Going to the gym and not progressing on your lifts or improving your times can get frustrating. If you're the type that grinds away and works out hard, day in and day out, you won't progress if you take rest and recovery lightly.
What's the best way to speed up recovery of sore muscles?
Surprisingly, there are no definitive ways to speed up recovery of sore muscles that are supported by research. There are, however, a handful of treatments, which may help alleviate the feeling of soreness:
1) Rest or active recovery - Getting plenty of sleep and resting your body may be the most effective treatment. In addition, active recovery, which is light exercise during the recovery phase can stimulate blood flow to the muscles to help reduce muscle pain. Active recovery can include swimming, or a light jog.
2) Hydration - Drinking plenty of water can help flush out toxins from your body and prevent dehydration, which can make muscle soreness even more painful. While there is no consensus on how much water you should drink, somewhere around 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water per day is a good starting point.
3) Pre-workout & post-workout nutrition - Consuming a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein either before, or after a workout, or both, may help reduce the severity of muscle soreness.
4) Topical creams - creams like Ben Gay and IcyHot provide the perception of pain relief, but have no effects on the underlying muscle.
5) NSAIDS - nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil and Alleve can help relieve the discomfort of muscle soreness. It's not advisable to use NSAIDS on a consistent basis, but rather for an acute bout of soreness.
Other treatments include ice, cold baths, Epsom salt baths, massage and gentle stretching, but the effectiveness of these methods for speeding up recovery is questionable.
How much time is appropriate for recovering from weight training? How about long distance running?
A: The amount of recovery you need from exercise depends on a variety of factors including (1) your fitness level, (2) the volume & intensity of exercise, (3) familiarity of the exercise. For example, if you are in great shape and complete 2 sets of bench press with light weight, your chest probably won't be sore at all the next day and you could workout again without any issues. If you add more volume (sets & reps) and intensity (weight) such as four chest exercises for 12 sets with heavier weight and use unfamiliar movements, then it's possible your chest may be very sore not only the next day, but for several days. Finally, it also depends on the metabolic intensity of the workouts. If you do heavy squats and deadlifts on Monday, it's probably a good idea to hold off on completing the same exercises for a few days because of how much they tax your central nervous system.
The same variables apply to running where fitness level is particularly important. For example, some elite marathoners run 100+ miles per week and need almost no rest between runs. On the other hand, a weekend warrior may attempt to run 20 miles in a week, or change up the stimulus with hill running, which could create intense soreness and require longer recovery times.
What types of factors inhibit recovery?
The 3 biggest factors that inhibit recovery include:
1) Lack of sleep - if you are chronically sleep deprived, the muscle soreness will likely be more painful and may take more time to heal.
2) Lack of proper nutrition - If you are not adequately hydrated, or deficient in potassium, or are not eating enough protein, pain from muscle soreness may be more intense.
3) Overtraining - If you continue working out intensely without sufficient rest, muscle soreness may get worse.
The best way to avoid very sore muscles and improve recovery is to use a progressive exercise program where workouts become harder at a measured pace over time.
Are there any specific foods that help assist recovery?
There are a handful of foods that may help assist recovery:
1) Foods high in potassium - potassium is a mineral that is crucial to heart function and muscle contraction. Those who have low potassium levels may experience muscle soreness and cramping. Foods with high potassium levels include bananas, oranges, melons, raisins, and potatoes.
2) High-protein foods - protein is the building block of muscle, so foods that are high in protein may help repair sore muscles. High protein foods include meat, eggs, and dairy.
3) Pineapple - this tropical fruit is high in the enzyme bromelain, which is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help treat strains, sprains, and bruises.
4) Cherries - some studies show that cherries may be as effective as anti-inflammatory medications. Cherries contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants which reduce inflammation.
5) Fish oil - high in Omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil may help reduce inflammation in joints and muscles.
What do you do when you're overtrained and fatigued for several days in a row?
Overtraining occurs when you perform more training—both in and out of the gym—than your body can recover from. For a newbie, overtraining can happen quickly, whereas for an experienced athlete, it may take weeks of unusually difficult exercise to set in.
There are a number of overtraining to watch out for including elevated heart rate, decreased strength, lack of motivation, and chronic soreness in your joints.