opportunity? It's the hour before training and the 3 hours after training – this is the most productive window of time for nutritional enhancement. The focus here is right after training – right when what you do will make or break what you did in the gym.
- Help promote the recovery process after a hard training session or athletic event by providing a quick supply of the nutrients needed to help repair your muscles.
Depending on the muscle, it needs at least 48 hours to repair and grow from a hard workout. The larger muscle groups like chest, back and legs require more time as opposed to the smaller ones such as arms. Here are some general guidelines: smaller muscles – tend towards 2 days; larger muscles – tend towards 3-4 days; and then there are the lower back muscles hit by exercises such as deadlifts – tend towards 5 days. Now, these are general guidelines and different people will react differently and some people may have some “help”, which speeds everything up but this is a good starting point.
Now, working out burns up amino acids, glucose, and glycogen stored in the muscles. Once you've completed your workout, your muscles are more receptive to accepting the nutrients that restore and repair the muscles. By replacing your glycogen stores quickly, you allow your body to recuperate faster and re-charge your fuel system for the next workout or event. When you do not restore your fuel levels soon after the workout your muscle glycogen synthesis can be decreased by as much as 66%, which impairs their recovery time. Now, let's look at the role protein plays by looking at protein synthesis: Proteins are comprised of amino acids – the building blocks of tissue formation within the body. The synthesis of protein is the method by which your muscles are constructed. The synthesis of muscle protein is also related to how you train. Beyond the ongoing repair and maintenance of existing muscle tissue that may be damaged through the course of daily living, your muscles will never get bigger or stronger through a sedentary lifestyle or the use of particular foods or supplements alone. As many of you know, you must train the muscle to build new muscle and it's based on protein synthesis.
All forms of physical activity will cause specific stress on the muscles being used. In a sport such as distance running or cycling for example, the stresses are cumulative, or the combined effect of repetitive, low intensity movements. In something such as weight training that typically involves explosive and heavy movements, the various forces that impact the muscles are much greater, and they occur over a shorter time frame. In each case, the muscle will break down, this process is known as "catabolism." This breakdown includes the physical separation of the fibers that make up the muscle structure. The repair of the damaged muscle is "anabolism," or the building up and the growth of the existing and previously damaged fiber. Protein synthesis is how the body brings about this repair and muscle growth: when the body produces more synthesized protein than it consumes through its catabolic processes, muscle will be developed. The timing of all of this is critical – you need to get recovery going quickly! Additionally, there's a hormonal aspect to recovery drinks. Causing an insulin spike within the workout time frame is one of two key times of the day ( the other being first thing in the morning) you want to take advantage of the anabolic effects of insulin. These are the only times you want the effect as to many spikes result in fat gain. Increased post-workout insulin levels will not cause an increase in fat storage because the nutrients will be directed toward repairing the muscles. Insulin is a very anabolic hormone with the main effect being that insulin acts on its target cells to increase uptake and storage of key muscle-building nutrients, such as glucose and amino acids . So we see that an increase in insulin levels creates an optimal anabolic environment for muscle growth. Manipulating this natural metabolic response is all the more critical immediately after your workout. Having said all that, we can now understand the role of recovery products and how they are a big part of the total recovery equation.
What do these products contain and how do you make a good choice? Fundamentally, any quality post workout product should contain simple carbs and fast digesting protein. You need both after a workout, not just one or the other. With that said, the best products contain both whey protein and simple carbs with various combinations of nutrients that can be helpful in the recovery process, such as glutamine, bcaa's, creatine, and vitamins. Carb sources will vary from dextrose to waximaize to specialized and product-specific fast burning carbs.
Several products are mainly aminos like the bcaa's and glutamine – which are important – with some containing caffeine – not the most important thing after training. To be honest, I would avoid products that are incomplete – the post workout period is to important, you don't need a product lacking carbs or providing only some aminos instead of providing complete protein. Although I've seen a few capsules products, most recovery supplements are almost exclusively powders so taste and mix-ability come in to your buying decision. Timing and dosage are pretty self explanatory – after your workout – within 30 minutes – and as recommended on the label. Most of the products advise consuming right after your training session but you could certainly continue to use the product during the next few days as you rest and recover. As always, you'll want to read labels carefully and understand what you are buying.