What Helps With Muscle Recovery & Repair?
So, you might have already researched the benefits of warming up before exercise and the different types of warm up. However, many people develop a workout plan without accounting for one of the most important components—recovery.
You may know how to warm up for leg day or how to crush a proper chest day warm up. But, when you push your muscles to the limit during an intense workout, you actually create what’s called a micro-tear in the muscular fiber.1 To repair the damage, the muscle fibers fuse together, increasing both the size of the muscle and its strength.
In short, this is the recovery phase.
So what helps muscle recovery? The answer is complex but there are two main tools at your disposal:
- Your recovery routine
- Your lifestyle choices
In this blog, we’ll analyze how speedy muscle recovery relies on your commitment to a post-workout recovery routine and daily healthy choices. We’ll also look at the causes of poor muscle recovery and discuss when it’s advisable to exercise with a sore muscle.
What Helps Sore Muscles Recover Faster?
If you’re like most athletes, you’ve experienced a sore muscle after an intense workout. You want to continue to work toward your fitness goals, but you know that you need to recover first. So, what can help with muscle recovery?
The first step to repairing muscles after exercise is to have a post-workout recovery routine. Your recovery routine should consist of the following four actions.
#1 Cooling Down
So, why is cooling down after exercise important? Taking 5 to 10 minutes to cool down after your intense exercise session can minimize muscle soreness and support a faster recovery process in the days following exercise.2 Some easy ways to cool down include:
- Slow and steady – If you’re performing a vigorous aerobic exercise, such as cycling, your cool down can simply involve slowing your pedaling pace gradually until your heart rate is down to 120 beats per minute.
- Low-intensity resistance – An alternative cool-down option is to perform a few sets of light resistance exercises such as squats, lunges, and bridges as your heart and breathing rates return to normal.
Neither of these options take a long time, yet the benefits are long-lasting and immense. Whether you’ve crushed a challenging cardio workout on your exercise bike with fan wheel or non motorized treadmill, take a moment to slow down and allow your heart rate to settle.
#2 Gentle Stretching
A little gentle static stretching after your cool down is the next step to maximizing muscle repair. When you perform short static stretches of less than 60 seconds, you increase the range of motion of your joints.3 You also reduce the risk of muscle injuries.
Static stretches are best performed after your workout rather than before because your muscles are warmed up at that time.
Massage therapy is a tool best used with the other components of a workout recovery routine. On its own, it isn’t as effective. However, when paired with cooling down, stretching, and icing, massage can help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness. There are several ways to incorporate massage into your recovery toolbox, including:
- Foam roller
- Massage gun
- Visit a massage therapist
- Massaging ball
The best tool for you is one that you’ll take the time to use after your workout.
#4 Cool Water Submersion
The last solid recovery method is simple—sit in a tub of cool water. A Canadian physiology journal studied the impact of cool water immersion on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).4 Their findings indicated that the greatest reduction in DOMS occurred when the subject spent 11-15 minutes in water that was between 11 to 15 degrees Celsius (or 51 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit).
How Do You Improve Muscle Recovery—Other Factors
Outside of your post-workout routine, there are lifestyle choices you can make to improve muscle recovery. By incorporating these principles every day, you’ll find that you’re able to bounce back more rapidly after hard efforts.
Let’s look at what aids muscle recovery.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
You know that water is essential for good health, but did you know that staying hydrated helps improve your muscle recovery time?
That’s right, water is necessary for the protein synthesis that allows your muscles to rebuild once they’ve been stressed.5 You also need to replace the water that you lose through sweat when you work out.
If the temperature is higher or you’ve lost a significant amount of sweat through exercise, you might need more than just plain water. Instead, you’ll need to rehydrate with an electrolyte replacement beverage.6 Electrolytes, such as sodium and chloride, are lost through sweat. The right balance of electrolytes is necessary for:
- Distributing fluids
- Maintaining neural activity
- Muscle contraction
You can easily find electrolyte replacement drinks in many sporting goods stores.
Eat for Recovery
Food is fuel for your workouts and a crucial tool for muscle recovery. If your nutrition is poor, so too will be your athletic performance. While the literature on sports nutrition is extensive, we’ll just focus on a few basic components of recovery nutrition here.7
- Carbs and protein – To maximize muscle repair, you need to eat foods containing carbohydrates to protein. Carbohydrates help restock glycogen and facilitate muscle repair, while protein is needed to rebuild damaged muscle fibers.
- Healthy fats – Fats rich in Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and are important for hormone production during the muscle recovery process.
- Micronutrients – Including a rainbow of fruits and vegetables in your diet daily will ensure that you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal functioning.
Not sure if you’re eating a balanced diet? One method many athletes utilize is having their bloodwork done to see if they’re missing any core nutrients. From there, you can supplement (or change your diet) to bridge nutritional gaps.
Lastly, one of the most important things you can do to help your muscles recover quickly is—thankfully—nothing at all.
Yes, simply sleeping will help repair your muscles.8 When you sleep, your body is hard at work rebuilding from the damage of the day. Without enough sleep, it can’t make the needed repairs and you won’t be able to perform at a high level.
Rest also means days off from hard exercise. You don’t need to spend entire days sitting on the couch, but you can’t push yourself to the limit every day. Instead, incorporate easy days into your training schedule. This active rest helps your body make repairs while allowing you to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
For example, if you’re a runner, you might have two or three days per week where you run at a hard pace. Then, three days where you jog at an easy pace or do light cross-training. You’re still moving on these days but not inhibiting your body’s ability to repair your muscles.
What Causes Poor Muscle Recovery?
Poor muscle recovery is every athlete's worst nightmare. The most common causes include:
- Too much, too soon – If you don’t give your muscles time to adapt to new stress, they won’t recover, nor will you see gains in fitness. Many athletes are motivated by progress and try to get faster or stronger too quickly instead of allowing time for the adaptation process.
- Skipping the cool down – Even if you’re tired when you finish your workout, you should never neglect cooling down. This phase of recovery returns your body to homeostasis and helps stave off excessive soreness by promoting blood flow to your muscles.
- Poor nutrition – If you’re not refueling properly after your workouts (and throughout the rest of the day), your body is missing out on the materials it needs to repair your muscles. Without the right balance of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you get from healthy foods, your body will suffer.
- Lack of sleep – When you skimp on sleep, you impair your body’s ability to repair muscle fibers.9 This is true whether you’re recovering from an injury or a strenuous bout of exercise. Consistently not getting enough quality sleep will lead to poor recovery and an increased risk of injury.
The good news is that many of the causes of poor muscle recovery are preventable. With a few tweaks to your training plan, diet, and lifestyle, you’ll see improved muscle recovery after your tough workouts.
Can You Exercise with Sore Muscles?
Yes, you can exercise with sore muscles. But before you rush outside to attack that tempo run, let’s go over some guidelines. First, you need to determine if that ache you feel in your hamstring is soreness or an injury.10
- Lasts between 24 and 72 hours after exercise
- Muscle tightness or stiffness
- Might feel slight tenderness
In contrast, injuries:
- Cause sharp muscle pain
- Last beyond the normal soreness period
- Are accompanied by bruising or swelling
- Prevent you from using the affected body part
It’s fine to do a little gentle exercise when you’re sore. It may even help ease the soreness more quickly. However, you shouldn’t push your body too hard until the soreness has abated. This can lead to injuries. If you suspect that your soreness is actually an injury, you should visit your doctor to get a formal assessment.
Repair, Recover, and Repeat with Tru Grit
When you push yourself to your physical limits, your body needs time to recover. Your job is to provide it with the tools required for muscle repair so that you can get back out there and attack your next workout session. Without the right tools, you won’t be able to keep up with your exercise goals.
At Tru Grit, we’re dedicated to providing athletes with everything you need to build and repair your muscles. Browse our store today for the latest in high-quality fitness and recovery tools and begin building your best body.
National Academy of Sports Medicine. Hypertrophy: Back to Basics. https://blog.nasm.org/sports-performance/back-to-the-basics-hypertrophy
American Council on Exercise. FIve Reasons You Shouldn’t Skip Your Cool Down After Exercise. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3683/five-reasons-you-shouldn-t-skip-your-cool-down-after-exercise/
National Academy of Sports Medicine. Is Static Stretching Effective for Injury Prevention? https://blog.nasm.org/fitness/is-static-stretching-the-best-strategy-for-injury-prevention-and-performance-enhancement
Science Direct. Sleep Deprivation Impairs Functional Muscle Recovery Following Injury. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1389945713018534
Frontiers in Physiology. An Evidence Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques.
American Council on Exercise. Four Ways to Help Your Body Recover from a Big Lift Day. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6153/four-ways-to-help-your-body-recover-from-a-big-lift-day/
Journal of Sports Sciences. Fluid and Electrolyte Needs for Preparation and Recovery from Training and Competition. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0264041031000140572
National Academy of Sports Medicine. Nutrition for Muscle Repair and Recovery. https://blog.nasm.org/nutrition-for-recovery
National Academy of Sports Medicine. The Science of Recovery. https://blog.nasm.org/the-science-of-recovery
Johns Hopkins Medicine. ‘Good Pain’ vs ‘Bad Pain’ for Athletes. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/orthopaedic-surgery/about-us/ask-the-experts/pain.html