20 Mar 6 reasons why your exercise recovery is important
Exercise recovery is just as important for your health and fitness as having a great workout and diet, but how do you ensure your body can recover effectively?
From the moment you finish your workout you should be thinking about how to make the most of all your hard work. You need to have a plan for replacing lost fluids and ensuring you that eat and rest well.
Recovery is when your body benefits from the exercise
When you do resistance training the fibres in your muscles develop microscopic tears, and these grow back bigger and stronger during the recovery phase.
This process, called muscle protein synthesis, is why training encourages your muscles to grow and strengthen, but if you don’t take care with the recovery then the hard work is wasted.
You can train on consecutive days, and many people do, but you need to be smart about this and ensure you don’t hammer the same muscle groups day after day.
Even taking this approach still requires occasional rest days, because you will always be working certain core muscles and they need to rest as well.
When you work hard you lose fluids
Perhaps the most important thing you can do after finishing a workout is to replace the fluids you have lost. If you don’t have enough water your body will prioritise the functioning of your major organs rather than rebuilding those damaged muscles.
Most of the water you lose is in sweat, as your body tries to dump the internal heat your muscles generate as they work. Everybody’s metabolism is different and your body won’t sweat as much during a run on a chilly morning as it will during a spin class in a warm gym.
In fact, one study found an amazing difference, from an average of 254 millilitres of water lost per hour to 1.2 litres per hour depending on the heat and humidity. It’s possible but extremely difficult to drink too much water, so after your session just have a full water bottle handy and sip it steadily.
You need to fuel your body’s rebuilding work
Eating sensibly after a workout is important because that will help the process of rebuilding damaged tissues. Although you should always try to have a balanced diet, make sure you get two key food groups during exercise recovery: protein and carbohydrates.
Your body will use the protein to repair tissues, and this applies to all types of exercise, not just strength or power sessions that obviously demand a lot of your muscles. A yoga or Pilates class will work your muscles and require recovery, as do endurance workouts like running or cycling.
Carbs are also important, because your body turns them into glycogen to replace the energy stores you have used in your workout. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates then your body can turn protein into glycogen, which is counter-productive if you are trying to build muscle mass.
Rest is crucial for exercise recovery
Rest is vital for workout recovery, because it provides the time when your muscles and other soft tissues undergo their repair processes.
This takes time, and won’t happen if the muscles aren’t allowed to stop working for a period. You are more likely to get the best possible results if you let the muscles recover and rebuild.
Sleep powers growth and recharges your energy levels
During deep sleep you are doing far more than just resting, as your body shifts into a whole different cycle of activity.
Perhaps the most important physiological feature of sleep for exercise recovery is the release of growth hormone, which is essential for repairing damaged tissues and burning fat. If you don’t get enough deep sleep then you are crimping your ability to get stronger and healthier.
You also need sleep to perform well, with studies showing that athletic performance improves if you get more sleep, and goes down if you are sleep deprived.
Stretching sensibly can reduce injury risk
After a workout you should do some static stretching, because this can help improve your flexibility, which in turn reduces the risk of injury. Do this while your muscles are still warm, otherwise you lose a lot of the benefits.
Static stretches involve increasing the length of the muscle and then holding that position for a set period of time, relaxing and then repeating. This is different from dynamic stretching, in which you lengthen and then shorten the muscle without holding the position.
Exercise recovery is a vital part of your exercise planning, and you should think ahead to ensure you have the fluids and foods available after a session. Make sure you stretch well, then get enough rest and sleep to help make the most of your hard work.