By Alex & Sue Bush
In this article, we are going to explain what optimal recovery means and why without adequate recovery your training performance will suffer.
Recovery is one of the most important training variables. Strength training breaks down your muscles alongside other tissues and systems in your body. The time spent maximizing recovery helps us adapt from our training past our original levels — this is how muscle, strength, and endurance are acquired.
But when we say “recovery” we aren’t talking about foam rolling, massage, stretching – while those can be helpful tools, they shouldn’t be our go-to’s or the only methods.
Without adequate recovery, training performance will suffer, and you will not be able to sufficiently adapt to your training. This is why the most essential factors include rest days, quality sleep, nutrition, and stress management
OVERTRAINING & REST DAYS
When it comes to overtraining – or even just training in general – don’t think that you’re only getting a good session if you’re sweating, sore, and your heart rate is through the roof.
When we’re looking at symptoms of side effects of overtraining, these are typically what we see most often:
- Inability to recover, or constantly sore & fatigued.
- Loss of enthusiasm for training.
- Decreased performance.
- Increased perceived effort
- Poor sleep and/or digestion.
- Change in appetite.
- Nagging or persisting injuries.
Too much of a good thing can still be detrimental or impact your health and long-term progress, so these are just some things to keep an eye out for. Definitely consult your coach or a health professional to help you narrow in on what the culprits are, but it’s possible that more rest days in your weekly schedule, at least for the short term, could drastically improve your symptoms.
A lot of people like to say, “Sleep is for the weak.” Our society is all about grind grind grind and no days off. But let me tell ya something:
If you want to meet your physique goals and recover we cannot have that mentality. We WANT days off. Sleep is a huge part of that – and frankly, could be the missing element in your fitness routine that’s holding you back from reaching your goals.
We can’t tell you how many clients who are on top of eVeRytHiNg but sleep and that is 100% stalling their progress to be able to move forward. If you’ve got a few nights of bad sleep and think, “Well, I gotta get to the gym today because I just have to,” take a second and recognize if that training session is even going to be beneficial for you at this point. When we first got our dog Tucker, we had multiple nights of no sleep, so there were a few extra rest days thrown in there. Not only for our sanity but for us to be able to actually recover from training.
Instead of thinking sleep is for the weak, how about sleep is for the ELITE!? Sleep affects almost every process in the body in one way or another. Chronic lack of sleep can…
- Make it more difficult for you to concentrate
- Decrease coordination and balance
- Negatively affect your mental abilities and emotional state,
- Compromise decision-making processes,
- Weaken the immune system (we do not have time for right now!)
- Worsen respiratory diseases or issues,
- Affect bowel movements,
- Lead to fat gain as it increases levels of ghrelin and decreases levels of leptin
- Make you too tired to train or make your training sessions lower quality, or put you at higher risk for injury,
- Reduce fat cells ability to respond to insulin → lead to fat storage
- Affect blood sugar & blood pressure,
- Increase risk of diabetes, heart attack, or stroke
Needless to say, our bodies are not wired for sleep deprivation. That’s a LOT of reasons to make sleep a huge priority.
When it comes to people asking how they can get better, one of the first things I ask them is what their sleep is like. One big thing to remember about sleep is that it’s FREE! This is one absolutely FREE method of maximizing training, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?
When we are looking to optimize recovery through nutrition, we want to…
→ Prioritize protein and total calorie intake
→ Eat at caloric maintenance, meaning you are eating enough to maintain your current body weight or above into a caloric surplus.
Can you still recover well when you’re in a deficit? Certainly, but we’re talking about maximizing recovery, which means you need to be anywhere between maintenance or a surplus.
To establish that number, I recommend tracking your weight and caloric intake for 3-7 days. If your weight stays steady within 1-3 pounds throughout that time, this is a good maintenance set point. You can then increase 100-150 calories per day to find where your body starts to notice the surplus. Now you have your total calories in place.
From there, we want to make sure you’re consuming 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. You’re probably not going to have an exact number for your lean body mass without access to a DEXA scan or a BOD POD, but we can have a rough idea.
Now, how we disperse protein is going to be very important. From a research perspective, we find that the minimum threshold for protein feedings is 20-25 grams of protein per feeding to allow for muscle protein synthesis to be maximized, which we want to do when we are focusing on recovery.
Four feedings will be the sweet spot for most people, so that would mean three full meals and maybe two snacks (carb snack plus protein shake) or 4 full meals. It’s really up to you as long as you’re getting that protein in place.
Let’s look at the nitty-gritty details of your pre and post-workout meals that you may be leaving out, which in turn impacts your recovery:
- Fiber: Keep your fiber at a minimum with your pre and post-workout meals, more so the pre-workout meal, as you don’t want to slow the digestion of nutrients going into the training session and have it weigh heavy on your stomach.
- Fats: Fats should be at a minimum for the majority of people with their pre-and post-workout meals. We want to bias carbohydrates and protein.
- Vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients: These are exponentially important throughout your diet on a full day spectrum. This is a big piece when looking to add quality muscle tissue and keep internal function maximized. When we look at recovery as a whole, we need to focus on the WHOLE day, not just the one hour you’re in the gym. Recovery transpires during the 23 hours you spend outside of the gym. This is what we need to prioritize.
The most important thing to remember about peri-workout nutrition is to consume mainly carbs and adequate protein in your pre and post-workout meals.
Let’s get into the specifics: We want a meal 90-120 minutes before training, depending on the size of that meal, and that meal should have 20-25 grams of protein.
Between your pre and post-workout meal, you should consume 25-50% of your daily carbohydrate intake, too. This allows for adequate fuel sources for training.
Post-workout meals are also a huge part of the recovery process and should also include 20-25 grams of protein, as well as the carbohydrate mentioned above. And no, it does not need to be consumed immediately following your training session, despite what you may have heard or seen elsewhere on the internet. We advise our clients to wait until their heart rate has returned to resting. This will allow you to digest, metabolize, and absorb the nutrients from your food at a much better rate in your rest and digest state.
When stress starts to impact our bodies, it isn’t just from an “I feel stressed today” sort of thing. This is going to be the cumulative effect of training, job, emotional, relationship stress, etc. Whatever your level of stress, you need to be able to recover from it. That’s when people have very high and chronic stress, they feel like they can’t recover from training, even if they are doing everything they need to do with food, supplements, etc. Stress is so high it’s affecting their strength adaptations and their overall recoverability.
Make sure you are taking hold of what are the stressors in your life and reassess how you can lessen those stressors where you can. It’s something we have as a question on our check-in sheet with PD clients. The same way sleep can impact our recovery and progress, stress can 100% derail you too.
If you think stress might be an issue for you, here’s a quick tip:
Write down what you are stressed about!
Write down the top 5-10 things that you are stressed about RIGHT NOW. What gets measured, gets managed. I (Sue) have clients do this when their stress is super high, and it allows them to see exactly WHAT they are stressed about. I used to live in a chronically stressed place without even realizing it.
When you write them down, it can help externalize it. Then you can go through and figure out how you can make it NOT a stressor, or less of a stressor by reorganizing your schedule or priority list. If it’s something you can’t change, like stressful coworkers for example, can you change something around it like boundaries?
Knowing what your stressors are will allow you to attack them a little bit better than just resorting to the “ugh I’m stressed” and never doing anything about it.
We are all going to have stress in life, but having helpful tools that you can turn to when you are stressed can make all the difference in how it impacts you and your body.
My stress (Alex) starts with being intentional with the time that I have and keeping reasonable expectations. That means I’m not making a laundry list of things I need to get done. It might look nice on paper, but I’m putting myself in a lose-lose situation if I do that. In reality, I can probably get 4 or 5 of the 20 tasks I’d ideally like to get done. I didn’t set myself up for success.
From there, I take inventory of where my energy is at for that day. Some days, I’ve got 5 main tasks I need to get done, but I don’t have the capacity for more than three things or vice versa.
Finally, taking time off is something I’m still working on to help manage my stress. One way I’m doing this is having a hard cut-off time for when work ends each day. This has been huge for me not to work into the night and stay on task during the day.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to optimize your recovery, check out Episode 10 of the Physique Development Podcast! And as always, you can follow us at @suegainz and @alexbush__ on Instagram for more fitness tips and video content.